The future teemed with possibility when Kurt Hughes graduated from high school in Royal City some 50 years ago.
The moon shot era was on and soon, in July 1969, Buzz Aldrin would pilot the Apollo 11 lunar module “Eagle” to the surface, and Neil Armstrong would make his memorable observation, “That’s one small step for man …,” as he stepped toward the surface.
Back in Eastern Washington, Hughes was headed to the University of Washington and eventually the University of Hawaiii to study architecture. He formed an interest in designing and building boats, which would lead to a career as a Naval architect.
Today, he lives in Bothell and designs multihulled boats — catamarans and trimarans — on Seattle’s Lake Union.
And when he wants to get away, Hughes drives two or so hours east to his out-of-this-world getaway spot — a replica of a lunar lander. His tiny retreat overlooks the Columbia River at Beverly, about 56 miles northwest of Richland.
The 250-square-foot dwelling has been profiled in Architecture Digest, newspapers and countless publications dedicated to tiny houses and with good reason. It is the standout feature on Beverly’s Shore Drive, a nondescript row of homes set against the stunning backdrop of Sentinel Gap, where the Columbia River carved through Saddle Mountain during Ice Age floods.
Space age inspiration
Hughes modeled his tiny getaway on an actual lunar lander, down to the steel struts, stabilizing wires and front door/hatch.
He made a small concession to the non-lunar location and added a two-person deck to take in the views.
QR codes posted outside the building direct the curious to websites where he explains the unusual home. He posted the information for planners and inspectors during the construction process, then left them up because so many passersby on Highway 243 stopped to ask questions.
But the curious must content themselves with reading about the project and taking photos. It is not available for rent, though the house next door is listed on Airbnb. Hughes said he spends two or more weekends a month there.
“This is my favorite place in the world,” he said.
The house accommodates two people comfortably, seats four at the table and was once used for a bachelor party for his now son-in-law.
Tiny house challenge
Building it was a personal challenge, as well as professional one.
His daughter, Kiku, attended space camp as a child, fueling her continuing interest in science fiction. There, Fred Haise, an Apollo 13 astronaut and pilot, autographed a 3D model of a lunar lander that the family built.
More than a decade ago, the idea to fuse boat designs, tiny houses and lunar landers began taking shape when Hughes took note of the tiny house movement.
He saw value in small, affordable homes but he wasn’t impressed with early efforts, which he described as heavy and unstable.
“They were primitive,” he said.
He believed the techniques he uses for boat design could make a difference. Epoxy, common in marine designs, would be a better option than wood framing, he concluded.
He decided to create a prototype and took his design inspiration from the moon shot era of his youth and his daughter’s space camp experience.
“Anyone can do a cube. I decided to do something as an homage to a time when anything was possible,” he said.
The Beverly house is his proof of concept. Hughes doesn’t expect it to revolutionize the tiny house world. The house has been met with enthusiasm, but no copycats.
Tiny House Talk called it “one of the most unique, innovative, and interesting tiny homes we’ve gotten to show you,” when it featured Hughes in 2019.
He did recently sell a plan set to a man in England who has not indicated if he intends to replicate it.
Its value as real estate is unclear beyond the obvious location. The Grant County Assessor values Hughes’ property at $58,000 for the land only. The building, or “improvement,” has no value, according to county records.
Zillow takes a more generous view, placing its worth at $136,000. The lander is not for sale.
The location is accidental. His mother paid $10 — about $100 today — for the lot on Shore Drive at a tax sale in the early 1960s. He bought it from her more than 20 years ago.
Hughes estimates it took about four years to build the lander and secure an occupancy permit.
He started with base panels fabricated from plywood and epoxy in Seattle. He hauled them to Beverly on a flatbed and assembled them into a dish on site. A neighbor with a plasma cutter and a forklift provided major assistance, helping fabricate stairs and other parts and lifting pieces into place.
A glassy dome, welded by his brother, capped the project in 2014.
The tiny house may look like a lunar lander but it had to pass muster with Grant County building officials. They were skeptical about “everything,” he said.
Hughes said he’s satisfied his tiny house is durable enough to go the distance. After nearly 10 years in a harsh climate, it is holding up well.
A ductless heat pump and air-to-air exchange system keep it comfortable when temperatures reach triple digits, common in Beverly.
Inside, it offers all the comforts of home. The kitchen galley, compact bathroom and a small banquet table nestled beside “Captain Nemo’s window” are on the main level. The bedroom is deep in the belly of the craft, accessed by ladder.
Whimisical features a glow-in-the-dark bathroom floor, a shower head that changes colors as the water heats up and “anti gravity pads” over the table seats, in case gravity disappears, he joked on camera to Architectural Digest.
The lunar lander dwelling is one of several worthy sites in tiny Beverly, which is gaining attention courtesy thanks to the Beverly Railroad Bridge.
The recently renovated former railroad trestle carries the Palouse to Cascades State Trail over the Columbia. The bridge, about a mile from the lunar lander, provides a link between Washington’s two sides and brings hikers, cyclists and horse riders through the community.
Visiting? The Lunar Lander Dwelling is pinned in Google Maps and is at 18374 Shore Drive.
Also worth checking out: Burkett Lake Recreation Area, the Wanapum Heritage Center at Priest Rapids and the Ginko Petrified Forest. The South Grant County Chamber of Commerce website is a useful resource as well.
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