In the woods near Penrose Point State Park, Rod Collen and his fiancée Shannon Garrett have spent the last two years building a 900-square-foot mushroom-shaped cabin.
They purchased a 2-acre parcel of forested property in March 2020 and have been there every weekend since, completing nearly all the work themselves, including clearing a quarter-mile trail lined with eclectic art and secondhand items. The path will feature statues from Never-Never Land, a 10-acre enchanted forest that brought fairy tales and nursery rhymes to life at Point Defiance Park from 1964 until the early 2000s, and sparks nostalgia across multiple generations.
For decades, an 8-foot tall Humpty Dumpty sat perched atop a stack of gigantic books, welcoming children to visit life-sized storybook characters such as Old Mother Hubbard, Little Red Riding Hood and Little Boy Blue. Ongoing vandalism, theft and weather damage led to the park’s closure and in 2011, an arson attack on the historic pagoda where the collection was being stored destroyed half of what remained of Never-Never Land. When Metro Parks Tacoma put 35 remaining items up for auction in September, Collen couldn’t resist bidding.
“It was meant to be,” Collen said. “I was going there quite a bit in the late ’70s when I was a toddler and I remember it just fascinating me and creeping me out at the same time.”
The original sculptor, Hungarian refugee Elek Imredy, died in 1994 and his molds for repairs and replacements were destroyed in the pagoda fire, so the remaining statues are irreplaceable.
Collen won his favorite character, Little Jack Horner, as well as Miss Muffet and Three Men in a Tub: the Butcher, the Baker and the Candlestick Maker. The painted fiberglass statues did not survive the arson unscathed; Jack’s hair is burnt and peeling and they all sustained scarring. “I think I’m going to leave it because it kind of tells the story,” Collen said. “They look kind of rundown, so it’s almost dystopian.”
Collen and Garrett’s plan for the property is more about originality than perfection. Most of the cabin’s finish work will be done with reclaimed materials. Pews, salvaged during a remodel of an opulent Mormon church in Bellevue, have been refurbished into a spiral staircase leading to a lofted bedroom with French doors that will open onto a multilayered back deck.
“We want it to look like nothing here came from Home Depot,” Collen said. “Once we get the finish work done it’s going to look like it’s 100 years old and super cozy.”
Despite its rustic appearance, staying at the cabin will not require any roughing it. There will be a modern kitchen, a shower with a hand-laid mushroom mosaic wall, a washer and dryer, radiant floor heating, two gas-powered fireplaces, an Italian chandelier they found on the street in Seattle, and a hidden TV.
“You’ll come in and you won’t see any technology,” Collen said. “I want to find somebody to do some murals in here too, really make it special.”
Outside, the well house looks like a small windmill. There will be a hot tub and sauna, multiple decks, an owl-themed shed, a powered gate and a security system.
Collen learned construction skills from his father, a general contractor in Tacoma. He has always worked on his own homes while dreaming of building a unique cabin from the ground up. “This is something I’ve wanted to do for 30 or 40 years,” he said.
The property started out fully forested with no power or water. “Just cutting the driveway was so much fun,” Collen said. “The very first time we drove a car down here was so exciting.”
While waiting on permits, Collen went around the property with a chainsaw while Garrett followed with a woodchipper, clearing the trail that would eventually be home to the Never-Never Land figurines.
The mushroom shape was Garrett’s idea. “When we first started talking about this, we were in a bar somewhere and (Collen) just sketched it out,” she said.
“We came up with this design and then went down to the county and they went ‘OK, that’s cute but you’ve got to get it engineered,’ ” Collen said. “We’ve gone through inspectors and everything’s engineered, permitted to code.”
Collen and Garrett trenched 250 feet out to the road to put power in and did all the excavation and drain rock installation themselves. Concrete was poured in the summer of 2020. They purchased most of the materials before supply chain issues drove up costs, and did the rebar installation, framing, sheetrock, plumbing and radiant floor heating themselves, working through rain and cold under a large tarp before the roof went on.
“It’s not really round, it’s 24 sections,” Collen said. “I’ve got a background in rock climbing so in order to put the roof on I created an anchor at the top and hung off on a harness, on a rope, and basically put wheels on it so I could walk around the entire thing and then Shannon threw shingles at me.”
“He’s adventurous,” Garrett said. “I think he gets bored if he’s not doing something different than what other people do.”
Collen, who has climbed Mount Rainier four times and is a scuba diver and pilot, said some parts of the building process were scary, such as putting up the beams, but now there is a memory associated with just about every nail or screw. “If someone else were to do it, hiring it done, it doesn’t mean anything,” he said. “It was an epic journey — it was just like climbing Mount Rainier, or more, twice in a day.”
Collen proposed to Garrett Dec. 7 at the mushroom cabin’s front door and she said yes. The two of them look forward to completing the cabin over the next few months, remodeling their 1909 home in Tacoma, getting married, and sharing their one-of-a-kind Lakebay hideaway with family and friends.
“Everything’s easy after this,” Collen said. “This is staying in the family forever.”
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