Weekend carpenter builds custom cabins, furniture too, on the Washington coast

Toby Friesen realized, as a young father raising three kids, that he needed a beach rental. Not just as a getaway for everyone, but as an income-generating investment for their family’s future.

It was nine years ago. One by one, Friesen found less-than-perfect, but unique, coastal properties in Long Beach, Washington’s southwest. Spending long weekends after running his fitness consulting business in Vancouver, Wash., the self-taught craftsman now has four vacation rentals just steps from the Pacific Ocean.

The latest rental, named Lewis, was built from scratch. Inside are beamed ceilings and furniture made from sawn timber by his childhood friend. A post-and-beam glass wall in the second-floor bedroom overlooks a large room with an imposing stone fireplace.

“I didn’t want to just buy an ordinary house and fill it with basic furniture and rent it out,” said Friesen, 48, who grew up building with wood, not Lego pieces or Lincoln Logs. His first real building project was a two-story treehouse.

Friesen modeled his unique vacation homes, in style and ambiance, after the vintage West Coast beach cottages his parents rented over the decades.

His jazz musician father, David Friesen, was also a guest at the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology, north of Lincoln City, Oregon. Here, artists-in-residence stay in cabins wrapped in cedar plank and batten siding, a traditional style that Friesen adopted for his homes.

Her goal: to recreate the experience of discovering a new place, its hidden treasures and “deciding which bed would be mine,” said Friesen, owner of vacation rental company Beachhousewa.

Before he could afford to buy an investment property, Friesen would take his kids to Long Beach, where they would drive to a secluded spot, set up chairs, fly a kite, wade through water and hang out. all day.

He loves the beach and the walk on the Long Beach peninsula, a two-hour drive from Portland.

The area where explorers of the Lewis and Clark Expedition marked their arrival on a pine tree in 1805 is now a wildlife refuge and a pedestrian- and bike-friendly resort community.

At 28 miles long, Long Beach, which is billed as the longest motorable beach in the world, has space to “set up and stay all day, and it’s so family-friendly,” Friesen said.

He searched for years before finding his first property, which he calls Beach Cabin. And it wasn’t pretty. The house has been partially renovated, a home improvement project frozen in time. Some rooms were just poles and plywood.

As other potential buyers passed by, Friesen made an offer which was accepted. “It allowed me to go into the market on a shoestring budget,” he said.

He did much of the finishing work himself, then furnished the house with cozy places to play board games and put together puzzles like his family likes to do.

After a few years, when he could better afford it, he did a second, more extensive remodel and landscaped the 1.2-acre property. He installed a pergola, a fire table and a spa for seven people. He also created cornhole and ladder golf courses and a path to take a cart full of supplies to the beach.

Regular customers allowed him to develop.

Now he rents out Beach Cabin ($422-$600 a night for six people), Seagrass ($590-$810 for 10 people), Ocean Trail ($699-$925 for 10) and Lewis ($400-$580 for four persons).

Three of the houses have a games room. Seagrass’ is serious business, with a tournament-size pool table, 18-foot-long shuffleboard table, ping-pong table and foosball table plus over 1,000 retro arcade games.

Ocean Trail, which overlooks the sea, has a large outdoor stone fireplace.

“It’s fun when you do a job and people are happy,” he says.

But it wasn’t easy.

Weekend carpenter Toby Friesen builds beach rentals on the Washington coast.David Blaydon

The economy has been on a roller coaster since Friesen began looking for an investment property just before the housing crash of 2008.

A few years later, he purchased beachfront property in a gated community for less than the original price. The seller also agreed to finance the loan at a higher interest rate than the seller could have received from a savings account.

Then, as now, experienced workers were hard to come by.

The contractor left town halfway through the construction of Friesen’s second vacation rental. Friesen strapped himself into a tool belt and did much of the work. He said he recounts when he listens to business owners talk about finding a way out of a “heartbreak.”

When he was not on site, Friesen hired and planned trades people. “If the electrician doesn’t finish, the drywall contractor can’t do his job, so he can’t adjust the doors, do the trim and it just goes on and on,” he said.

He never stopped pushing the projects forward. “It’s a powerful motivator when you have all your savings in one project,” he said.

He said he didn’t compromise on his goal of creating homes with character, but watched every penny. “It took all the effort out of me and I was on the edge financially, but when I put a rental home on the market it works out well,” he said.

In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic halted holiday travel, the economy plunged, and then there were wildfires.

“Every day was a challenge,” he said. “I just didn’t give up.”

Friesen is working on a cabin next to Lewis called Clark, and will next start on a house honoring Lewis and Clark’s treasured Lemhi Shoshone guide, Sacagawea.

The trio of custom homes will be united in a complex with an arched entrance. Friesen names his new development Fort Clatsop after the explorers’ encampment.

He jokes that he learned about the importance of thread count in sheets and the different types of down comforters, feather toppers and pillows.

Above all, he enjoyed working with talented artisans who execute his vision.

A lumberjack friend selected cedars and milled them locally to make slabs, siding and live edge beams for Lewis’ rental. Half of the furniture was designed and commissioned for this house. And a welder who built ships in the Long Beach area also helped Friesen’s projects.

“You can’t spend time on fancy details that won’t pay off if you plan to sell the house,” he said. “I’m not doing this for a quick comeback.”

Instead, his custom projects allow him to create experiences for his family and guests that he remembers so well from his childhood.

— Janet Eastman | 503-294-4072

[email protected] | @janeteastman

Learn more about vacation rentals

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• Put a spare house or two in your yard: Oregon’s ADU rules allow more income-generating rentals

• Restoring one-of-a-kind Steiner log cabins on Mount Hood takes time, skill, and hand tools

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