When architect John Carney, FAIA, and his wife, Elaine, wake up in the morning, they may be greeted by a view of a moose, deer, or fox just outside their glass-wrapped bedroom. Carney designed their 950-square-foot home as a guest house on their wooded Wilson, Wyo., property, and the couple is living there while he works on schematic design for an eventual main residence.

Carney kept the guest house’s two bedrooms small to allow more space for the public areas, a strategy that also helps the private rooms establish a close connection to the forest outside. “The bedrooms are 10 feet from the bed wall to the window,” he says. “You really feel like you’re sleeping in the woods.”

Used to working with more square footage as a principal at Carney Logan Burke Architects, Carney enjoyed the discipline of designing within a smaller footprint. “We kept it very simple and pared down,” he explains. The floor plan is a straightforward rectangle with two bedrooms and baths flanking a main kitchen, living, and dining room. (A separate garage provides extra storage.) All of the windows and doors line up at a height of 8 feet, and a shed roof plus plenty of glass give the interiors a generous, soaring sense of space.

The couple chose just a few elemental materials—cedar shingles and bonderized steel on the exterior and rift-sawn, whitewashed vertical-grain oak on the interiors—so as not to compete with the site’s natural beauty. “It’s a very quiet, restful palette,” Carney says. Off-white, vertical subway tiles lend another texture to the 12-foot-long kitchen. A woodburning stove supplements the home’s high-efficiency heating system, and passive solar principles combined with cross-ventilation and superinsulation keep it naturally cool during the summertime.

Boulders found on the rocky site serve to enhance the project’s naturalistic landscaping. And Carney integrated an existing manmade stream into the site plan, placing the house close enough so he and Elaine can hear its soothing babble. “To me, the sound of a stream and the negative ions make you feel really good,” Carney says. “It’s a key to the success of the house.” This pleasing sensory effect is one more step toward the home’s overall goal of truly experiencing the site. “That was the design intent, and it really works,” he adds.

After a year of living in the house, though, there’s one animal sighting Carney is still waiting for. “We haven’t seen a bear yet,” he says. “But we’re expecting to. It’s bear country.”