Location: Longbranch, Washington, US
Jim Olson’s reverence for nature and admiration of the site’s beauty is expressed in the design of this project located on Puget Sound and nestled amidst the towering fir trees of an ancient forest. What began as a 14-foot-square bunk house built in 1959 has morphed through subsequent remodels in 1981, 1997, 2003 and 2014 into a modest yet highly livable weekend retreat. Each successive addition and remodel has reused and integrated the previous structure rather than erasing it to reveal the cabin’s architectural history.
At the age of eighteen, Olson began work on a bunkhouse for his family in Longbranch. Since then, he has continued to expand the small structure into both a private retreat and a touch point for his work worldwide.
The cabin is intentionally subdued in color and texture, allowing the lush natural surroundings to take precedence. Simple, readily available materials are used throughout: wood-framed walls are sheathed in plywood both inside and out; doubled pairs of steel columns support glulam beams that, in turn, support an exposed roof structure; and interior fir flooring becomes outdoor decking with additional spacing.
The rooms themselves are essentially a set of boxes set underneath a unifying roof; together, they create a single form that is grounded onto the hillside and projects out over the landscape. The living room’s large 11’ x 13’ window not only frames the view of the adjoining meadow and Puget Sound but visually blends the indoors and outdoors.
Strategically placed sliding doors, windows and a domed skylight over the bed provide constant contact with nature. The design accommodates three mature trees that have been allowed to grow through openings in the deck, one of which exits through an opening in the roof.
All images courtesy of Olson Kundig
“In a dark forest, a light-colored flower stands out so bees and hummingbirds can find it. The same kind of contrast can be used to draw attention to the architecture. It can create a sense of drama.”
Olson Kundig is a full-service design firm whose work includes residences (often for art collectors), museums and exhibition design, hospitality projects, commercial design, academic buildings, interior design, landscape design, and places of worship.
The firm is led by five owners—Jim Olson, Tom Kundig, Kirsten R. Murray, Alan Maskin, and Kevin Kudo-King—who are supported by eleven principals, fifteen associates, and a staff of approximately 140 in the historic Pioneer Square neighborhood of downtown Seattle. The firm opened a workspace in New York in 2014 to better serve its expanding roster of East Coast and international clients. The in-house interiors studio, founded in 2000, provides a full range of services, including material selection, custom furniture design, and purchasing capabilities. The landscape design studio provides in-house design services dedicated to artfully integrating nature and the built environment.
The firm began its creative existence in 1966 with the architect Jim Olson, whose work at that time centered on explorations of the relationship between dwellings and the landscapes they inhabit. Olson started the firm based on the essential ideas that buildings can serve as a bridge between nature, culture, histories, and people, and that inspiring surroundings have a positive effect on people’s lives.
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159 South Jackson Street
Suite 600, Seattle, WA