In Seattle, Olson Kundig builds a net-zero ‘cabin in the city’

The exterior of a house.  The house is made of wood and in the foreground are bushes and bushes.

The architect Jim Olson, founding partner of the Olson Kundig architectural firm in Seattle, is known for the large, elegant houses he designs for art collectors around the world. But Olson knows that small can also be beautiful.

“For myself, I prefer houses this size,” he says. His own cabin in Longbranch, Washington, overlooking Puget Sound, is the most famous example of Olson’s small house walk.

The “hut in the city”, which he designed for Melissa Haumerson on a small plot of land in a densely populated area of ​​Seattle, also offers a model for compact city life. (Both houses are featured in Olson’s latest book, Jim Olson: Buildings Nature Art.)

The exterior of the house is clad in recycled fir, which is of course weatherproof.

Granted, this is not a “tiny house”. It measures 1,800 square feet (excluding the garage) and includes a central living, dining, and kitchen area with sixteen-foot ceilings, a bedroom and bathroom on either side of this space, and pantry and laundry rooms. (The separation of bedrooms allows for privacy and also makes the plan a good template for aging in place.)

And it also has serious accolades for sustainable design, including a photovoltaic system, green roof, air-to-water heat pump, radiation-heated concrete floors, and triple-glazed windows that help make it a net-zero structure. The barely large garden designed by Brandon Peterson for trees, shallow water plants and grasses carries this environmentally conscious outdoor theme.

A living area.  There is a brown couch with several pillows.  There is a wooden desk with chairs.  Shelves are built into one of the walls in which various items are stored.  The other wall consists of floor-to-ceiling windows with a view of trees and bushes.

The central 16-meter-high living, dining and kitchen area has floor-to-ceiling windows facing south with a view of the garden.

Haumerson, who, among other philanthropic endeavors, buys land and donates it to conservation groups, insisted the home is sustainable, and Olson enthusiastically agreed, adding, “It shows people what you can do with a small amount.”

Olson and Haumerson share a long history; They met more than five decades ago when their two families had summer homes in Longbranch and have been friends ever since. Olson ended up remodeling his parents’ house for Haumeron’s mother – “Jim had perfect ideas,” says Haumerson – and she now owns it.

The exterior of a house.  There are windows looking into the house and the garden.  The house is made of wood.

The house overlooks the rear garden through the main living area.

Two people, a man and a woman, are standing outside.  Behind them is a tall wooden fence and plants next to the outside area they stand on.

Architect Jim Olson and his client Melissa Haumerson in the garden of their Seattle home.

A wooden totem pole in a garden full of lush green trees and bushes.

The totem pole in the garden was made by Andy Wilbur, a member of the Skokomish Indian Tribe.

The exterior of a house.  There are floor-to-ceiling windows that look into a living area with tall bookcases filled with books.

Next to the master bedroom, a corner of the living area offers a view of the room’s floor-to-ceiling bookcases.

Since she is often in Longbranch on weekends, as is Olson and his wife Katherine, there has been a lot of discussion there about what Haumeron’s house should be. And despite their long friendship, there were clear differences of opinion between the architect and the client.

“I told Jim I didn’t want a gray house,” says Haumerson, referring to Olson’s well-known preference for cooler woods and surfaces. “I wanted warmer tones. I said I need to have a place for my books and Northwest Indian art that I have been collecting since the 1970s. And I just wanted a bedroom and a guest room. “

Olson happily acknowledges the aesthetic differences they had. “Melissa told me at the beginning that she wanted warmer colors and concrete floors, but not the terrible gray concrete I have. So I told her to go to the beach and find a rock. She found a beautiful terracotta colored stone that the contractors matched to the floors and concrete exterior walls. “The floor-to-ceiling bookshelves in the main room hold Haumeron’s books, records, and Native American art.

A living area.  The walls are made of wood and there are bookshelves with a ladder on one side of the room.  A large couch and several decorative works of art hang on the wall.  The windows look out onto a courtyard with lots of plants.

A look through the living area to the master bedroom. A vintage Navajo rug mounted on a moving panel hides a flat screen television.

“I always try to clean up the clutter,” explains Olson, adding that Haumerson doesn’t necessarily share his Neatnik philosophy. However, Olson also says that he especially loves starting a residential project, “where the customer tells me what they like and what they don’t. It’s one of my favorite parts when designing a house. “

What Haumerson calls her “summer of to and fro” also included discussions about whether she could keep her existing grill (Olson’s no-vote won) or have the big speakers she wanted in the living area (she won this one ). And then of course there was the question of the budget. “I would grumble about the cost,” she adds, “and Jim would suggest cheaper alternatives, but I always wanted the better.” However, she says, “I still grumble about it.”

A bedroom.  There is a large bed with black linens and a gold-colored blanket.  There are shelves with various items along the opposite wall.  Art hangs over the bed.  There is a light brown rug under the bed.  Another wall has floor-to-ceiling windows.

The master bedroom faces the garden and has an en suite bathroom and dressing area.

A desk with a hat stand and hat.  A framed work of art hangs over the desk.  The wall is made of wood.

A hat – a piece of art on the northwest coast – sits under a watercolor painted by Haumeron’s grandmother in the Bahamas.

A desk with several clay objects.  Behind the desk is a floor-to-ceiling window with a view of lush trees and plants.

A group of antique clay pots from the Oliver Gustav studio in New York came from a shipwreck off the Spanish coast.

Of course, the two of them also agreed on many things. They wanted the house to “feel as close as possible to the outside,” says Olson, and the high ceilings allow the windows on the garden side of the house to “go all the way up”. The windows in the main room provide additional light while maintaining privacy.

Haumerson loves the plywood Olson chose for the interior walls and the recycled fir tree from a local fruit store that he used for the exterior. it will of course develop a patina with age. And she adds, “You can look through the house, from the back yard to the front yard. I like it. “Haumerson also praised Renee Boone, who served as project architect for Olson Kundig, as” very focused; I’m always in three places at once “and the contractor Dovetail.

The bottom line, says Olson, is that “Melissa’s house is perfectly ‘she’.” In fact, Olson likes the house so much that he says he could live in it himself. “But I would have to dye it gray.”