Cabin at Longbranch
Jim Olson’s reverence for nature and admiration of the site’s beauty is expressed in the design of his cabin located on Puget Sound and nestled amidst the towering fir trees of an ancient forest. What began as a 200-square-foot bunkhouse built in 1959 has morphed through subsequent remodels (in 1981, 1997, 2003 and 2014) into a modest weekend house. Each successive addition and remodel has reused and integrated the previous structure rather than erasing it, revealing the history of the architecture and the process of its evolution.
In 1912, Jim Olson’s grandparents built a summer cottage on a forested site on Puget Sound. Olson spent summers and many weekends there as a child. When he was eighteen years old and a first-year architecture student, his dad gave him five hundred dollars and said, “Go build a bunkhouse.” This was Olson’s first great opportunity. Nestled amidst the trees of this waterside forest and raised on stilts, this tiny cabin sat respectfully on the landscape. When his grandparents’ cottage was destroyed by fire in the 1960s, the bunkhouse was left as the sole structure on the property.
What began as a 200-square-foot bunkhouse in 1959 has seen the addition of several interconnected rooms through a series of remodels in 1981, 1997, 2003 and 2014. Each successive expansion has reused and integrated the previous structure rather than erasing it, revealing the history of the architecture and the process of its evolution.
In the 1980s, the retreat consisted of three tiny pavilions linked by wooden platforms. In 2003, the pavilions were connected by a unifying roof, creating a single form grounded onto the hillside and projecting out over the landscape. The living room’s large wall of glass frames a view of the adjoining grassy field and Puget Sound, visually blending the indoors and outdoors. In 2014, a master bedroom and two guest rooms were added, as well as a library that also works as circulation, creating a retreat of 2,400 square feet.
The cabin is intentionally subdued in color and texture, allowing it to recede into the woods and defer to the beauty of the landscape. Materials enhance this natural connection, reflecting the silvery hues of the overcast Northwest sky and tying the building to the forest floor. Simple, readily available materials were used throughout: wood-framed walls are sheathed in plywood or recycled boards, inside and outside; doubled pairs of steel columns support beams that in turn support exposed roof structures. Interior spaces appear to flow seamlessly to the outside as materials continue from inside to out through invisible sheets of glass.
The cabin has been a work in progress since it began, with each transformation acknowledging the changing priorities of its designer: first a bunkhouse for friends, then an experimental weekend retreat for a young couple and family, and now, a quiet place for contemplation and creative work, and a comfortable place for visiting grandchildren, extended family and friends. The cabin has also become a touchpoint for Olson’s work worldwide, with each iteration of the retreat marking a point of evolution in his architectural career. What has remained unchanged is Olson’s deep reverence for nature and his admiration of the site’s beauty.
1959: Jim Olson, FAIA, Design Principal
1981: Jim Olson, FAIA, Design Principal; Brent Rogers, Project Manager
1997: Jim Olson, FAIA, Design Principal
2003: Jim Olson, FAIA, Design Principal; Ellen Cecil, AIA, LEED® AP, Project Manager
Derek Santo, LEED® AP BD+C, Architectural Staff
2014: Jim Olson, FAIA, Design Principal; William Franklin, Project Manager; Charlie Hellstern, Interiors Project Manager
Interior Design: Jim Olson, FAIA, Design Principal
Contractor: Tom Harris (1981); Steve Clark (1997); Mark Ambler (2003, 2014)
Photographers: Kevin Scott / Olson Kundig, Kyle Johnson, Ryan Patterson and Benjamin Benschneider