In our latest Backstory series, Seattleite Lou Maxon recounts the thrills and trials of ditching the suburbs, buying property, and designing and building a modern house with Tom Kundig of Olson Kundig Architects. Week 14: Material selection.
We were drawn to the raw aesthetic and low-to-zero-maintenance materials that Olson Kundig uses in their residential projects: raw and oxidized steel; blackened steel; cast-in-place concrete; floor-to-ceiling glass; off-the-shelf plywood; and simple white-painted drywall. Tom Kundig often takes materials typically used in industrial environments and adapts them for residential use with a completely different application, and a touch of craft.
On this particular visit to Olson Kundig we were presented with an edited palette of materials for consideration in our kitchen. My wife and I had wondered how we'd manage spreadsheets with hundreds of line items of materials, not knowing what goes where and why. One of the advantages of Olson Kundig is that they have their own interiors team, as well as an extensive library of projects and samples—so our anxieties were put to rest early on.
An Olson Kundig interior designer preps the table for our working session. During the meeting, Tom Kundig and Edward LaLonde will share design development drawings, material swatches and samples, and photos of relevant projects.
Edward LaLonde reviews the elevation drawings for the kitchen while the rest of us look on. We are surrounded by bookshelves stocked with every imaginable swatch or sample. Tom and Edward are able to quickly grab samples to illustrate their ideas.
Here's a closeup of material selections from the rest of the project, including the blackened capped steel of the window frames, the concrete floor, and the exterior oxidized steel of the rain screen panels.
My wife and I review the initial picks of the interiors team with the oversight of Tom Kundig and Edward LaLonde. The materials selection process is very hands on and tactile—a nice respite from the minutia of our project, which finds me spending countless hours with mundane tasks like managing surveys, geotech drillings, etc. The materials selection process was also a great opportunity for my wife to get some face time with Tom and Edward (since I manage most of the day-to-day communication otherwise). She has a passion for entertaining and cooking, so my role in these particular discussions was more support-based—and to keep an eye on the budget and overall material palette.
My wife checks out one of the countertop options. Olson Kundig is able to advise us on the pros and cons based on their experience—which is helpful because there are almost too many options.
The author reviews all the options on the table. The process starts with almost every possible material that is applicable to the scope of the project, and then the fun begins: we carefully edit to get down to the core palette.
We explored everything from concrete to stainless steel to the many stone and recycled options available in the marketplace.
Tom Kundig gives his opinion on stainless steel countertops, a selection he personally chose for his own house. Photos of other Olson Kundig interiors projects are in the background. It's reassuring to have the years of experience and proven portfolio on our side during these critical decisions. Kundig keeps the discussions collaborative and is decisive in his point of view but always open to listening to our thoughts or concerns.
We were sent home with samples so we could live with them for a bit, and take them to the property and to the appliance store to see how they'd fit. My wife took the countertop options for a 'test drive,' pouring all sorts of household liquids on them, from wine to soda, to test how they'd hold up. I can't stress how important it is to view the materials in different lights, including the environment will they will ultimately be realized in.