A Minimal Writer's Retreat in the Pacific Northwest

By J. Michael Welton / Published by Dwell
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Lowering the shutters on this small writer’s retreat completely exposes the interior to the site’s impressive island views.
The shuttered retreat.

The shuttered retreat.

View from the interior.

View from the interior.

Architect Tom Kundig’s assignment was simple enough: Build a tiny, Thoreau-like getaway for an Atlanta-based writer who owned ten acres on San Juan Island in Puget Sound. "The idea was not to clutter anybody’s thinking, especially a writer’s," he said.  So he designed a 500-square-foot retreat that’s both womblike and open to its surroundings.

When raised via wire rope and hydraulic winch, the floor-to-ceiling shutters protect the interior. When lowered, they add 600 square feet of deck—and sweeping views of the landscape. "It’s edited and clear," he said. "Parts of it are intentionally exposed, and others are protected, enclosed, and intimate."

Project: False Bay Writer’s Cabin
Location: San Juan Islands, Washington
Architect: Olson Kundig Architects

Architects: Kirsten Murray, Tom Kundig

Architects: Kirsten Murray, Tom Kundig



J. Michael Welton


J. Michael Welton is architecture critic for the News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C. His work has appeared in national and international publications like The New York Times, The Washington Post, Metropolis, Interior Design, Architectural Record, and Ocean Home. He is the author of "Drawing from Practice: Architecture and the Meaning of Freehand." He is also editor and publisher at www.architectsandartisans.com.

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