Immersed in Nature, This City Cabin Targets Net-Zero Energy

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By Lucy Wang
An urban infill lot in Seattle is transformed into a nature-immersed retreat that feels a world apart from its city environment.

When Jim Olson, co-founder of the award-winning architecture studio Olson Kundig, was asked by his longtime friend and neighbor to design her new home in Seattle, he had a ready source of inspiration to draw from: his recently expanded Cabin in Longbranch.

Reclaimed fir from a fruit storage warehouse in Kennewick, Washington, clads the facade and will weather naturally with minimal maintenance.

Reclaimed fir from a fruit storage warehouse in Kennewick, Washington, clads the facade and will weather naturally with minimal maintenance.

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The client loved Jim’s cabin in Puget Sound—a project he designed and built at age 18 and modified throughout the years—and asked him to not only model her home after it, but to also channel the wild, forested feel.

Full-height windows overlook views of the garden and are protected by the galvanized steel roof overhang. A green sedum roof tops the lower volume.

Full-height windows overlook views of the garden and are protected by the galvanized steel roof overhang. A green sedum roof tops the lower volume.

A view of the front door leading to the centrally located living spaces. Clerestory windows above maximize access to natural light while still preserving plenty of privacy.

A view of the front door leading to the centrally located living spaces. Clerestory windows above maximize access to natural light while still preserving plenty of privacy.

"The client wanted to feel like she was living in the wilderness when, in fact, her home is on a regular-size urban neighborhood lot," Jim notes.

Defined by a soaring 16-foot-tall ceiling, the open-plan living room, kitchen, and dining area at the heart of the home, and overlook southeast views of gardens through walls of glass. 

Defined by a soaring 16-foot-tall ceiling, the open-plan living room, kitchen, and dining area at the heart of the home, and overlook southeast views of gardens through walls of glass. 

Inspired by the red cedar and ochre colors in the client's extensive Native American art collection, the architects tinted the concrete floors with a custom red hue.

Inspired by the red cedar and ochre colors in the client's extensive Native American art collection, the architects tinted the concrete floors with a custom red hue.

Undeterred by the challenge, Jim strategically set the 2,400-square-foot home—dubbed the City Cabin—on the lot’s northwest corner to maximize garden space on the south and east sides. Walls of glazing frame views of the gardens that were densely landscaped with mature trees to fulfill the client’s desire for a connection to "urban wilderness."

The kitchen is fitted out with Energy Star low-energy use appliances, including a Viking Range and Sharp microwave. The upper cabinets are fir plywood with galvanized steel shelves. The kitchen counter is cast-in-place concrete tinted in terra-cotta, while the island is topped with a slab of Douglas Fir, unearthed in the Skagit Valley and carbon-dated to be 2,700 years old.

The kitchen is fitted out with Energy Star low-energy use appliances, including a Viking Range and Sharp microwave. The upper cabinets are fir plywood with galvanized steel shelves. The kitchen counter is cast-in-place concrete tinted in terra-cotta, while the island is topped with a slab of Douglas Fir, unearthed in the Skagit Valley and carbon-dated to be 2,700 years old.

The walls and ceilings are made from A/C-grade plywood, which were chosen for durability and simplicity. The ceiling fan is 'Haiku' from Big Ass Fans.

The walls and ceilings are made from A/C-grade plywood, which were chosen for durability and simplicity. The ceiling fan is 'Haiku' from Big Ass Fans.

To optimize views from every room, the home features a centrally located, open-plan kitchen-living-and-dining space flanked by two bedroom wings in a staggered layout. 

A predominately timber material palette ties the architecture into the landscape, while the color scheme and furnishings draw inspiration from the client’s extensive Native American art collection.

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The same reclaimed fir used for the exterior cladding also makes an appearance in the interiors.

The same reclaimed fir used for the exterior cladding also makes an appearance in the interiors.

A close-up shot of the bookshelves. 

A close-up shot of the bookshelves. 

Since environmental conservation and a net-zero energy target were important to the homeowner, the two-bedroom, two-bath house was built from reclaimed materials and has been equipped with sustainable systems, including an 8.4-kW photovoltaic array, an air-to-water heat pump, a sedum green roof, low-energy appliances and low-flow plumbing fixtures. Passive solar strategies were also applied to optimize natural ventilation and light.

The view from the entry hallway to the master bedroom. 

The view from the entry hallway to the master bedroom. 

A look inside the master bedroom, which is finished with natural, unstained plywood walls and ceilings, as well as terra cotta-tinted concrete floors.  

A look inside the master bedroom, which is finished with natural, unstained plywood walls and ceilings, as well as terra cotta-tinted concrete floors.  

The second bedroom is located in a separate wing that also houses storage space. 

The second bedroom is located in a separate wing that also houses storage space. 

City Cabin floor plan

City Cabin floor plan

Project Credits:

Architect of Record: Olson Kundig / @olsonkundig

Builder/ General Contractor: Dovetail General Contractors

Structural Engineer: MCE Structural Consultants

Civil Engineer: Coughlin Porter Lundeen

Landscape Design Company: Brandon Peterson (The Palm Room)

Lighting Design: DePelecyn Studio

Cabinetry Design/ Installation: Dovetail General Contractors

Mechanical Engineer: WSP

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