Cabin at Longbranch

Location Longbranch, Washington
Design Principal Jim Olson

Jim Olson’s reverence for nature and admiration of the site’s beauty is expressed in the design of this project located on Puget Sound and nestled amidst the towering fir trees of an ancient forest. What began as a 14-foot-square bunk house built in 1959 has morphed through subsequent remodels in 1981, 1997, 2003 and 2014 into a modest yet highly livable weekend retreat. Each successive addition and remodel has reused and integrated the previous structure rather than erasing it to reveal the cabin's architectural history.

Oblique view to the water and museum in a bowl

At the age of eighteen, Olson began work on a bunkhouse for his family in Longbranch. Since then, he has continued to expand the small structure into both a private retreat and a touch point for his work worldwide.

The cabin is intentionally subdued in color and texture, allowing the lush natural surroundings to take precedence. Simple, readily available materials are used throughout: wood-framed walls are sheathed in plywood both inside and out; doubled pairs of steel columns support glulam beams that, in turn, support an exposed roof structure; and interior fir flooring becomes outdoor decking with additional spacing.

The rooms themselves are essentially a set of boxes set underneath a unifying roof; together, they create a single form that is grounded onto the hillside and projects out over the landscape. The living room’s large 11’ x 13’ window not only frames the view of the adjoining meadow and Puget Sound but visually blends the indoors and outdoors.

Strategically placed sliding doors, windows and a domed skylight over the bed provide constant contact with nature. The design accommodates three mature trees that have been allowed to grow through openings in the deck, one of which exits through an opening in the roof.

In a dark forest, a light-colored flower stands out so bees and hummingbirds can find it. The same kind of contrast can be used to draw attention to the architecture. It can create a sense of drama.

Jim Olson Design Principal



Design Principal

Jim Olson

Project Manager

Ellen Cecil William Franklin

Interior Designer

Charlie Hellstern


Derek Santo



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Hawthorne, Christopher. “Building on memories.” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 5 June 2004, D1, D5. Print.

Hawthorne, Christopher. “HOUSE PROUD; Measuring the Season in Generation…” The New York Times, 27 May 2004, D1, D6. Print. Web. 


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