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OLSON KUNDIG DESIGNS A MODERN BLACK BOX WITH THE WARMTH OF A FAMILY HOME

After snapping up a narrow waterfront property, a young Seattle couple asks Tom Kundig to design them a concrete-forward house for their future family—but prevent it from feeling too cold.



A black kitchen with a wall of windows open to one side and three colorful geometric lights hanging over the dining table.

The kitchen of this Olson Kundig–designed house, a bold palette of black MDF, concrete flooring, and leathered Quartzite. A trio of Wastberg pendant lights over the expandable Chadhaus dining table bring a celebratory air to the room.



Northwest natives Drew and Marianne had been looking for a waterfront home for several years when a property on Brighton Beach, just south of Seattle’s Seward Park, hit the market. The relatively small lot held a midcentury modern house designed by prominent architect Ralph Anderson and offered panoramic views of Lake Washington. It was a rare find in the quiet, family-friendly neighborhood, and the couple knew that if they didn’t jump on it, the property would be gone—fast.

 

“It came up for sale while we were on the way to Mexico with my family for Christmas vacation,” Drew says. “The lot was small, and the house hadn’t been updated in 60 years, but opportunities like that don’t come up often, so I made an offer on it sight unseen. It was a leap of faith.”



A steel-and-leather stairway next to a wall of windows.

A custom steel staircase crafted by Dovetail has a leather runner and handrail wrap that nod to the saturated tones of the kitchen pendants. Simple LJ4 PET felt stools from DeVorm tuck into the Quartzite-topped island. The stairway was meant to act as a light well, helping to draw natural light down into the dark-toned kitchen and dining area.



A black-painted living room with gray sofa and bookshelves.

The living room opens to the backyard, which looks out onto Lake Washington. Here, Olson Kundig provided the homeowners with ample shelving, camouflaging it with the black wall. Furniture includes a Paola Lenti sofa, Cassina side table, and vintage, reupholstered Geoffrey Harcourt for Artifort

 

Ultimately, Drew and Marianne had the opportunity to look at the house before closing, and the in-person visit only cemented their decision to move forward with the purchase. “Another thing we love about this property is the location,” says Drew, a product designer whose family has been in industrial manufacturing for several generations. “Years ago, I lived in Renton, and my commute was through Seward Park. I have a vintage 1965 Vespa, and I would drive up the lake and through the neighborhood, which I have always admired. It’s close enough to downtown to make it accessible, but it feels more community-oriented than most urban areas.”

 

At the time, Drew was on the board of the Tacoma Art Museum, and the institution was undergoing the addition of a new 16,000-square-foot gallery designed by local architecture firm Olson Kundig. “Tom [Kundig] gave a presentation to the board, and he made an impression on me,” Drew recalls. “I looked at more of his work online and loved the industrial materials and kinetic details. His gizmos and human-powered parts really attracted me, especially given my background in product design and my family’s background in machine manufacturing. It felt familiar; it felt like home.”



Olson Kundig used creative massing on the house's street-facing side as a privacy solution. To soften the concrete blocks, the architects added Kebony siding, a material they used on the Burke Museum project at the University of Washington. It is highly durable and sustainable, and requires no maintenance.

 

Once Olson Kundig was on board, with Tom Kundig and fellow firm principal/owner Edward Lalonde leading the project, Drew and Marianne needed to make a critical decision: renovate the existing house or start fresh with a new build. “I liked the idea of remodeling because I had lived in midcentury houses before,” Drew says, “but after some discussion with the architects, we realized it would probably cost more. That, combined with the idea that we could have exactly what we wanted, pushed us to choose a new house.”

 

“It’s rare when you get to work on the shore here in Seattle,” Kundig says. “What I loved about this property from the beginning is that it is on a public path to the lake, and that presented a challenge. If you work on a property with challenges, it usually leads to a lot better house.”

 

Working to give Drew and Marianne a sense of privacy while keeping the house connected to the neighborhood, Kundig and Lalonde designed a 3,800-square-foot residence that uses massing and volume to offset public and personal spaces. The homeowners wanted a modern design with clean lines, a concrete-forward materiality, and lots of natural light.

 

“It was an interesting negotiation between myself and my wife,” Drew says. “She appreciates modern architecture, but she favors warmer spaces. I think the resulting house tries to balance that. With the interior design, we tried to add some warmer colors with red and orange accents throughout.”



A close-up shot of a steel staircase handrail.

The leather details on the steel staircase bring a sense of refinement to the industrial material.

 

With a material palette of concrete, glass, and blackened steel, the house, which the couple commissioned before they had kids (they now have two), fulfills Drew’s modernist dreams. To soften its street presence, Kundig and Lalonde used Kebony—a highly durable, low-maintenance, sustainable wood—on the front façade. The house sits back from the curb, with a rectangular concrete garage providing a sense of privacy on the lower level, which holds the public spaces, including the living room, kitchen and dining area, and the kids’ playroom. Upstairs, private bedrooms have a sweeping view of the lake, and a luxurious primary bathroom swathed in gray-and-white Quartzite is a visual surprise against the black-forward palette elsewhere in the house.



A wall of windows at the top of a set of stairs.

Windows were an important addition—both for taking advantages of views and bringing light into the house. The floors on the upstairs level are reclaimed milled oak.


Close-up shot of a bed with built-in side tables.

In the primary bedroom, Dovetail crafted the custom bed with built-in nightstands (they have a custom resin top fabricated by Stuermer Studios).

 

The architects worked with Dovetail General Contractors to install black MDF walls, balancing them on the ground level with a polished concrete floor, gray furniture, and white-painted ceilings that clock in at almost 14 feet tall. A striking trio of custom conical pendants in juicy citrus colors hangs over the kitchen island. “That’s a nod to Marianne’s Latin culture,” Lalonde says. “Drew wanted everything black-and-white, but this captures the vibrancy of this young family.”

 

“I love them because I wouldn’t choose them,” Kundig adds, “but they work.”

 

Color makes a reprise on the black steel staircase, where the couple splurged on an orange leather runner and handrail wraps that will wear beautifully with use. “We realized that with two kids, we would have to be okay with some patina,” Drew says. The entire back of the house is glass—opposite to the privacy-seeking choices made at the front façade, floor-to-ceiling windows span each lake-facing room, maximizing the vistas that the Pacific Northwest is known for.



A tall marble bathroom with black cabinetry.

A striking marble bathroom in the primary suite is a fun and unexpected discovery. The marble is a honed version of Pental's Luca de Luna.


A white standalone bathroom against a room of gray and white marble.

Blacked steel beams in the primary bathroom are a visual link to the rest of the house, and a window brings a hit of green into an otherwise black-and-white space.

 

The finishing touch on any Olson Kundig house is a gizmo—windows or doors with unique, human-powered mechanical systems that often include cranks, levels, or wheels. Drew and Marianne have one in the form of a wheel (with a large counterweight) that pivots a panel of windows on the east side of the kitchen and seamlessly connects the room with the outdoor deck. “The gizmo makes it feel a little bit like a boat,” Drew says. “The ceremony of opening it is fun. We don’t do it very often, but when we do, it feels like a special occasion.”



The back of a modern glass house on the lake shore.

Perched on Lake Washington, the modern house's backyard exterior is a wall of view-capturing Dynamic Alumin-Arte windows.

 

In the end, Drew and Marianne are glad they went with the new build. The house in which they had always planned to raise children has already proved flexible enough for the family of four, and it won’t be too large for the couple when their kids go out on their own one day.

 

“This was a big leap for such a young couple to invest emotionally and financially into a property they want to live out their lives in,” Kundig says. “I’ve been doing this for 45 years, and I have to say that I love designing the house that people are going to raise their family in, grow old in, and, one day, play with their grandchildren in.”

 

 

 

 


 

Images by Aaron Leitz



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