Refuge House Nestled into the Rock / The Pierre by Olson Kundig

Refuge House Nestled into the Rock

Architects: Olson Kundig
Project: The Pierre – Refuge House
Design Principal: Tom Kundig, FAIA
Project Manager: Chris Gerrick, LEED AP
Interior Design: Charlie Hellstern
Location: San Juan Island, United States
Area 2500.0 sqm
Photography: Dwight Eschliman / Olson Kundig, Benjamin Benschneider / Olson Kundig

The owner’s affection for a stone outcropping on her property inspired the design of this refuge house. Conceived as a retreat nestled into the rock, the Pierre (the French word for stone) celebrates the materiality of the site. From certain angles, the house—with its rough materials, encompassing stone, green roof, and surrounding foliage—almost disappears into nature.

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With the exception of a separate guest suite, the house functions on one main level, with an open-plan kitchen, dining, and living space. A wood-clad storage box (made with siding reclaimed from a Lionel Pries–designed house) transitions from outside to inside. Its two large bookcases open to provide concealed access to laundry and kitchen storage. A large pivoting steel and glass door provides access to a terrace.

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The materiality of the built structure—mild steel, smooth concrete, and drywall—create a neutral backdrop for the interior furnishings and artwork and the exterior views to the bay and surrounding landscape.

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Throughout the house, the rock protrudes into the space, contrasting with the luxurious textures of the furnishings. Interior and exterior fireplace hearths are carved out of existing stone; leveled on top, they are otherwise left raw. In the master bathroom, water cascades through three polished pools, natural sinks in the existing stone. Off the main space, a powder room is carved out of the rock; a mirror set within a skytube reflects natural light into the space.

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Contemporary works of art by Cameron Martin, Jesse Paul Miller, Andres Serrano, Franz West, and Claude Zervas are mounted inside and outside the house. Antique furniture and art objects are complemented by custom pieces. The custom light fixtures are based on the designs of Irene McGowan, a Seattle artist and lighting designer best known for her work with noted Northwest architect Roland Terry. Interiors by Olson Kundig, in collaboration with the client.

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Set at a right angle to the main space, a master suite features a custom-designed bed with a leather headboard and footboard set in the middle of floor-to ceiling bookshelves.

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To set the house deep into the site, portions of the rock outcropping were excavated through a combination of machine work and handwork. The contractor used large drills to set the outline of the building, then used dynamite, hydraulic chippers, and wire saws and other hand tools, working with finer and finer implements as construction progressed. Excavated rock was reused as crushed aggregate in all the stonework, a reminder of the building process, while huge pieces of rock were employed for the carport structure.

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