Project: Tofino Beach House
Architects: Olson Kundig
Project Team: Jim Olson, FAIA, Design Principal; Olivier Landa, AIA, LEED® AP BD+C, Project Manager; Will Kemper, Project Architect; Christine Burkland, Interior Design
Key Consultants: Arup, Structural and Mechanical Engineer; Lewkowich Engineering Assoc., Civil Engineer; Brian Hood Lighting Design, Lighting Design; RDH, Envelope
Location: Tofino, Canada
Project Size: 2,500 SF
Photo Credits: Nic Lehoux
Text by Olson Kundig
Perched on the westernmost edge of Vancouver Island, Tofino is one of Canada’s favorite recreation destinations, where extreme weather conditions draw surfers and storm watchers year round. Nestled in a weather-beaten forest, this 2,500-square-foot beach house creates a connection between the drama of the nearby ocean and the sense of sanctuary provided by the trees. Composed primarily of one large room, the Tofino Beach house is light-filled on the south side facing the ocean, and insular and protected on the other side, paneled in dark, rich wood.
“The beach house is essentially one single room, with the emphasis on feeling connected to the ocean and the surrounding woods.” –Jim Olson, FAIA, Design Principal
Glass walls open the living area to panoramic views of forest and ocean, while two fireplaces on either end anchor the space and provide a feeling of refuge. Cantilevering the house from its base provides space for ferns and beach salal to grow underneath the glass flooring that runs the perimeter of the main room, giving the sense of floating above the forest floor. The warm, natural tones of the interior take inspiration from Tofino’s coastal forest, and are punctuated by pieces from the owner’s striking contemporary art collection. Artworks were incorporated into the design of the home, with the fireplace walls specially designed to fit paintings by Sam Francis and Diego Singh. A collection of furniture pieces designed by Olson specifically for the house, including a walnut sofa built into the hearth of one fireplace, complete the interior environment.
“This house, in the middle of a primeval forest, serves as a cozy refuge from the harsh winds coming in off the nearby ocean.” –Jim Olson, FAIA, Design Principal
“The emphasis was not on framing a single focal point view, but rather on capturing a panoramic view of the ocean beyond. The roof is held up only by the two chimneys on either side of the living space, which gives the feeling of the roof floating. There are no columns or interior structural systems to obscure the panoramic view; instead, it feels almost like you are outdoors in a big open space with two cozy campfires at either end.” –Jim Olson, FAIA, Design Principal
Tightknot cedar ceilings in the living area and rich walnut casework in the open kitchen to the rear provide a sense of grounded warmth, which extends to the back bedroom with its dark teak paneling. Here, a vista out over an elevated deck and long reflecting pool offers a second opportunity for views of water and woods. Tofino Beach house was sited so carefully that only one tree had to be removed during construction, and a green roof above the garage continues the home’s natural integration. A nearly continuous line of clerestory windows above the living area required an innovative engineering system for the cantilevered roof, which is held up in only two places by the concrete chimneys. As a result, the roof appears to be floating above the house, which itself is much like a glass boat gliding over a sea of salal.