Inside The Stunning Jewel-Box Houses Of Architect Tom Kundig

Some architects strive for a portfolio of big-gesture projects. Tom Kundig, cofounder of the Seattle firm Olson Kundig, focuses squarely on the details. No matter the size of his structures or the materials he chooses, his work always has a pervasive sense of warmth and intimacy. He creates jewel boxes for people.

This cozy style is particularly acute in his residential work. As he writes in Tom Kundig Works, a new book from Princeton Architectural Press:

Many architects will tell you that the more challenging project is necessarily the larger one, but I continue to believe that the most essential undertakings are houses, because shelter, along with food and water, is necessary to our survival—it’s the bottom line. As architects, the residential realm is where we explore what it means to live as human beings—it is the root of architecture. The trick is then to retain the lessons learned there and deploy them in the bigger commissions.

For a house in Manhattan, he sculpted an elegant stairwell with a sinewy banister that snakes its way up the stories. A cabin on Orcas Island has steel-clad a living room that feels like a cozy nook within the open-plan room. A retreat in the Mojave Desert boasts floor-to-ceiling glass walls that retract courtesy of a massive hand-crank system engineered by “gizmologist” Phil Turner.

Studhorse, Winthrop, Washington (2012)Benjamin Benschneider

Kundig describes his approach as the “PUP” principal, meaning his structures take people on a physical journey from the personal to the universal and back to the personal, encouraging self-reflection. These moments impart a connection between the structure and its inhabitants, and dispel any myths that modernism is cold. Catch a few of Kundig’s best designs in the slideshow above.