Shades of Kyoto
For a house in Atherton, California, Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen and Terry Hunziker took a Japanese pavilion as their model
Donna Paul -- Interior Design, 8/1/2003 12:00:00 AM
Invited to speak in Zurich in 1969, Louis Kahn declared light the "giver of all presences," a philosophy that lives on in his Kimbell Art Museum and Yale Center for British Art—as well as in the minds of subsequent architectural generations. Among the most successful in embracing Kahn's mystic credo is Jim Olson, principal of Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen Architects. Building a house in Atherton, California, Olson captured the nuances of light to invest his design with silent dialogue.
Conversations between Olson and his clients were more concrete in nature, focusing on a handful of interrelated topics. First came the 1 12-acre property and its existing modern house, where the couple had lived since the 1970's. Though they cherished their garden, with its mature plantings of maple trees and deciduous shrubs native to California, the house lacked adequate space for displaying an extensive collection of contemporary art.
Preserving the garden and razing the house made the most sense—but raised a new set of questions. Which direction should Olson take? That his design integrate the garden and the art went without saying. So did beauty and serenity, elegance and simplicity. As one of the clients put it, "We're not into Louis XV."
Their taste, in fact, runs much less to Versailles than to the 17th-century Katsura Imperial Villa in Kyoto, Japan, legendary for harmonizing architecture and gardens. Olson's design, a 10,000-square-foot two-story plan with public spaces wrapping three sides of a verdant courtyard, owes much to this Japanese landmark, as interpreted by American eyes.
Olson paved two long galleries in bluestone, for example, to express the traditional Japanese belief in the beauty of a man-made object deriving from that of its natural materials. And he lined both sides of one gallery with pairs of cylindrical 13-foot-high fir columns, alluding to the columns of Japanese temples.
Full-height aluminum-framed sliding glass doors give the public areas an unobstructed view of the courtyard garden. In the living room, an entire wall is sliding glass so, when opened, the outside and inside are linked. "House, garden, and art flow together and become one," says Olson.
With natural light from the doors and the 13-foot ceiling heights, the free-flowing interior allows the clients' sculpture collection to play a central role. Patrons of Stanford University's Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts, they favor work organic in materials and subject matter. David Nash's rough-hewn Madrona-wood Two Columns and Mark Adams's tapestry White Grapes, displayed in a colonnaded gallery, exemplify the theme. The black ground of another Adams tapestry, White Geraniums, lends drama to the sparsely furnished dining room. Here, Terry Hunziker, the interior designer for the project, paired his own table of steel and lacquered panels with mahogany chairs.
Architect and designer worked together to lend the living room an atmosphere of seclusion and contemplation. To enhance the otherworldly quality of natural light, Olson installed a stainless-steel soffit above the windows ringing the ceiling's barrel vault. Hunziker added a celestial reference in the form of clouds woven into the tapestry transforming two Biedermeier armchairs. On custom seating, tones of creamy beige merge into one. Walls gleam softly in the palest ivory shade of Venetian plaster. Against this neutral backdrop, Deborah Butterfield's steel sculpture Samurai Horse strikes a strong contrast.
On Hunziker's steel cocktail table sits Stones Broken and Scratched To Make a Spiral by Andy Goldsworthy. In the stairwell, his installation of reeds and thorns loops 20 feet up the walls, but it's in the family room that his work really dominates. The artist built two dozen square and rectangular niches in a cedar-paneled sidewall, then filled each with an object created from found sycamore leaves and thorns. The perfect statement for a house where architecture, nature, and art meet as one.