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An Art Gallery Sanctuary


An Art Gallery Sanctuary

Susan Kime


The entry to the Pavilion House. The Pavilion House was designed for entertaining and for displaying the homeowner’s extensive northwest Washington state art collection.


The Pavilion House is a 3060-square-foot addition to a pre-existing home in Bellingham, Washington. But like its name, Pavilion, it is much more than a subsidiary add-on; the function of a pavilion in classic architectural terminology involves the acquisition of pleasure — through entertaining, and through the enjoyment of music, art and cuisine. And the Pavilion House, architected by Jim Olson of Olson Kundig Architects, was designed as a living art sanctuary for the homeowner’s significant art collection, and as a place for entertaining. 

But the design concept, originally conceived as a large great-room idea, changed as time went on. “Partway through the design process,” Olson says, “the clients decided they would like to start a collection of contemporary art from the Seattle and Northwest region. Over time, the concept grew to include the regional master artists of the mid-20th century who influenced current contemporary artists. Together, we commissioned some specific pieces especially for this house and found others that resonated with the environment visually. As a result, the art in the house tells a story of art in our region from early Native American baskets to works by mid-century masters, to works by innovative artists working in the region today.” 

The Great Lawn at the Pavilion House, tying the inside and outside together with exterior sculpture “Uno,” by Bernard Hosey.

An original outdoor sculpture by Peter Millett, viewed from a Pavilion House window.  The image depicts an exterior-interior merge, providing a seamless sense to the residential/landscape vernacular.

So the design flow expanded as the artwork was collected. Yet, with this expansion, Olson continued the important work of balancing the new pavilion with the existing home. “I created a larger open lawn, a ‘commons,’ that allows a unified identity to both the older home and the Pavilion House as one. This process is similar to the way new buildings are scaled to relate to old ones in historic districts. I always like buildings to weave sympathetically into their settings.”

And yet, though the process expanded, the vision remained: one of balance — old with new, outside with inside. “I wanted everything to flow,” Olson says. “I worked more as an orchestra conductor, as a way of tying all the disciplines together. I designed the house and helped the client in selecting art. Garret Cord Werner designed the furniture, while Charles Anderson designed the landscape. I oversaw all the elements in an attempt to tie them harmoniously together.”

The Pavilion House, built by Toth Construction, was designed to build that harmony, blurring the outdoor-indoor lines until there is no immediate perceptual separation. “When you stand inside the space and look out or open the windows, you feel like you’re in a sculpture park,” says Olson. “With so many windows, you could never have delicate watercolours that would fade. Sculptures, however, don’t have to be protected by the sun, either in or outdoors.” 

Another challenge of balance in designing the Pavilion House was to make it grand enough for gatherings of 300 guests, but also intimate enough for just two homeowners. Olson solved this equation by creating a very large central room — over 67 feet long and 40 feet wide — open in the middle, with 18-foot fir-beamed ceilings, beneath which sits a significant 35-foot-long mahogany and nickel-plated-steel dining table that seats 40. Or two. 

“We knew we would have this long table, but Werner designed it as a beautiful piece of art, which was fabricated by Michael Danielson Studio,” says Olson. “Werner’s custom-designed rugs are found throughout the home, along with another coffee table in the south-facing seating area.”

Everything worked out well. The homeowners had a liveable art gallery where they could collect and admire, now and in the future. “When I’m finished with a home,” Olson says, “it’s like a portrait of the people in it.” In this case, the homeowners are well reflected through this Pavilion of artistic significance. 

From the exterior reflecting pool, an interior view of one of the living areas. 

From the exterior, the same interior view, seeing out beyond the reflecting pool to Lake Washington.

Written by Susan Kime   Photography by Benjamin Benschneider