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photo of Pole Pass Retreat
Photo: Benjamin Benschneider

Pole Pass Retreat

San Juan Islands, Washington

Pole Pass Retreat

San Juan Islands, Washington

  • Design Principal

    Tom Kundig

Nestled into a dense, wooded shoreline site, this intimate retreat serves as a gathering space for friends and family throughout the year, but takes particular advantage of the temperate Pacific Northwest summers. This waterfront house is situated to hug the dense woods while directing views out over the meadow and nearby harbor to the Salish Sea and the San Juan Islands archipelago, which separates Washington State from Canada.

The home’s horizontal proportions helps blend it into its surroundings. The slightly charred cedar siding is done with a technique called shou-sugi-ban, a traditional Japanese method. It naturally preserves the wood, making the cedar less of a target for insects, rot and fire. It gives it a very dark, slightly silvery color that changes over time.

The space is designed to be as flexible as possible to allow for numerous potential uses in all four seasons. In the warmer months, the pavilion window walls open completely (using a walk-along hand wheel, meaning, you walk as you turn it),  dissolving the line between building and site to create an expansive indoor/outdoor living space with spectacular views. Interior and exterior become one and the same—embodied, for instance, in that cantilevered kitchen counter that extends out onto the deck. A hand-cranked wheel connected to a set of gears and chains, like those of a bicycle, allow the nine-foot-tall glass walls—the largest of which is 20 feet long—to move effortlessly.

The single bedroom reflects the theme of flexibility in that the Murphy bed can pop out and, for example, the kids can have a sleepover. The room is also a place of refuge. Viewed from the bedroom, the green roof is a kind of “meadow” that affords a great degree of privacy from the public spaces below. The hard exterior shell of steel and charred siding is juxtaposed with a soft interior palette of pine with wood rafters exposed throughout the space.




Renzi, Jen. “Feel the Burn.” Departures Magazine, May/June 2021, 90. Print.


Montes, Geoffrey. “55 Extraordinary Homes on the Water.” Galerie, 30 June 2018. Web.

“Pole Pass Retreat.” Living on Water: Contemporary Houses Framed by Water, 2 Feb. 2018, 203, 256-259. Book.