This urban retreat was inspired by a special place, and a special connection

Architect Jim Olson collaborated with his longtime friend Melissa to build a super-sustainable home reminiscent of their Longbranch getaways.

YOU CAN SEE how an architect and a homeowner might form a genuine friendship as they formulate a design: It’s an intensely intricate process that requires bare-your-soul discussions, high-stakes give-and-take, and a whole lot of together time.

In that respect, (architect) Jim Olson and (homeowner) Melissa worked a bit backward in creating her forward-looking home. They’ve been friends-that-feel-like-family most of their lives, thanks to common experiences, influences — and even dwellings — in one peaceful, meaningful Key Peninsula burg.

“I’ve known Melissa since sometime in the 1960s, when her parents moved from California to Longbranch,” says design principal Olson, of Olson Kundig. “Her father was an architect, and he did a very nice kind of rectangular, modern, midcentury-looking house. Melissa and I kind of shared this history of community where modern architecture was highly regarded and part of our early lives.”

Inspired by noted Northwest architect Paul Kirk, who had designed Olson’s aunt’s Longbranch home, Olson built his own cabin on his family’s property when he was 18 (“I’ve been adding on to it for 58 years now,” he says). At one point, there were three Olson homes in a row. Eventually, Melissa’s mother ended up buying Olson’s parents’ home — and then, Melissa inherited it.

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“Now Melissa lives in a house (there) that my parents built about 1960,” Olson says. “She lives between my aunt’s house, which is just a treasure, and on the other side is my cabin, which she really likes. By being neighbors out in this rural area, we see a lot of each other on weekends. We each have a Labradoodle, and my wife and Melissa and I are kind of a threesome; we go for walks and are very close friends.”

Melissa also had a condo in the big city. “Two or three years ago, I started to fantasize about getting out of it,” she says. “I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun if I could afford something Jim Olson did? Oh, that’s ridiculous.’ ”

Except it really wasn’t.

“We’d sit down in his yard with our two dogs and fantasize,” she says. “We started talking. Sure enough, it was becoming an idea. I’d say, ‘You can’t bill me for this.’ ”

We can’t speak to a…

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