Seattle–based creative director Lou Maxon recounts the thrills and trials of ditching the suburbs, buying 21 acres, and building a modern home with renowned firm Olson Kundig Architects.

In the living area, Lou sits on a Room & Board sofa, while one of the family’s two Great Danes relaxes nearby; the fireplace is by Montigo.

Editor’s note: In 2011, Lou Maxon chronicled the process of building the Maxon House, featured in the September/October 2018 issue of Dwell. We’re republishing the story of the decade-plus journey along with a video celebrating the stunning result.

1. Redefining the American Dream

Let’s start in 2002. My wife and I, our two sons, and our basset hound were nestled into a cozy craftsman on a corner lot in suburban America. White picket (vinyl) fence, cul de sac, generous backyard, cathedral ceilings, family room, bonus room, formal dining room, granite countertops—the works. It was so cliché suburbia that a company that managed residential homeowners’ associations across America photographed our house to promote their brand. To us, it was a slice of the American dream. All was quiet on the Western front.

Life in suburbia. From left, Kim, Lou, Henry, Molly (basset hound) and front row left, Jack.

And then we were six. Our third son was born in the spring of 2006. With three young kids, a dog, and plenty of accumulated knick-knacks, our once-spacious, three-bedroom house started to feel like a pint-sized studio apartment. Our family was growing, and all around us real estate was bursting at the seams with new construction. McMansions and mini-McMansions were popping up like weeds. You could have the American dream super-sized. The spigot of loans and credit flowed with seemingly no end. The economy was booming; the real estate bubble was still a myth. We started looking around for more space and more breathing room.

The first real stage of the process before and after we sold our house was to gather examples out of books and magazines of what we’d like to build. We started numerous notebooks and began to collect tear sheets out of design magazines.

We knew we wanted something different: something less cookie-cutter, more deliciously different, and completely us. We began searching for land. We started tearing pages out of home magazines. I started subscribing to Dwell. Where our architectural palate was once limited to only Victorians and faux-Craftsmans, it now exploded into a world of midcentury modern, prefab, green houses, and Northwest Modern. Notebooks accumulated. Magazines sprawled across our coffee table.

After visiting at least a dozen sites, one afternoon I got a call from my wife that put our dreams into light-speed mode. She was trolling real estate sites looking at properties. I remember only a few words: 21 acres. Small town. Forested acreage. Valley view. Visit tonight. This was Spring 2007.

2. Buying the Land

We made an offer. Then a counter-offer. About two months later, we had two mortgages, 21 acres, a house to sell, a house to build—and no clue how either was going to happen any time soon.

A huge part component of our project is forestry and site development. The site as we purchased it was fairly neglected and needed a lot of TLC. Working closely with the county and foresters we started to realize the potential for not only the view but the entire site. This is a bit of a sneak peak into how the site opened over time. It's a slow and painstaking process but well worth it.

See the full story on Construction Diary: Building a Forest Haven With Olson Kundig Architects (Part One)


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