Conversation with Olle Lundberg
Architect Olle Lundberg was made in Sweden and born in Cincinnati, Ohio — two weeks after his parents emigrated to the US. A Scandinavian modernist by training, he has lived in California since 1980 and blends the two cultures with elegant flair. As Design Principal for San Francisco-based Lundberg Design, he has worked on all kinds of structures from bus shelters to wineries, has collaborated with brands from Twitter to Virgin America, and is the architect behind Bay Area restaurants like Mourad and The Slanted Door.
His foray into vacation home rentals, Curly’s Cove in Bodega Bay, Sonoma County, is a tribute to his professional acumen and eye for detail. When he and his wife Mary Breuer discovered the former fisherman’s shack, its timber foundation was rotting, and its siding was covered in weathered green shingles that had started to resemble dragon’s skin. The roof was leaking, and the wood timbers were infested with termites. Bringing it back took patience and imagination – which Lundberg clearly has in abundance.
WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO THIS PROJECT?
Olle Lundberg: “Well, it’s an extraordinary site. For one thing, it’s right on the edge of the water. That intersection of water and land is where life started, and we’re all just viscerally attracted to that. In California, it’s become very, very difficult to find sites like that and, even if you find one, they won’t let you build on it for the most part. So you have to find an existing structure and try to fix it up.
“The other thing is that there is no other site like it in the Bodega Bay area. What’s really unusual is that when you’re in Curly’s Cove, you don’t see any other buildings except one that’s next to it, which we also own and are fixing up. So you don’t see any other signs of human habitation. In spite of the fact that it’s literally 100 yards from Highway 1, you are pretty much unaware of other people. That’s kind of cool.”
YOU MENTIONED THAT THE PERMIT PROCESS TOOK TWO YEARS. DID YOU EVER FEEL LIKE GIVING UP?
OL: “Fortunately, I’ve been doing architecture a long time in northern California so I knew what it was going to cost, and I knew the effort it would take… although I maybe didn’t know all of the ups and downs we were going to have! We had to offer the Coastal Commission something they wanted, so we moved the building back 10ft to get the foundations out of the wetlands. We designed a cantilevered foundation so there was no construction in the wetlands at all. The project was actually quite fun. I loved that if the house had just sat for another two years, it might literally have disappeared into the bay — but we got it just in time to save it.”
WHAT DID YOU RETAIN FROM THE ORIGINAL BUILDING?
OL: “We just really left the structural framework, and even that we greatly upgraded. That said, we saved a lot of the old doors and reused those, we saved the old bead-board siding of the interior walls. It was in about eight different colors, but we painted it all white.”
YOU’VE DESCRIBED “CRAFT” AS BEING WHAT MAKES DESIGN PERSONAL AND UNIQUE. CAN YOU EXPLAIN THAT?
OL: “Our firm has a fabrication shop that is part of our professional practice. I’ve always felt that the notion of craft, the notion of making something beautifully built, designed for an individual, is a very personal act. We’re all surrounded by really great design at this time in history. All of us have iPhones. A beautiful piece of design, but it doesn’t in any way define me. Everyone I know has one of these things. So how do you do design that actually is personal, that actually does define you, that actually says something about who you are?
“I find that the ability to make these custom pieces really does do that. Unlike most architects who hand over most of the building process to somebody else, in all of our projects we will make some pieces ourselves. We call them signature pieces – special pieces it would be very difficult to have anyone else make.
“I think that craft is a very personal act. I think that’s why it still does matter in our society today. Curly’s Cove is a good example of a little building that’s beautifully put together with lots of interesting little details and pieces of craft in the furniture, as well as in the actual construction. I think that’s one of the reasons people are drawn to it and resonate with it. It feels sort of unique and special.”
WHEN YOU TRAVEL, WHAT DO YOU SEEK OUT?
OL: “Being an architect, I’m always looking for inspirational pieces of architecture. So whatever it is, if I feel like it’s a great piece of design — whether it’s somebody’s house, a hotel, or whatever — that’s what I’m attracted to. That, and a good site… I always like a good site.”
OL: “Curly is our black lab and head of human resources at Lundberg Design. We bought Curly’s Cove five years ago now, when she was a puppy. The first time we went there, we let her out of the car and she went charging out into the mud flats, chasing after all the birds, just as happy as she could be. And came back as this black muddy mess. So we kind of had to name it after her!”
If you’d like to stay at Olle Lundberg’s vacation home rental, Curly’s Cove, click here.