Jim Olson’s perfect weekend in Seattle

The co-founder of prestigious architectural practice Olson Kundig, now in its 50th year, made his name designing global institutions and private residences that act as a bridge to nature and to art

Jim Olson at Seattle's Pike Place Market
Jim Olson at Seattle's Pike Place Market | Image: Kyle Johnson

Louie, our Labradoodle, doesn’t respect weekends, so Saturday begins like every other day with a 6am walk in our neighbourhood. A free Saturday in the city is special, as my wife Katherine and I usually spend weekends at our cabin on Puget Sound – so when we stay here, we like to explore. The city is changing so fast that even though we have lived here for 40 years – the past 30 in a building I designed in the historic district’s Pioneer Square – there is always something new to see. 

Our urban hike begins in Peter Miller Books just off First Avenue. It’s one of the best architectural bookstores in America and I usually find something to tempt me; most recently it was an extraordinary book of photographs by Yukio Futagawa called Celestial Gardens: Kyoto Imperial Palace and Villa. Then we will call in at the Greg Kucera Gallery, just round the corner, which represents really interesting contemporary American artists such as Anne Appleby and Peter Millett. 

Next is Pike Place Market. Established in 1907, it’s home to some wonderful, family-run shops where the owners always greet you – so important in today’s big-brand world. We’ll buy salmon for supper at Pure Food Fish Market, then stock up on the city’s best olive oil at DeLaurenti and Brick House Select Pinot Noir and Januik Cabernet Sauvignon at Pike & Western Wine Shop, before visiting Turkish Delight to taste the day’s baklava.

Back on First Avenue, we split up to go to our favourite clothes stores. Katherine has always been a great dresser and likes the original clothes at Baby & Company. I go to the Jackstraw boutique next door: I like an interesting shirt and these are always beautifully tailored and detailed.

Le Pichet, a small French bistro, is the perfect place for lunch. It does an excellent omelette and salad. I never drink at lunchtime, but we will treat ourselves to coffee and an apricot oatmeal pecan cookie at Macrina Bakery’s Sodo café. 

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Restored, we’ll then head to South Lake Union. It’s a new “city within the city” and everywhere you go there are buildings under construction – including the Wagner Education Center at The Center for Wooden Boats, which my partner Tom Kundig is designing. I find all this development exciting; there is an inherent optimism to living in a city that’s becoming something new. 

We spend the evening at home, grilling the fish and drinking wine on our leafy deck. We live on the top floor of our building and have views that take in the whole architectural history of Seattle. 

Sundays are about relaxation and even when we’re in the city we like to spend the day in the natural world. In the morning I make “eggs in a nest”, a recipe my father taught me where you break eggs into holes in slices of bread and bake them. I’ve made it my own by adding what I find in the fridge, such as last night’s leftover salmon. 

We’ll either head to the Seattle Asian Art Museum, a beautiful art deco building in Volunteer Park with a wonderful collection of historic art, or cross Lake Washington to go to the Bellevue Botanical Garden. Seattle has the best climate in the world for plants and, like everything in the city, this new garden is growing and growing. 

The afternoon always includes a trip to the food lovers’ Metropolitan Market in Uptown. We go for the week’s groceries and maybe some fresh crab cakes for an easy supper. Otherwise, when we get home we walk half a block to Café Paloma, a one-room Turkish restaurant where we feel part of the family. The lentil soup is so healthy it makes you feel like a better person.

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After supper, I’ll read The New York Times, look at my calendar to prepare myself for the week ahead and, because Louie needs a bedtime walk, the weekend will finish just as it began.

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