AIA, and alumnus of Harvard Graduate School of design, is principal of the award-winning FINNE Architects. Raised in Norway and the United States, Finne established his practice in Seattle in 1994, bringing a Scandinavian understanding of craft and landscape to the Pacific Northwest. Dedicated to the idea of Crafted Modernism, Finne typically designs custom lighting, furniture, cabinets and hardware for every project. In addition to architecture, FINNE has produced more than 80 pieces of custom fabrications, which are also sold as stand-alone items.
When Finne recently renovated his Seattle home, he took the opportunity to explore materials and processes that intrigue him. “The kitchen and master bath are filled with these experiments because I do things that I normally wouldn’t ask my clients to do,” says Finne. “I call them ‘maiden voyages." Finne is actively involved in fabrication, and was the general contractor for his home’s renovation.
“Which is something I would not recommend to anyone,” he says. “I have a passion for learning the characteristics of materials and designing to those specific characteristics. Things don’t always work. Sometimes designs need amendment, but learning comes from working with materials.” Following is Finne's account of the renovation, his experiments and why he chose the materials he did.
UPPER KITCHEN CABINETs
Five or six years ago I saw 3Form in a magazine or on the Internet. Usually the first thing I do when I see a material that intrigues me is to get my hands on some pieces of whatever it is. I have a whole shelf of material samples. For the upper kitchen cabinets I used resin panels with a band of Alaskan yellow cedar for the top and bottom. I am fascinated with natural patterns, and the 3Form material has a soft visual aesthetic. First and foremost they represent a wonderful opportunity to have nature inside. I strongly feel that translucent panels should be backlit, and in this case there is LED backlighting, which gives a very unique duality. The eco aspect of the resin panels is important to me too. We also have a moveable 3Form panel with a wild grass inclusion in front of an exterior window. It started out fairly green, but the natural UV exposure turns the panel a pale wheat color. I don’t particularly mind the color change, it is just an interesting aspect of the material.
KITCHEN BACKSPLASH AND COUNTERTOP
The backsplash is a custom glass tile that we developed with Anne Sacks. It is a glass mosaic made with ¼ inch strips of glass. We developed several samples before we found the right combination.
The countertops are another experiment. In this kitchen I was determined to have a portion of the countertop as wood, in this case black walnut. I think it is a wonderful contrast with the resin panels. Of course in the sink area even I could not justify having wood, with the splashing and washing dishes and so on. Around the sink area and about two feet out on either side we have Belgium blue limestone. Then I brought in the walnut with a large finger joint where the two materials interlock. Of course anyone who works with wood and stone will tell you you’re absolutely out of your mind for attempting this, but the wood and stone contractors rose to the challenge.
The wood was scribed very precisely to the stone. We used about a 1/8th inch veneer so we could sand it down should anything happen. It also added some durability. The veneer is laid up on MDF with a 1-¾ inch by about 2-½ inch solid wood edge piece. We’re fairly confident it will stay dimensionally stable. So far it has worked out well with no cupping or bowing or separation at the joint, and the feel of the counter is solid.
I have a passion for learning the characteristics of materials and designing to those specific characteristics.
WOOD CABINET FRONTS
The cabinet fronts in the kitchen are Alaskan yellow cedar with a CNC routed texture. We milled them and then invited 16 college students over for a sanding party. The experimental part was that those panels have rails only, no stiles.
The idea was to have one continuous texture. The cabinetmaker said I was crazy, since a normal 5-piece door allows for movement in the panels. When you only do rails you don’t have that. Sure enough, a number of panels cracked, but fortunately with the texture you can’t see the cracks. The boxes are framed, and all the hinges are Blumotion from Blum. Tab pulls routed into the top of the cabinet door panels give a thin, brushed, nickel line.
I’m fascinated with engineered materials and all their various characteristics, and I use them often in my work. For the master bath we chose slab panels of Plyboo, which is an FSC-certified material that combines the plywood with the structure of bamboo. It is very vibrant and flexible. In this installation the trim is mahogany for the color.
ADVENTURES IN MATERIAL
Finne’s eclectic body of work goes beyond architecture into custom design. It is evident that he enjoys experimenting with materials and lighting. “I will confess it is by intention. I spend huge amounts of time exploring materials, typically at very little cost to the clients,” says Finne. “There are various ups and downs. Sometime things don’t work, and it is not a failure of the material, but of the application. I guess I feel fortunate that my practice allows me to get involved in all these things that contribute to the idea of architecture, but are not strictly how architects are expected to be involved.”
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