The changing house

Lidunn Øverdahl Cain is a Norwegian architect based in Vashon Island, Wash. Photo: Øverdahl Cain Building Design

Lidunn Øverdahl Cain is a Norwegian architect based in Vashon Island, Wash. Photo: Øverdahl Cain Building Design

Lidunn Øverdahl Cain talks about her people-based approach to design

Line Grundstad Hanke

Norwegian American Weekly

I was introduced to architect Lidunn Øverdahl Cain through the Royal Norwegian Consulate in Seattle, Wash. She had visited the consulate, and was interested in meeting Norwegian women living in the area. We talked and soon she was a part of my Norwegian women’s group, a group we call “Norske Kvinner” that meet every other month.

Lidunn and I often talk about design and architecture and we both share ideas and interest. It is important to bounce ideas with someone with a similar background to keep each other grounded and work towards our goals in business.

Lidunn held some talks at different libraries in Seattle area recently, including the Ballard Library, where she spoke at about “The Changing House.” Her lecture is very informative about how to look at your home and learn how to make it work for you and your family. Small changes may be all you need.

Lidunn Øverdahl Cain grew up in Trondheim, Norway, and graduated from the Oslo School of Architecture in 1990. Early in her career, Lidunn worked at the Oslo Modellverksted, Snøhetta Arkitektkontor (as a model builder), Ola Roald Arkitektkontor and Arstad Arkitektkontor.

In 1998, Lidunn went to the Mt. Baldy Zen Center, a Buddhist monastery, in California for a summer, and ended up living there for four years. She met her husband Christopher there, and had their son Lars in 2001. In 2002, they moved to Vashon Island, Wash., and had their daughter Eva in 2004. In 2009, she founded Øverdahl Cain Building Design.

We recently talked with Lidunn about her work and approach to design.

Studio designed by Øverdahl Cain Building Design in Vashon Island, Wash.

Studio designed by Øverdahl Cain Building Design in Vashon Island, Wash.

Line Grundstad Hanke: What is it that makes architecture work and how do you relate to it?

Lidunn Øverdahl Cain: I believe that good architecture is more about people then buildings. It doesn’t matter how big or small a house is if you can live the life you want inside it.

I always start with people when I work with a house. I want to create the best possible houses for people and their specific situations. By listening closely to them, I get a sense of who they are, which again makes it possible to create a good home for them. I like most of all to work with homes because I love working closely with people and the space they live in. I love getting to know them and their situation and then create the best home possible for them and their needs, be it a new house or a remodel.

LGH: What is important to you about architecture?

LØC: What’s important to me about architecture is when people feel good in a building and can live the life they want inside it. I think a good house is functional and practical but also pleasant to be in and around. I am less interested in putting my sense of style upon people but more allowing the home owner to express his or her taste and personality in the space they are going to live in. I can make the flow work well in a house – a good house is also considerate and respectful towards its surroundings, be it other buildings or nature. A house is not a separate entity, but part of a bigger whole.

The most important part of a house is the people, the users, of that particular house. It doesn’t matter how beautiful a house is if you can’t live the life you want inside it.

A home in Sætre, Norway, designed by Øverdahl Cain Building Design.

A home in Sætre, Norway, designed by Øverdahl Cain Building Design.

LGH: Do you think architecture has changed through the years and if so what changes do you see?

LØC: I don’t really know how architecture has changed over the years, except houses seems to be getting bigger and bigger (but, of course, that depends on how long back we’re talking).

LGH: Do you find architecture different in the U.S. than in Norway?

LØC: One big difference I see between homes in Norway and the U.S. is the emphasis that’s put on cars. Often the double or triple garage is the first thing you meet when you come to visit someone. I have visited homes where you can’t find the front door, but there’s no question where the car should be. In Norway the emphasis is put more on the front door of the house – it should be welcoming and easy to find. The garage or car park is often in the back or to the side of where people walk.

Another difference is the size of houses. In the U.S. everything seems to be bigger and have more bathrooms. Even appliances like a washing machine and a fridge is bigger.

I am not so sure that bigger is better all the time. I think a house can be too big for a family to thrive in. The family members can get lost inside their own room and live completely separate lives. In a small home you can’t avoid interacting with each other, something I think is a good thing.

LGH: Any thing you like to add to the process?

LØC: Small changes to your home can have a big positive impact on how you live inside it with quality of life. In difficult economic times it also makes sense to stay put but by making your home work for you don’t have to compromise comfort or usefulness.

For more information, visit, or contact Lidunn at lidunn @ or (206) 422-4519.

This article was originally published in the May 13, 2011 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. For more information about the Norwegian American Weekly or to subscribe, call us toll free (800) 305-0217 or email

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