Snail Shell Sauna in Olympia WA crawls its way from paper to reality

Hello sauna times.  I would love to share about my most recent build, the Snail Shell Sauna.

I work for Zyl Vardos, we build custom tiny houses with sweeping designs and specialize in architectural feats!  I have worked with Abel Zyl and the Zyl Vardos crew sporadically over the past 4 years.  I specialize in sheet metal and carpentry of all shapes and sizes!  I have learned a great deal working with this team, but my roots come from my Pop’s woodworking shop in Sykesville, Maryland.  My Dad was always building something and needless to say it wore off on me…

I have been sweating in saunas for years now thanks to a small sauna that was on a farm where I lived.  During the winter months I find them absolutely necessary to keep the juices flowing!  I spent years dreaming of saunas when looking at Lloyd Kahn’s books and I have been dreaming up the Snail Shell Sauna ever since I did a build with SunRay Kelley this past summer.  SunRay’s natural designs very much inspired me as well as a visit to William Coperthwaite’s property in Machiasport, Maine.
The Fibonacci sequence and golden ratio were the underlying reasoning of the design on this building.  I used the Fibonacci numbers everywhere possible.  The walls cant out 13 degrees, it’s an 8 sided structure, and the spiral for the snail shell follows the golden ratio.  All of this was to allow the building to grow intuitively.  Nature guided ethos of this project.  It is very much rooted in a spiritual process.
I worked collaboratively with the clients to design the bath house they desired, but I asked for creative freedom on the design.  So we worked together and came up with something that fit their needs and allowed for me to move in a different direction than a conventionally constructed building.  Another underlying theme of this project was to use the materials that the clients had.  We disassembled some old barn stalls and used the old wood to frame and construct the majority of the building.  We also had help from a local wood guru, Micheal Moore and with Micheal’s help we milled up 4 logs of Western Red Cedar for the lap cedar exterior.  I learned this technique while working with SunRay Kelley.
I did study several saunas that I have used in the past and I decided to go with a concrete floor with a drain in the middle so that it was easy to wash out the inside.  The drain has a plumbing vent right outside of the building so it also allows for fresh air to come into the sauna as the fire burns up the oxygen inside the building.  The building is well insulated and the stained glass that Wendy chose added a wonderful ambiance.  The light from the glass is spectacular.
Sauna interior stained glass window. Photo: Scott Hollis
Photo: Scott Hollis
There is an outdoor shower and two old cast iron tubs are ready to be installed on the patio.  The tubs will work for cold plunges or just watching the sunset in a warm pool underneath the western Washington drizzle.  The tubs were used for years as horse troughs on the farm where the sauna was built.
I enjoy to sauna regularly and I will be using the Snail Shell Sauna quite often as it is located just down the street from my house at my friend’s farm.  I hope to get a routine going and invite people who are interested. The shape of the building lends itself to song, as the sound bounces off of the domed ceiling with a magnificent reverberation.  It is really a wonder to experience.
I worked closely with my friend and teacher Travis Conn.  We spent many evenings talking through the design and Travis was the person I turned too with all of my thoughts.  He encouraged me and added his touch to the building with the most amazing copper snail shell that he raised as a commission.  Truly an honor to host the building that holds his decor.  I dream of continual collaboration of architecturally driven craftspeople…
Framework for the Snail Shell Sauna. Photo: Scott Hollis
Snail Shell Sauna roof. Photo: Scott Hollis
Framing up the Snail Shell Sauna. Photo: Scott Hollis

My next project is sauna related as well!  I am in the design process on a portable sauna, the Angler Fish Sauna!  This will be on a trailer that can be towed to various locations.  Much more to come on this project so keep posted on my blog, www.pairoducks.blogspot.com  and don’t hesitate to contact me for commission work.  Thanks!

snail shell sauna completed

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