Every year the popular Street of Eames tour sells out its limited allotment of tickets with plenty of design aficionados left out in the cold unable to see the houses. So if you're looking to see some of the best contemporary residential designs in the city, the Small Spaces/Big Ideas home tour might be worth a Saturday afternoon.
Four years ago, Linda Rose and her husband, Eldon Haines, realized it might soon be time to consolidate -- and reinvent -- their family living arrangements. The retired couple lives in Eugene, Ore., where they have to negotiate 46 stairs from curb to doorstep every time they venture out. So the couple decided to build their own version of a dream retirement home in Rose's daughter's backyard in Portland.
The two life-long environmentalists didn't want just another house, however. The pair already burned old newspapers and cardboard in their wood stove and recycled or reused all plastic. They're proud to boast that they have generated two garbage cans of waste a year for the past 20 years.
Haines, a nuclear physicist, has worked for decades as a consultant to NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab, most recently on the Mars Odyssey unmanned spacecraft. But he's also known nationwide as the inventor of the copper cricket, a solar water heater. "My real-life interest is the environment, not planet Mars," he likes to point out.
So it was only natural that the couple set out to build a home that generates all the energy it needs to run appliances, heating, and cooling. It's a pioneering effort in Oregon and one of the first in the nation.
These so-called net-energy homes go a step beyond the "zero-energy homes" promoted by the federal government, explains Charlie Stephens, residential energy specialist at the Oregon Energy Dept. in Salem. To qualify as zero-energy, a home need only generate enough electricity for 70% to 80% of its needs. The Rose House is energy self-sufficient, period.
All over the West, homeowners are renovating old bungalows. Some meticulously mimic the original architecture; others create strikingly contemporary additions, sharply contrasting old and new. Architects Joann Le and David Horsley, a Portland couple, chose yet another approach. "We treated the renovation with a subtle touch that imbued a modern sensibility while respecting the home's character," says Horsley. And perhaps most important, they kept a good sense of humor along the way.
"With two architects in the house, there was no restraining voice of reason," laughs Horsley. "We turned a little fixer into a significant fixer." The couple has spent the last six years gradually transforming their 1913 bungalow from a collection of small, dark rooms to an open, airy, light-filled home. They did almost all of the work themselves--even making much of the furniture. "We certainly wish we had bought stock in Home Depot," says Le.
One of their first decisions was to remove a wall that divided a small kitchen and a tiny downstairs bedroom. Horsley had fond memories of the large kitchen and eating area in his grandmother's home, and he and Le wanted a similarly gracious space. "We use the kitchen in a modern way," explains Le. "We cook, eat, do the bills, and read the paper there." By opening up the room with large double-hung windows and a glass door, they gained access to sunlight and views.
Key to the success of the kitchen is a new rear porch that expands the area into the backyard. The couple finished it with the same fir flooring used inside, protecting the exposed section with spar urethane, a marine-grade finish available at most paint and hardware stores. To ensure that the porch ceiling wouldn't block light to the kitchen, Le and Horsley designed skylights between the rafters, giving them the best of both worlds. A series of openings in the interior walls lets in additional sunlight. "We're not sun worshippers or even beach people," Le says with a smile, "but capturing the light is really important to us."