Not only are fewer people buying and building single-family homes amidst these tough economic times, but even when the economy was booming less then ten percent of these projects designed by architects. But architect Hiromi Ogawa and her eponymous firm have sought to carve out a market niche by helping clients with limited budgets to imagine expanded and remodeled homes that are planned together but may be carried out separately, sometimes with years in between.
Earlier this week I visited an Ogawa-designed project in North Portland: an expansion of a small two-bedroom cottage that adds two additional bedrooms and a bathroom. Built by Lorence Brothers Construction, this particular project is obviously a case of Ogawa taking it more than one room at a time, but the principle remains. The homeowners eventually will gut the interior of the original portion of the home and, with Ogawa's help, re-imagine the space. But for now, this is a traditional cottage with a modern extension in back.
"The project to me shows the possibilities of modern expansion on a typical Portland home," Ogawa told me, "for people who want to stay where they are, but explore design options and improve the architectural fabric of their neighborhood."
Although Ogawa takes pride more in helping the clients find a style they're happy with than crafting one of her own, the contrast between the old and new portions of the house reflects her outlook as a designer: honest and simple. The rear addition is flat-roofed in a contemporary fashion, but in order to bring in ample natural light from the north (the ideal direction for best light), the roof is slightly tilted to make room for a band of clerestory windows along the perimeter. In so doing, the gentle slant of the flat roof ties with the pitched roof of the original little cottage.
Window placement was also carefully approached. Along the central hallway spine is a floor-to-ceiling sliding glass door that looks out onto a future deck. The bedroom, bathroom and master bedroom all share the same aforementioned strip of upper windows, while in the bathroom a playful tall, thin band of glass bisects the shower space. In the master bedroom, where one seeks the most privacy, there are two corner windows counter-intuitively placed at floor level. Here the glass is about natural light, while in public areas such as the hallway and in the dining room of the cottage bordering the new addition, the glass allows the proper views outside one expects.
The interior was built using sustainable materials like cork flooring, a hemlock ceiling and durable Douglas fir windows. The owners and also worked with Clean Energy Works to improve the existing house's insulation and seal the exterior from leaks or drafts.
Ogawa was born in Tokyo and received her B.A. in Architecture from Cornell University in 1997. In 2001 Ogawa received the Eidlitz Fellowship to study design in Paris. Before starting this practice in 2003, she worked for a selection of firms in the Bay Area, including Swatt Architects and Esherick Homsey Dodge Davis. A licensed architect in Oregon and California, she holds a position as adjunct professor of design in the architecture department at Portland State University.
Her partner in the firm, Lynn Fisher, is based in the Bay Area and hods an urban studies degree from Stanford University as well as a master's degree in architecture from Rice University. Before joining Hiromi Ogawa Architects in 2006, Lynn also worked for San Francisco's Esherick Homsey Dodge Davis. She is a licensed architect in California. She is also a LEED-accredited professional, with a strong interest in and knowledge of sustainable design.
Ogawa, like many women in the architecture, runs her practice while raising a family with her husband and son. But that also makes her an empathetic designer as her firm focuses on working with families seeking to enliven Portland's small older neighborhood houses in a way that gently fuses modern style with a respect for the past, by letting each one be distinct.