BY BRIAN LIBBY
This Saturday brings the third annual Portland Modern Home Tour, and marks the second straight year we at Portland Architecture have been asked to choose the homes. Spanning midcentury-modern to contemporary, urban to suburban, new construction to remodels and single-family homes to high-density apartments, the intent was to paint a wide and diverse picture of what it means to be modern in our metro area.
The first house we signed for the tour was the Skyline Residence by Skylab Architecture, situated in Portland's West Hills just off Skyline Boulevard. Perched onto a hillside, it enjoys views for scores of miles, all the way to the coast range. Its form is comprised of two rectangular boxes arranged perpendicularly, which allows the upper floors to cantilever over the ground in front (to create a covered porch) and in back (to make you feel like you're floating over Forest Park).
As compelling as the views and the exterior form may be, Skylab has created some captivating eye candy in the interiors. A personal favorite is the kitchen, where an awning seems to rise out of the wood floor (which is fashioned from a reclaimed basketball court, form an island, and then continue overhead almost like a Mobius strip. Another favorite space is the stairway, lit from above with a massive skylight to make its transparent trends glow with light and featuring a colorful multi-story mural by an acclaimed Brazilian graffiti artist.
Another early addition to the tour is one we previously covered here on Portland Architecture, a house on NE 28th Avenue by SERA Architects and lead designer Walker Templeton (in collaboration with Jon DeLeonardo now with Skylab Architecture). Extensively remade from a small, deconstructed circa-1919 home, the project embraced high-performance sustainable design practices intended to help it last for another 100 years while maintaining affordability.
Recycled 2×4 studs from the original house, for example were milled on site to produce the wooden slats of the stair, while reclaimed Douglas fir decking from a local warehouse was used for the wood floors, stair surface, kitchen Island, shelving and all the interior doors.
Thanks to its gutterless roof, during rains the house displays a kind of functional theater, as rain falls from the roof down to deep collection pools on either side.
Another tour house previously featured on this site is the Tower House by architect Benjamin Waechter. Perched on a steep Cornell Road hillside in Northwest Portland, the four-story house was built up rather than out to minimize foundation costs and to work around the small shelf of a footprint available. The form seems loosely inspired by medieval towers, yet rather than being dark inside the home is full of light. Balconies are carved into the cylindrical form where there are public spaces, such as the top-floor living room and third-floor dining room and kitchen. The exterior is clad in corrugated metal with radius corners to eliminate the need for corner trim, a practical move that gives the house a kind of refined elegance. Inside, public rooms are finished with quarter-sawn white oak floors.
It was five years ago that I first encountered Waechter's work, on the 11xDesign homes tour, which featured houses and condos developed by their architects. Despite a wealth of talent on the tour, Waechter's Z-haus was arguably the star of the show, for Waechter has an exceptionally uncommon blend of simplicity and refinement - not just in exterior form or interior surfaces, but how to configure and combine space. No wonder his resume includes stints for a pair of internationally renowned architects, Renzo Piano and Brad Cloepfil. As much as I love Waechter's houses, his talent is such that sooner or later somebody needs to hire this guy for a larger-scale building. I'd love to see a Ben Waechter art museum in 2025.
Some of this year's tour-house designers I honestly wasn't familiar with, such as Portland's GSB Design, the firm behind the house on NE 28th Avenue. The L-shaped house is arranged around a courtyard which is a focal point of the house. Sliding glass walls open the living and dining rooms to the courtyard patio. Writing home magazine articles for the past decade-plus, I've seen plenty of great rooms with floor-to-ceiling glass patio doors that disappear in order to create wide-open, indoor-outdoor space. But I've never before seen two walls disappear, including the corner where they meet, as is the case in this house.
Yet despite such openness and abundance of natural light, my visit to the house left me perhaps most impressed with its materiality. The design by Steve Bock of GSB Design takes its inspiration from the mountain architecture of Timberline Lodge and the heavy industrial buildings of inner Portland, with heavy timbers and big steel bolts. It's a modern urban home, but it feels just a little bit like a far-away retreat.
Another up-and-coming architect I came across while curating the tour is Matt Raphael of Raphael Design, who designed a remodel and expansion of a circa-1953 home on SE 55th Avenue in Portland. Situated on a generous 11,000 square foot site within a stone's throw of Mt. Tabor, the house retains the original basement and general footprint, while adding a new wing and partial second story.
With a generous, open plan and plenty of glass, the floor plan focuses on a central outdoor patio accessible from the open dining room, living room and kitchen. Two master suites are on separate floors and at opposite ends of the house, and two offices can double as guest rooms. Barn doors can be used to divide the spaces and provide privacy. In addition to the architecture itself, Raphael also custom designed many of the interior built-in furniture and cabinetry.
When seeking out midcentury-modern homes in the Portland metro area for a homes tour, it's hard not to keep coming back to Rummer homes. Inspired by the Eichler Homes of southern California built in the 1950s-'70s from designs by acclaimed architects like A. Quincy Jones, builder-developer Robert Rummer created scores of houses in our area during that same time period with an equally innovative and inviting blend of indoor and outdoor space.
Built in 1966 by developer Robert Rummer, and situated in Beaverton's Vista Brook neighborhood, the home quietly blends into its surroundings by combining a subtle approach of mid-century modern and Pacific Northwest aesthetics.
The open floor plan surrounding the entry atrium offers an expansive feel in a compact footprint. The remodeled kitchen design maintains the original layout and incorporates a communal butcher-block island by local designer Niles Snyder. The overall remodel was overseen by its homeowners, Tyler Stone and Patrick Hinds, musicians from the electro-pop band Sutro.
Another historic mid-century home featured on this year's tour is a circa-1955 design by noted local architect Warren Webber. Having worked under acclaimed local architects like Pietro Belluschi and Richard Sundeleaf, Webber founded his own firm in 1948 and would go on to design not only homes but several noteworthy churches.
"Warren Webber was a very self-disciplined architect, solving difficult problems before committing to a concept," writes Richard Ritz in his book Architects of Oregon. "He was a perfectionist in developing details; nothing was left to chance. His drawings were also works of perfection."
The home's residents know it well. Homeowner Sarah Tripp Stephan grew up visiting her mother there, who spent the last decade of her life in the house. The husband-and-wife team of architect David Horning of MOA Architecture and interior designer Holly Freres of JHL Design had three primary goals: to preserve and strengthen the home’s handsome architectural bones, to make the most of south and east-facing exposures, and to create authentic barefoot living to reflect the character and spirit of lake life. Horning and Freres incorporated numerous architectural elements that honored Weber’s original vision and made it current. By bringing in texture, warmth and personal history, they transformed this classic midcentury modern into a cozy family home using modern amenities, technology and materials.
For the final two homes on the tour, I wanted to showcase compact urban living, be it in single or multi-family residences. That starts with the Irvington Residence by DAO Architecture. (An introduction between this and the Webber house's architect could go, 'DAO? MAO. MAO? DAO.')
Over the past decade Portland has seen many so-called skinny houses squeezed into half-sized lots. Many have been major eyesores, as if the architectural draftspeople behind them had never taken even high school geometry. Not so with this elegant design.
Even though it's just 13 feet wide, the house feels proportionally elegant, while managing to accommodate a living room, double-height dining room, kitchen, two bedrooms, a full bathroom and powder room, a ground floor patio and an upper floor deck. Extensive use of windows, including a large central skylight and ample interior glazing, combine with through-floor openings make the structure feel considerably more spacious than would be anticipated within the 500 square foot footprint.
Holst Architecture's Sawyer's Row, a 40-unit complex on the northwestern edge of Slabtown in NW Portland, is a continuation of the firm's remarkable resume of condos and apartments. The firm made its name initially more than a decade ago with pragmatically modest-budgeted yet inspiringly attractive public buildings such as the Pacific Northwest College of Art and the Oregon Ballet Theater, converted from a warehouse and bank branch, respectively. Yet in the 2000s the firm really began to soar with a series of condos situated in the city's historic neighborhoods, most notably the Belmont Street Lofts but also including projects like the Clinton Condos (included in last year's tour), before graduating to larger-scale works like the stunning 937 condos in the Pearl District.
Sawyer's Row is comprised of forty apartments with an exterior palette of textured cedar rain screen claddings with cement stucco and steel canopies. Rather than consume the site with a long, overbearing structure, the architects broke the building into four smaller parts, promoting a residential neighborhood feel while setting the tone for new development in this burgeoning area of the city. Situated in a former industrial area, Sawyer’s Row is surrounded by an eclectic mix of industrial, commercial, and multi- and single-family buildings, and sets an example for successful future infill development in the neighborhood.