A Contemporary 1950s Portland Home


They weren’t even looking for a house, not really. The young couple had scoped out a particular Portland neighborhood and had casually seen a few possibilities, but, says the wife, “we weren’t planning on jumping right in.” And yet, when one came up that fit their criteria close-in to the city and with a yard and knockout view—they were smitten.

The house they fell for was a 1950s hillside home owned by the same family since it was built. This created a sentimental appeal for its new owners, but to say it was in disrepair was an understatement. As builder Joe Petrina, with whom the couple had met when looking at a previous house, puts it, “It hadn’t had a thing done to it in 50 years.”

In contrast with their casual approach to finding the house, their plans for its renovation were anything but. From the outset, they had a clear idea of what the place should and shouldn’t be. “We wanted to stay fairly true to the lines of the original house,” says the wife. “We didn’t want to have a lot of empty spaces, and we knew we wanted to warm it up with natural materials—wood, metal and concrete.” Inside, they wanted to create a sophisticated yet cozy landing pad for their growing family.

The couple’s extensive research led them to residential designer Rick Berry, principle at the architecture firm they had been admiring. “Each of their homes was different, but the foundations were clean and interesting and could be layered on top of,” says the wife. That aesthetic dovetailed perfectly with the couple’s goals, and so Berry got to work, with architects Jeff Lusin and Kelly Edwards helping to bring the project to life.

“We saved the downstairs and lower-level perimeter and built a new main level and an addition to the side, which we angled to capture the views,” says Berry. The number of windows tripled, with clerestories to bring northern light into the house and overhangs on the south to block the harsh summer sun. For the exterior, they aimed for a contemporary yet welcoming feel, with cedar siding “stained so the front of the house really pops,” Berry says. The landscape architecture, by Steve Shapiro and Blair Didway, contrasts the lines of the house with the naturalistic feel of basalt boulders and woodsy plantings. A dry stream, lined and topped with river rock, offers aesthetic appeal and also solved a draining issue.

The couple’s approach to the interiors was similarly thoughtful. Although they had worked with Domestic Arts’ Charlotte Cooney on paint color, carpet, tile selections and the countertops during the construction process, before jumping into the furnishings in earnest, “we decided to live in the house for a while,” says the wife. When they were ready, they knew they wanted to be a bit more playful. “We wanted it to have contrast—the sleek modern and the bohemian.”

They connected with designers Joelle C. Nesen and Lucy Roland and brought visual references that ranged from high-concept Modernism to eclectic, handcrafted goods. From those opposing concepts, Nesen and Roland gave the owners “a gentle collected mix—a little groovy but timeless,” says Nesen. In their scheme, Modernist icons, such as the Eames dining chairs, mingle with more textural pieces such as an antler chandelier or a mod lounge chair covered in a nubby textile. A unique palette of reds and purples soften the crisp whiteness of the walls. Brass elements—on a vintage night table, a floor lamp—provide an earthy sort of glamour. Like the house itself, though, everything has a purpose and a place. “There aren’t a lot of extras anywhere,” says Nesen.

Although the project began quickly, the final product tells the tale of deep and reflective collaboration. “It was a very rich and experiential process that developed over time,” says the wife. “We all brought something to the table and let the journey unfold naturally without holding on to any one concept too tightly.”