“Some guys love cars. He loves houses,” says architect Stuart Silk of his client, who had previously restored a home. “He’s a historic architecture buff.” This time around, the house was a Portland gem. Designed in 1928, the sprawling brick-and-plaster abode seamlessly combines English Arts and Crafts and Tudor Revival influences, while the interior boasts textural hand-troweled plaster walls, leaded-glass windows and hand-tooled oak paneling. “This is one of the top historic homes in the city,” says Silk, who worked on the residence with interior designer Danielle Krieg and project manager Jeff Ruehlmann, who is no longer with the firm. “It was probably the queen bee of the neighborhood when it was built.”
While the new owners appreciated the home’s period details, they envisioned a fresher, more relaxed feeling, which meant rethinking and reorganizing spaces. “The north wing was a rabbit warren,” reports Silk. “One of our charges was to knit the house back together—to make it more cohesive and connected.” Although Silk says it’s “historic renovation 101” to preserve as many details as possible, such as many of the now restored metal sash windows, the architect made significant changes where necessary. Demolishing the original back stairway, for example, allowed the kitchen to be relocated toward the family area and opened to an octagonal dining room. Expanding arched openings between the two brought in light from the east and brightened the wing, while new limestone flooring, custom-bleached white-oak cabinetry and thick Calacatta marble countertops established the more relaxed feeling that the owners envisioned. “The kitchen has a kind of lived-in elegance,” says Krieg, who handled the interior surfaces and finishes. “The flooring gives it an old-world look, but we incorporated modern finishes and cabinetry.”
Outside, the space looks to a multilevel patio with brick walls and sandstone pavers that landscape architect Larry Cavender points out match those used on the original grounds. It’s one of several distinct areas that Cavender created throughout the property, including a peaceful courtyard with a fountain. Benches strategically placed throughout the grounds provide views of the composition of the home and garden together. “The owners wanted a casual, informal French-country feeling,” Cavender says, “but all within the framework of the existing architectural features and plantings that we were preserving.” Lavender, baby’s breath, boxwood, delphinium, hydrangea and other plants give the garden the romantic feel the wife requested.
As much as Silk and his team updated the home for contemporary living, it was up to project manager Dave Lucas to keep many of the home’s original features intact. “Of all the projects I’ve managed over the past 27 years, this one is certainly at the top of the list,” he notes. In addition to replacing the original radiators, plumbing and electrical systems, Lucas and his crew meticulously recreated original details such as the carved linenfold panels on the handsome front door. “We had to match the interior patinas, too, which was a fun challenge,” Lucas says.
The owners tapped designer Joelle Nesen to furnish the home. “Their vision was to create a light and airy sort of French-meets-Belgian look that was casual but still elegant,” explains Nesen. “The cleaner furniture allows the architecture to sing.” In the living room, for example, a pair of candlesticks on the coffee table seem as though they could be original to the home, while the furnishings around the replace are covered in simple white fabrics punctuated with colorful throw pillows for a fresh look. “It was fun to bring together opposing elements to create a special collection,” says Nesen. To continue the mixed theme, near the piano, the designer created a gallery wall, combining traditional paintings alongside works by contemporary artists such as Richard Serra and Barbara Bartholomew.
Nesen carried the formula throughout the house, including into the master bedroom, where a four-poster bed with billowy white drapery and comfortable custom chairs in light fabrics provide a striking juxtaposition against the room’s dramatic vaulted ceiling, plaster walls and exposed white-oak beams. “The quieter interior lets the strong architecture do all the talking,” says the designer. “There needs to be tension without a fight.”
Indeed, the dynamic conflict between historic and modern influences was key to achieving the casual yet storied look that the owners envisioned from the very beginning. “We loved the buzz of the excitement of the collaboration, and they were dream clients,” says Silk. “They have very evolved taste, and we learned as much from them as they learned from us.”