The large, wooded lot that made this 1950s home so attractive to architect Risa Boyer’s clients had a hidden counterpart in the interior’s many partitions. Overbuilding the inside had crowded out the lovely views, still visible in a few privileged rooms. The original living room had plate glass windows and a vaulted tongue-in-groove ceiling, and it was Risa’s task to recover and refine this midcentury ideal throughout the house.
Although the original plans were unavailable, it was clear that several dime-a-dozen indignities had been inflicted on this house over the years. A 1990s remodel produced pink paneled kitchen cabinetry, an awkward main bedroom addition, and an enclosed carport, none of it done well. Risa, AIA, took a judicious approach that roughly preserved most of the room locations in this 3,152-square-foot house, while creating visual connections to the trees. At the back of the wedge-shaped corner lot, she also added two small outbuildings—a workshop and a guest house.
The structural bones had a recognizable logic. Roughly L-shaped, the single-story house folds around an arrival courtyard. One enters on its longest side containing a large living room with a fireplace. A hallway to the right leads to three bedrooms and the primary suite. To the left of the entry, a dining area, kitchen, laundry, powder room, and den form the short side of the L next to the garage.
Updating the floor plan, finishes, and energy systems required a gut remodel. In the process, both large and small moves enhanced the atmosphere of ethereal spaciousness. While the beams in the vaulted living room remained, Risa added a 23-foot-long pocketing door between the living room and a new covered porch tucked behind the garage. Another new window wall contains an 8-foot-wide opening directly to the backyard, and a skylight admits eastern light near the ridge line. Two more skylights further blur the indoor-outdoor edges, one in the kitchen and one on the covered porch.
Another major move was to create a den off the kitchen in place of the former laundry room. Demolition unearthed concrete slabs that suggested it had once been used as a carport. “It wasn’t well integrated into the architecture of the house,” says Risa. “We wanted the den to be visually connected to the kitchen—they imagined their daughter playing there while they cook, and having a view out to the street.” There, a new ridge beam, rafters, and a “car decking” tongue-in-groove ceiling create a vaulted space that’s continuous with the kitchen, while two walls of windows provide visual access to the leafy front yard.
“We created floating shelves between the kitchen and den so you could see through to the outside, and carried that detail to the main bedroom fireplace,” Risa says. All the bedrooms, too, received new vaulted ceilings with the same material treatment. “The primary suite was the addition that didn’t completely make sense, but we worked with it,” Risa says.
In making the house spatially whole, the architect added important details that tie the interiors together. Several motifs emerged, such as wood slats that divide space without blocking views. “The idea started with an entry screen,” Risa says. “We wanted to make sure the entry wasn’t completely blocked off from the view to the backyard, because that’s what attracted the owners when they bought the house. But the fireplace is right there, and we needed to create this cozy fireplace zone that is separate from the entryway.” The semi-transparent wood slats impart a texture and pattern that is repeated at the end of the kitchen cabinetry facing the living room.
In the living room, Risa also created a new look for the brick chimney that had been clad in huge river rock. The chimney was rebuilt and faced with Norman brick, whose longer dimensions underscore the midcentury vibe. This brick also appears on the outdoor fireplace, part of the 22-by-25-foot covered porch addition off the living room. “In the Pacific Northwest, it’s really nice to have these covered outdoors spaces, because we do get a lot of drizzle,” Risa says. “Coinciding with the timing of COVID, now they can entertain outside, and their daughter rides her bike around in that nice, big area during the winter.”
Other subtle refinements include rift-sawn walnut cabinetry, quartz kitchen countertops, and rift-sawn white oak flooring. In the primary bath, dark-colored stacked bond ceramic tile repeats the fireplaces’ aesthetic, and the terrazzo floor’s oversized river rock aggregate lends an outdoorsy feel.
Post and Beam Perfection
“Part of our goal was to bring this uninsulated house up to higher energy efficiency,” Risa says. “We ended up adding a lot of closed-cell spray foam in the walls and the crawl space under the floor.” Typical of post and beam-style houses of its era, the roof cavity above the car decking—a mix of structural-grade Douglas fir and pine—was uninsulated. To preserve the exposed ceilings, a new roof was framed over top to make room for rigid insulation and run electrical boxes for downlighting. “Because of the roof reworking, we ended up replacing a lot of the car decking,” Risa says.
Along with the added insulation, mechanical systems were upgraded with an air-source heat pump and heat pump water heater that efficiently manage Portland’s mild winters. Outside, the original board-and-batten cedar cladding was replaced with cedar tongue-in-groove siding; its dark stain helps the house recede into the trees.
It’s not just the new glassy spaces that beckon the owners to step out. At the back of the property, twin structures complement and counterpoint the main house with roofs that slope up toward the tree canopy. “In the house, the vaulted roofline comes down pretty low, so in those spaces we wanted to open to the landscape,” Risa says. “We used the same pitch but extended it out as a shed roof and took the glazing all the way up, so those small spaces feel bigger.” The workshop was designed as a hobbyist space for the husband, who makes custom, steel-framed bikes. The guest house is an open room with a kitchenette and bath.
Arriving mid-construction, the pandemic threw a wrench into the schedule, making it a two-year-long project. Now, however, the home’s airy porch, sliding exterior walls, and outbuildings are doubly appreciated. “We tried to honor the original architecture by keeping the details consistent, so you couldn’t tell what was new and what was existing,” Risa says. The new house preserves the original post and beam rhythms, while emanating warmth and skillfully merging with the verdant world outside.
Plans and Drawings
Lake Oswego, Oregon
Architect: Risa Boyer, AIA, Risa Boyer Architecture, Portland, Oregon
Builder: Hammer and Hand, Portland
Landscape architect: Lilyvilla Gardens, Portland
Project size: 3,152 square feet
Site size: 1.1 acres
Construction cost: $400 per square foot
Photography: Jeremy Bittermann / JBSA
Faucets: Hansgrohe, Blanco, Kohler
Lighting: Cedar and Moss, Herman Miller, Modern Forms, Prudential LIghting, Louis Poulsen, Sonneman
Paints: Benjamin Moore
Tile: Heath Ceramics, Ann Sacks
Wine refrigerator: Sub-Zero