Beyond the box: Enough with the neo-Craftsmans

Flexible designs as fluid as modern life

Enough with the neo-Craftsmans, say a handful of Portland-area builders. Let's build ON the past, not rebuild it.

In the Northwest, consumers and builders alike seem to prefer older home styles updated with modern conveniences over clean-lined contemporary styles built with materials other than wood. But why not consider homes specifically designed and constructed to reflect the way people live now, say the people behind four homes built or remodeled in 2006.

Few homeowners employ live-in servants anymore, and what use is a formal dining room when most families cook meals themselves and eat in the kitchen? And why waste space on a formal living room when most families gather in whatever room holds the video electronics? Old-fashioned rooms are not where the future lies, these builders say, and they are offering alternatives.

Consider the curved, concrete lines of a home on the Washington side of the Glenn Jackson Bridge that reflects its era and location --and hides its cleaning, heating and entertainment systems --with low-maintenance concrete and metal surfaces. Or what about a Japanese-style loft in Northeast Portland that combines an open floor plan with built-in storage, providing numerous options for dividing up personal space?

Concrete, glass and luxury touches --including Indonesian hardwoods and heated bathroom floors --make a contemporary home near Washington Park unique. And the innovative remodel of a 1910-built home in the Alberta Arts neighborhood features salvaged materials, energy-efficient systems and an open floor plan to bring its older architecture more in line with modern living. (See related story below).

"With all the Craftsman-style houses being built, there are few options on the market for the modern homebuyer," said Alexander Bertorelli, whose company, AGB Development, built the 2,834-square-foot contemporary home at 609 S.W. Arboretum Circle. It's listed at $895,000 with Ben Efran of Oregon First Realty.

"Houses with separate wings take up a lot more space, but the floor plan in this one is efficient --all the space is used," Bertorelli said. "Plus, it's convenient, with central vacuum, air filtration, central media and programmable lighting. There are cleaner lines --everything is hidden well --and lower-maintenance surfaces."

The four-bedroom, 2.5-bath home, filled with dramatic spaces and natural light, mixes concrete indoors and out with other contemporary finishes such as Kempas hardwood floors and stainless-steel countertop inlays. The master bath has a heated limestone floor, double cascading showerheads, a steam unit and an immense champagne-bubble tub.

"This is the future," Efran said. "It's gorgeous, unique and simply a more efficient house to live in. Plus, it has amazing views. The kitchen is a marvel, with its retractable range and cabinets of African lacewood and aluminum, which look like a fine guitar."

Art of efficiency

John Relyea is designer, builder and sales agent for the 2,147-square-foot contemporary at 11734 S.E. Evergreen Highway in Vancouver. He wants this model home, priced at $724,000, to be a showcase for the kinds of custom work his development company, Encore Construction, can create.

"This home sits next to the I-205 bridge, with sweeping views of the bridge and the Columbia River," Relyea said, "and many of its design elements were taken from the bridge. We've already sold this plan twice --one for the lot behind it."

Concrete and steel feature heavily in the design of the three-bedroom, 2.5-bath home, which includes a stainless-steel backsplash in the kitchen and a concrete tub in the master bath. The home has a rubber roof, granite countertops and bamboo cabinets.

"We've also put a 52-inch flat screen hidden behind the island in the big great room," Relyea said. "The house is designed for a fast-paced, efficient life, with none of the stuff people don't use, like a dining room. Professional couples who enjoy art and enjoy living in art like it."

In Northeast Portland, the just-completed Wygant Lofts at Northeast Wygant Street and Williams Avenue offers what Realtor Dana Griggs of The Hasson Company Realtors calls "a truly unique living idea for the Eastside.

"They are bright, open loft spaces, with curtains for privacy, 18-foot-tall ceilings and incredible east-west light," Griggs said. "They're fresh and unique because the competition in their price range is traditional, conservative condos. These are much more Pearl-flavored, flexible spaces, with no walls."

Developed by Sakura Urban Concepts, the six-unit project at 1 through 21 N.E. Wygant St., uses recycled materials, energy-efficient windows and passive solar elements. Marmoleum covers concrete bathroom floors; 100-percent-wool carpeting is on the second floor.

Convenient to the Alberta Arts and Mississippi shopping and dining districts, the lofts reflect the "beautiful and healthy" design goals of Sakura CEO Taka Nakagawa, who grew up in Japan.

Each 1,209-square-foot unit has two bedrooms and two baths. Prices range from $289,000 for middle units to $295,000 for a corner unit with a full wall of windows.

Eli Haworth, development coordinator for Sakura, says the company not only looked for an urban feel that incorporated sustainable materials, it also strived to integrate the project with the single-family character of the neighborhood.

"We kept the height lower than the houses around it, so as not to be overbearing," Haworth said. "And we varied the wall planes, so it wouldn't be just a big box. We added wood panels for warmth and a more inviting feel.

"This neighborhood is at the beginning of big changes, and we expect to see ground-floor retail with housing above coming in." There's been a lot of interest, Haworth said, from the "young, artistic class" now buying homes in changing neighborhoods.

"The design appeals to them because it's different and sleek, and there's just not a lot available with an open layout that leaves the division of space up to the buyer. Plus, we were committed to keeping the price affordable."

RESOURCES

* Benjamin Efran, Oregon First Realty, 8700 S.W. Creekside Place, Suite B, Beaverton; 503-310-2513

* Andrew Galler, John L. Scott, 1205 N.E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.; 503-975-1829

* Dana Griggs, The Hasson Co., 2173 N.E. Broadway; 503-793-0782;

* John Relyea, RE/MAX Equity Group, 1301 S.E. Tech Center Drive, Suite 150, Vancouver; 360-609-1381

* Alexander Bertorelli, AGB Development, 503-701-0212

* Orange, 503-313-4075,

* Sakura Urban Concepts, 6669 N.E Durham Ave.; 503-284-8944;

Jan Behrs is a Portland freelance writer and can be reached at .

ILLUSTRATION: photos by John M. Vincent



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