Simpatico Solutions

The historic Irvington neighborhood in Portland, Ore., features a wealth of homes in the architectural styles of the early 20th century. From Arts and Crafts and Craftsman to Colonial Revival, Prairie Style and Bungalow, the neighborhood homes showcase the creativity and inventiveness of turn-of-the-century architects.

In the 21st century, however, homeowners require a spaciousness and functionality that is relevant to their lifestyles. How does one incorporate modern amenities and functionality into a home while maintaining the integrity of the original architectural style? This was the problem faced by the Neil Kelly Co. when renovating a 1907 Craftsman cottage in the Irvington neighborhood.

Built at the beginning of the 20th century, the cottage had been updated on an as-needed basis with little thought to design. The home’s kitchen featured a wood-burning stove that had been converted to electric, an ice box that was now utilized as a cooling cabinet and a kitchen sink located in a separate room. The original design included only one bathroom, which was located on the second floor, but a second toilet had been installed on the back porch in the 1980s.

“The goal was to make this 1907 house, that had very little done to it in 98 years, habitable for a family today,” explains Martha Kerr, CMKBD, CR and executive vice president, Neil Kelly Co. “From a design standpoint, we needed to make an addition that looked like it wasn’t an addition.”

Kerr enlisted the services of David Spitzer, an Oregon architect, who had worked with her on many large remodeling projects and, coincidentally, lives about three blocks from this Craftsman-style home. Working in conjunction with Kerr, Spitzer developed plans for an addition to the cottage that mirrored the original Craftsman design.

Kerr adds, “The house had 90 years of layers of wallpaper, so in addition to a 750-sq.-ft. addition to facilitate a master bed and bath on the second floor, and kitchen and powder bath on the first floor, every room had to be touched in some way.” 

Spitzer explains that one of the largest challenges on this project was, “getting a form that added square footage and looked appropriate to the original house, and then to make it look like it wasn’t an addition.”

Working in tandem 
Kerr and Spitzer have worked together on several remolding projects so the two are well aware of each other’s style and preferences. Additionally, this familiarity offers the two a candidness that is an integral part of their relationship. Kerr believes the key to their successful working relationship is “simpatico.”

“Dave needed to create an aesthetically pleasing face, and I had the bones for laying out a good and functioning kitchen,” Kerr says. “Having the simpatico, I know I can say anything to Dave and it’s not going to hurt his feelings. We have the same goal and that is to provide our clients with the very best design we can.

“When a design is let out to bidding, every contactor will have a different interpretation,” Kerr emphasizes. “So often, people will come to me with a plan and a $100,000 budget, but they’re holding a $200,000 plan. Dave and I work within the parameters of the client’s budget. For example, we had the option of building the garage/carport at a later time. You just can’t get that kind of service and control outside of the design/build process.”

The architect also gives credit to the contractor used on the project. Spitzer explains; “We used a contractor who is the No. 1 contractor for Neil Kelly. I can put things on the drawing like ‘match existing trim’ and I don’t need to explain it. Our contractor knows, after all these years of working together, exactly what is needed.”

The house was remodeled from top to bottom with an emphasis on maintaining the architectural integrity of the original house. A 750-sq.-ft., two-story addition was added to the back of the house to provide a new kitchen, family area and bathroom on the first floor, and a master bedroom and bath on the second floor. 

On the first floor of the original structure, subtle floor plan changes were made to provide a unique design solution for better traffic flow. Period-appropriate bookcases and columns were used to create an entry hall separate from the living room. An opening in the entry hall wall into the kitchen and family room provided a greatly improved overall floor plan. 

The altered floor plan allowed removal of a superfluous second staircase from the landing to the new family room. “Typical of houses from that era, they had the maid stairs,” Kerr explains. “To get to the kitchen you had to go through the living room and dining room. To make it useful as a family room we got rid of the chimney and the stairs. We added a new furnace so the chimney wasn’t necessary.”

Removing the chimney from basement to attic allowed flexibility in the renovation of the original bath within the existing footprint of the home. Because the original bath was so small, plumbing was moved to create a more efficient layout. The new design incorporates the original medicine cabinet from the hall bath with tile wainscot, tub-surround and floor all replicated from the original era of the house.

The design carefully integrated aesthetics with functionality. The new master bath located on the second story of the addition combines 1907 style with contemporary amenities. The period-appropriate bathroom features a steam shower as well as an innovative storage system offering the storage space needed by today’s families. And a complete update of electrical and plumbing systems brought them up to code.

“We just made some compromises between aesthetics and function,” Spitzer explains. “We changed location and sizes of rooms and placement of windows to accommodate the size of the interior.”

In consideration of the safety of the homeowner’s two young children, some of the home’s original doors required replacing. “Many of the original doors had leaded glass. We realized the leaded glass was too delicate and the door wasn’t tempered. With two young children in the house, it didn’t make sense. So we wound up using a new door,” Kerr says.

As the final flourish, the house was painted inside and out. Although the dining room did not require any construction changes, it was completely updated with colorful paint choices and refinished floors.

Matching the details
Kerr and Spitzer exude extreme pride when discussing this project. The pair took painstaking care to ensure that the 750-sq.-ft. addition to the home was indistinguishable from the original structure. By exactly matching the architectural styling of the 1907 home, Kerr and Spitzer revitalized the cottage with a seamless expansion.

“All the Craftsman details were replicated,” Kerr says. “The Marvin windows we used match in every detail to the windows from the original house. All the moulding and trim were replicated exactly so they looked like they were originally part of this 1907 house.”

The original portion of the house features a shed with beams that cantilever out. In order to precisely match the ornate details of the home, original beams and corbels (roofing brackets) were brought to a local custom wood shop to be reproduced for use on the addition. Spitzer says, “I used the existing form and repeated that form on the new shed on the back.”

“On the exterior, the corbels and rafter tails are wonderful,” Kerr emphasizes. “On the interior, I had the cabinet maker match the details exactly to the original. So it has details that are unique to this house and belong to the house. The other special element was working with clients who were compassionate about the architectural details matching the house and being compassionate about the house being as environmentally responsible as possible.”

Simpatico significance
The project received Earth Advantage certification by incorporating sustainable features into the home wherever possible. For healthier indoor air, wheatboard was used for all cabinet boxes and a 93 percent efficient gas furnace was installed. Also, Johns Manville formaldehyde-free insulation was added to new and existing walls. Existing hardwood floors were refinished, and on carpeted areas, wool was used. Deconstruction services recycled all removed decking, cabinets, windows and plumbing fixtures. 

The homeowners also supported the high-level environmental consciousness and historical accuracy incorporated into the plan. “Nothing is more fun or interesting than to have clients who are as passionate as we are about attention to architectural detail and using environmentally responsible materials,” Kerr says.

In recognition of this grand undertaking, the Remodelors Council of the Home Builders Association of Metropolitan Portland honored this project with first prize for the Remodeling Excellence (REX) Awards’ Whole-House Remodel Excellence in February 2005.

Reiterating the importance of her simpatico relationship with Spitzer, Kerr stresses, “It couldn’t have been done as well without the design/build relationship.”