It’s easy to imagine that every exquisite home came into the world as a fully formed product. But what many don’t see behind beautiful architecture and décor is the amount of work it takes to make a house a home. Often, these homes exist as the result of the hard work of many people working toward a not-always-complete vision. This is especially true with older homes where any new work will be judged against the existing structure. Our coworker Zoe’s incredible Southeast Portland home is a good example of how new life can be breathed into an older home.
- Before & After: Kitchen -
- Before & After: Dining Room -
- Before & After: Living Room -
Built in 1923, this craftsman-style bungalow has great curb appeal, a floorplan that’s functional for entertaining and everyday life, and welcoming décor. But it wasn’t always this way. “Coming in, there was a lot I wanted to change,” says Zoe. “The kitchen was really unattractive and the layout was horrible. A massive kitchen island totally blocked the flow of traffic if people actually sat at it, which they often did because accessing the dining room required making a loop of the house.”
There were other problems, too. A strange tiled sunroom took up valuable floor space upstairs. The main bedroom had a sink in it like it was a hotel room. All around, the quirks of numerous owners and an ill-conceived mid-century renovation wreaked havoc on the home’s livability. A remodel was in the plans from the beginning, and Zoe felt it was important to handle renovation the right way this time around.
“My mother told me that she’d seen too many of her neighbors over the years gut their homes in San Francisco, so if I knew anything at this point in the process, it was that getting the remodel right and respecting the integrity of the home’s era was crucial,” says Zoe. Finding a skilled local architect was the first step to the process. As the project grew in scope, more professionals were brought on board. “The architect we chose, Marty Buckenmeyer, came with the perfect balance of being practical yet not afraid to take on more ambitious ideas. As construction began it became obvious that we’d need to bring on an interior designer, too. The contractors were calling me and emailing me to make decisions on things like tile choices, cabinetry, paint, and flooring. I had started a Pinterest board to get some inspiration, but I was quickly becoming overwhelmed. The choices were unlimited and I just couldn’t see how it would all work together in my head when the current post-demolition state was just bare studs and subfloor,” says Zoe.
An local interior designer helped to smooth out the process. But that didn’t mean all the problems were behind them. “We brought on a designer named Charlotte Cooney who had just enough of a firm touch to guide the process along. Even with Charlotte on board, there were so many difficult choices to make, and eventually it all boiled over for me. A month from completion, the contractor pointed out that the mixture of metal finishes in the kitchen and bathrooms would clash and I fired off some panicked texts to Charlotte who promptly replied ‘get it together!’ haha.”
That was apparently just what Zoe needed to confidently push the project forward. Next it was time for Zoe to really start making the house really feel like her own. “I’d collected some furniture over the years, but for the most part, I didn’t have much. My main interest was putting plants anywhere I could find a shelf,” says Zoe. “My mom, who loves searching through junk for treasure at flea markets, garage sales, and estate sales, helped me begin to fill in the space in a way that feels real and authentic to my tastes and interests. She’s always emphasized waiting for the right piece to come along and cutting out impulse buys entirely unless the deal is amazing and you have a place to put the piece.”
“Around the time the remodel was finishing up, I started to work here at Schoolhouse, which has been so inspiring. My coworkers have shown me ways to mix in the unexpected to complement my personal tastes. Mixing in pops of color, vintage pieces, and of course, lots of house plants, has made a huge difference in the look and feel of the space. I think the biggest lesson is you just can’t but a home off the rack—and you shouldn’t want to. It won’t feel right and it won’t have soul,” says Zoe.
After the long and involved renovation process, Zoe has reached the end of the active work. Says Zoe: “The decorating process is ongoing, but today when I walk through my home, I feel so grateful and excited to continue making it feel like the place I have always dreamed to live. Now when I have people over it just feels much more connected – a few people cooking, people sitting around the kitchen island on the stools, people laughing and drinking in the dining room and my pup Kaia running around in the yard – it feels like home.”