Design: Urban Shelter

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Three city dwellers share their stylish refuges

Whether you’re renting or buying, sometimes the hardest part of living in the city is finding a space to call your own. We profile three homeowners who tailored their urban abodes to suit their lifestyles.

Photo by Louise Lakier



Design Consultant | Kenneth Wright
Architect | Francis Dardis
General Contractor | Siteworks Design

Photo by Louise Lakier

Once she had the building’s deed, she started dreaming big. She pictured an exotic four-story Russian bathhouse with rental units. But the reality of costs caused her to scale back. One day a friend and artist, Kenneth Wright, sat her down to draw new plans. They talked and made sketches and a new building took shape. McErlean brought on architect Francis Dardis to translate their drawings into reality. By 2001, construction on McErlean’s vision had begun.

In 2004, McErlean moved into her new 1,200-square-foot apartment. Its interior layout was kept open and airy, with vaulted ceilings and bamboo floors. So open was the floor plan, that there weren’t yet doors on the bathroom. “I personally didn’t care,” McErlean recalls, “but it made it uncomfortable for visitors.” She took her time transforming the space into a home, inviting artists and craftspeople to customize the interiors piece by piece. For instance, the bathroom was eventually outfitted with industrial shoji screen doors. Furniture-maker David Bertman welded the metal frames for the doors. McErlean tapped Works Partnership Architecture to install custom shelving and a cantilevered desk in the living room. Andee Hess of Osmose Design offered advice for the beautiful cove lighting system in the hallway.

Outside, McErlean’s 1,500-squarefoot deck was landscaped with turf grass so her 6-year-old son, Bishop, could play outside. With city grants, McErlean was able to add a green roof and rainwater reclamation system. Down below, her lot includes gardens, soaking tubs and an old carriage house overhauled into a rental cabin. For the first floor, McErlean says, “It seemed like a retail space wasn’t going to give the community what they needed. I felt like people really wanted to hang out.” So she opened Japanese lounge Yakuza in 2006.

Since buying this first place years ago, McErlean reinvented herself as a “manifestor”—creatively developing several more properties around town. In that role, she transformed an old North Portland funeral home into “The Colony,” which now houses a lively ballroom, commissary kitchens and lodging all under one roof.

Today, hers is a home created by many hands, one that captures her personal history as well as the culture of the block. “I’ve lived in this neighborhood for seventeen years, and I’m very much a part of how this corner has developed,” she says. “Life downstairs often overflows into my home.”

Photo by Louise Lakier



Interior Designer | Jason Ball, Jason Ball Interiors
Headboard | Revolution Design House
Dining Room Chandelier | Izf
Living Room Sofa | Nathan Anthony Furniture

Photo by John Valls 

When he was 15 years old, George Latus bought his first motorbike—a 1956 Sears Allstate motor scooter delivered straight from the catalog. Since then, Latus has devoutly pursued his passion. He’s added several more bikes to his collection, and he became the owner of two motorcycle dealerships and a professional racing team. Yet there’s a certain machine that he’s delighted to never have purchased. “All my life, I’ve never had to own a lawnmower,” Latus says. “For a man who would rather be on the back of a bike than doing yard work, his Happy Valley condo suits his lifestyle perfectly.

Photo by Brian Lincoln 

When Linh Phan realized her family needed more space, she faced a dilemma: move into a house across the river or make do with a condo that catered to two. Phan and her husband, Mark Skarpness, had lived in Portland’s Pearl District for fourteen years. They didn’t want to lose the lifestyle they enjoyed as condominium owners. “Once we park our car on Friday,” says Phan, “It’s parked for the whole weekend.” Their weekends were then free of the hassles of home ownership—allowing them to pursue a much-needed respite from their busy professional lives at Intel. Additionally, as avid home cooks, they enjoyed having the city’s largest farmers’ market within streetcar distance and access to an abundance of world-class restaurants for inspiration.

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