The best of Urban design: Whether you’re renting or buying, sometimes the hardest part of living in the city is finding a space to call your own. Urban design requires combining elements of storage We profile three homeowners who tailored their urban abodes to suit their lifestyles.
CREATIVE MIXED-USE COMMUNITY
Design Consultant | Kenneth Wright
Architect | Francis Dardis
General Contractor | Siteworks Design
Photo by Louise Lakier
THIS STORY BEGINS WITH a mysterious storefront in 1999.
The storefront had been added to the ground floor of a 1922 house in Northeast Portland’s Concordia neighborhood. Its sign read: Lynch’s Fireplace and Tempered Glass, and the floor above it was used as a rental apartment. For years, Dayna McErlean lived across the street and passed by its shuttered window display. The store never opened for business. That sparked her curiosity.
One day, her landlord told her that place was going up for sale, so she decided to take a look. The dilapidated house was dark, strewn with puddles and soggy garbage. “It stunk,” McErlean recalls. “Most people would have run in the other direction. But I just knew, this was going to be awesome.” She bought the property before it could go on the market.
At the time, McErlean was a selfmotivated 28-year-old who had already successfully run her own business. She came from a background in the fine arts and a family in the building trade. She wasn’t looking for the typical starter home. She needed the right mixed-use property at the right price—one in which the bottom floor business would provide her with income and the top floor a home.
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. That’s urban design done right.
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.
But being on the road so much meant that Latus needed his 2,200-square-foot condo to better welcome him back. In 2012, he hired interior designer Jason Ball to do a refresh. Ball did so, transforming several rooms with the craftsmanship and attention to detail that Latus usually deploys in researching a new bike. Ball ordered several custom pieces to be made for the revitalized space. In the principal bedroom, he designed a headboard composed of salvaged wood—slats that were once used in packing steel rails for transport. The caramelized wood exhibits a textured and organic pattern from where the steel rusted against it. Such details now make Latus’ retreat from the road feel more like home.
GLAMOROUS FAMILY SANCTUARY
Architect | Gabe Headrick, Steelhead Architecture
Architecture Contractor | ConstructaVision
Stove | Wolf
Hood Vent | Viking
Kitchen Counters | Caesarstone
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.
But with a growing toddler, the couple was quickly discovering the need for more storage space, a must-have element of urban design. After a fruitless search for a three-bedroom condo, they finally found a prospect in their own building— a 1,700-square-foot penthouse, complete with two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a bonus den. The drab interior finishes and damaged floor just needed an update. Gabe Headrick of Steelhead Architecture came on board for the redesign.
Today the kitchen is both posh and functional, thanks to Headrick’s guidance. He installed custom walnut cabinets, a Carrara marble backsplash and plenty of storage for the cooks to conceal their equipment from the main living area. The principle bathroom also got the luxe treatment with Calacatta marble and attractive storage for the laundry unit. Additionally, Headrick created an office space in a previously unused pass-through, building in double desks and floor-to-ceiling cabinetry. A sliding pocket door cleverly establishes privacy when it’s needed.
Most importantly, Phan and Skarpness are thrilled they got to stay put. “The new space works really well for us,” Phan says. “We can all be doing our own thing and yet still be together.”
interview by Megan Oliver
After seven years in the interior design industry in Portland, Hanna Jones has honed her aesthetic and her urban design sensibility in metropolitan spaces. Now the owner of her own company, Senoj Designs, Jones has hit her stride, taking part in Urban I.D., a consortium of independent interior designers (plus a contractor) in Portland’s Pearl District. Eight companies share the office space, and together they run a retail storefront of curated home furniture and décor. The group meets for roundtable sessions on a regular basis and shares resources—turning the normally secretive and individual interior design world model on its head. Jones shares with us
Why interior design?
I’ve been arranging furniture and picking out fabrics for my family since childhood. I didn’t realize it was my calling as a career until after I had already been to college and headed down a different path. One evening, my dad and I were chatting over a glass of wine [her family owns Abacela Winery], and my penchant for interiors came up. I enrolled in design school right away and haven’t looked back.
How would you describe your style?
Classical with a twist of funky fresh. I like textural and eclectic spaces with classic bones— seagrass, wool and linen fit any space in the Pacific Northwest. I don’t think Craftsman architecture requires Stickley design, and modern architecture doesn’t have to mean contemporary interior elements only. I’m a fan of built-in cabinetry and timeless pieces.
Why should someone hire an interior designer?
When you hire a designer, you are asking someone into the most intimate areas of your life. It’s where you cry and laugh with your kids, walk around in your socks, hug your husband. The designer and client must trust each other and work together. It is so important to me to develop a relationship with my clients to understand how the space needs to flow for its primary uses. No matter what size or style your house is, there are functions and comforts that need to be balanced. I can help people achieve that.
Also, there is a business aspect that my assistant and I spend a lot of time on. We don’t spend all day looking at fabric swatches. Being a part of Urban I.D., I can go in with other designers on orders to get better deals than an individual would get buying retail.
What design challenges are specifically urban?
I grew up in the South, and I get a lot of the timeless, classic part of my design aesthetic from there. In the South, we have a saying that, “you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar,” and that motto helps me avoid the challenges of urban design. People may not realize that interior designers are putting together a giant jigsaw puzzle at all times. Befriending the delivery truck drivers, the concierge, the drape makers etc., makes the whole experience more pleasant for everyone and allows the puzzle to come together quickly and smoothly. Trying to wedge a couch into a penthouse elevator is hard enough; I don’t need to make enemies with the doormen at the same time. I call the people I work with ‘my little ninjas.’
Do many of your clients request local products? Is it challenging to source locally?
Because I strongly believe in using built-ins, I work closely with cabinet makers. Rick Myers of Eagle Designs is fantastic. Using a good drapery house seamstress is vital—their attention to detail makes the fabric portions of a room look infinitely more polished. Portland Drapery and Classic Interiors are both wonderful. Portland is a land of artisans. The interiors industry is still small, and I don’t think we’ve come close to saturation in the market. But it’s definitely growing and I’m glad to be a part of it.
What is a key word in your design vocabulary?
Curate! Eclectic rooms develop over time. Don’t rush things. When I go home to the winery, dinner is in a formal dining room and is a three-hour process. Wine is about lifestyle. So is design. I spent the most time designing the dining room because this is where we spend the most time enjoying. Quality comes with slowing down.
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