A Thoughtful Remodel

A Corvallis Classic Where East Meets West
Ryan Thompson

It is great to see people personalizing their existing living spaces to match their needs, rather than constantly chasing the “leverage and trade-up” scenarios that were so common just a few years ago. Living better in your existing space is a decision by design that pays dividends far longer than endlessly chasing fads.
Dave Fiske and Valerie Lau’s home improvement approach is a shining example of a newer, design-forward way of thinking that’s being applied more and more in recent construction. Their house had some basic fundamentals that they liked when they purchased the property, but did not offer the type of indoor / outdoor living that they envisioned would blend their Japanese inspired landscape plans with their living space. Their location is an established neighborhood that offers the quaint variation of houses built in the 1950’s — 1970’s. The area is surrounded by mature trees and subtle in-fills that show the filling-out of a neighborhood built over time rather than one stamped out in a two year period.

The original house was structurally sound but needed improvements. Interior spaces were broken up into smaller rooms with dividers and walls. Older aluminum windows lined most of the East facing wall of the structure and drew the eye straight into the neighbor’s house and yard. A car decking roof left the comfortable feel of exposed cedar in the ceilings but offered almost zero protection from heat loss. The wall insulation, while considered generous for the time was a fraction of today’s standard. Despite the wall of windows on the east side of the building, the interior’s dark wood paneling created a light vacuum, and kept the interior space dimly lit. The cloak of the dark wood paneling also served to keep the interior firmly mired in the 1970’s.

When it came time to turn the house they owned into the house they envisioned they took a serious look at their needs with a clarity gained by living in the existing space. By meeting at their home with their chosen design professionals and then allowing time for the assembled team to voice their individual concerns, they became more aware of potential challenges that might arise. An example of how important this would become was evident when they decided to do exploratory demolition early in the design process to help make the decision to preserve their exposed cedar roof, or rebuild it with modern techniques, and gain the thermal performance of newer construction. While removing the plaster board it was discovered that a portion of the existing structure had been damaged by pests. Estimating man hours and expense to reconstruct the existing structure versus new construction showed that more could be gained by simply demolishing the damaged structure and starting anew. When demolition of the chimney began, more damage was uncovered, the grout joints of the bricks had deteriorated so that many of the bricks had slowly leaked along the framing members, causing dry-rot. The decision was made to remove the old, leaky masonry chimney and it was hauled away. The bricks, doors and useable lumber were donated or set aside for reuse, the remaining was sorted and taken to the lumber recycler.

A cleaner design approach could now be applied and material choices now became a focal point in the new structure to allow a blending of modern architectural form while keeping within the design of the times for the structure. John Rowell with Rowell Brokaw Architects, with a new, clearer vision of new vs. old, maintained the existing footprint of the structure while adding a small addition of 76 square feet.

The new construction allowed vast thermal gains. New doors and windows from Anderson were selected. R-38 insulation in the ceiling and blown in insulation in the walls made the new space much quieter even before the drywall was installed. Beams to replace the damaged solid lumber would be Timberstrand and were chosen to be showcased in the ceiling areas where the car decking once took center stage. Timberstrands high recycle content is highlighted with various wood striations, add to the visual appeal of the home, tie into the interior color choices, and highlight the furniture Dave and Valerie have acquired over the years. A simple clear finish brings out the color of the grain and harmonizes with the solid Ipe (eee-pay) hardwood floors.

Exterior decks and interior trim was fashioned from dense hardwood, as were handrails and window sills. The 8’ front door welcomes visitors. Solid plywood construction for the cabinets and doors allows for matching grain patterns to have a simple flow and downplay trims while showcasing a hand rubbed oil finish to bring out a rich, old furniture appearance rather than a shiny lacquered look.

Small custom details are evident throughout the interior spaces including raising the dishwasher to put one’s back at ease when loading and unloading, and custom “his and hers” sink heights for the owners during food prep and dish duty. A pull out step under the cook top was added to make cooking easier for Valerie who sometimes finds herself “height challenged” with industry standard dimensions.

Careful consideration of art objects, furniture styles and construction, allowed the team to visualize and focus their efforts to assure a complimentary flow to the final finish. With beauty in simplicity being the final goal, the concept helped dictate placement of specific view windows, and landscape features.

A hand distressed fir pantry for the kitchen area was built to match a “karuma style tansu” or “merchant trunk” that was to be showcased in the flex room. A small Ipe surround frames the interior side of the mail slot within the flex room, and a sitting bench of hand scraped Koa was made to welcome the owners and visitors.

At first uncertain what to do with the salvaged car decking, a brilliant use became apparent when struggling with siding choices. Many of the boards had been left with tar stains from the layers of rolled roofing and tarpaper. Nail holes were evident, and a very rustic quality could not be avoided. This being the case, it was decided to exaggerate the defects and the wood was split in the middle, tongue and grooves cut off and a simple lap edge was milled into the boards. Next the wood was torched with a propane weed burner to evenly blacken the surface in a traditional Japanese fashion and then brushed out to match the distressed pantry cabinet. With the charcoal portions removed, the wood took on a softer, dark appearance that left graining evident and masked imperfections. The siding was sealed with a clear sealer and attached with careful attention to alignment with stainless hand driven nails. Final exterior trims were fashioned from Ipe decking to accent the indoor / outdoor theme.

Final lessons: Involve design professionals. Architects and designers are often overlooked to cut costs, which is often a mistake when considering the final cost of redefining a space. Introduce your builder and designer early-on to foster clear communication. A builder working with an architect or designer has a much clearer cost picture.

Proper credit goes to all parties:
John Rowell, lead Architect.
Sadafumi Uchiyama, Landscape
(now the curator for the Portland Japanese Gardens)
Terry F. Johnson, Design Professional.
Kara Bertolucci, Surface Designs in Portland
G.Christianson Construction Inc. General Contractor
Scott Prince, Landscaper

“I now make it clear to all our clients the importance of having a solid final vision to work towards. As builders considering an invasive remodel in a home, it is of utmost importance for us to be on the same page as our clients. I am surprised at the number of people that initially resist the idea of paying for a design professional’s involvement. Consider these professionals insurance for your living space. “
Greg Christianson, President
G.Christianson Construction Inc.

G. Christianson Construction

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