Taking a Remodel to New Heights

Soaring but impractical atriums called for a creative solution to a master suite remodel.

Portland design-build professional Phyllis Eastman has been involved with the interior design, space planning and construction industry her entire life. The owner of GreenEastman, a design-build firm since 2016, she’s got an extensive list of projects in various segments of the design industry behind her, including restaurants, hotels, a high-end furniture store and scores of Portland-area homes.

But there’s a particular kind of project Eastman really enjoys.

“I love applying my design and space-planning skills to complex projects that make me think,” she says.

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Eastman got all that and then some through a whole-house remodel of a 1979 home in Durham near Bridgeport Village.

“This one evaluated my skill set,” she says.

Eastman credits her years of experience and her architectural design sensibility for the creative solutions. She also says it took a coordinated team of contractors—including Jon H. Oliphant Construction, pretty much a master of anything wood; MP Plumbing; Coho Electric; Michael Hoover Drywall; Kitchens and More Custom Cabinets; and Lifetime Exterior Siding—working together to get this complex project across the finish line.

“It’s been an art project since we bought this house,” says Susan Schwarz, who has owned the home with her husband, Paul, since 2004.

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The main challenge were two 8-by-8-foot atriums that started on the main floor and soared close to three stories up to the ceiling. Lined with double-paned glass, the atriums were originally left open at the top with the thought that trees could grow inside them.

This particular project started out as a master-suite remodel, but the further along it got, the more it grew, adding a new floor on the second level in one of the atriums to create an entry to the master bath. New flat ceilings replaced outdated vaulted ceilings in the master bath and walk-in closet, which created storage above. The project also included new exterior siding, windows, a gas fireplace, updating the guest bath, repairing old projects and clearing out dry rot.

As the project progressed, the Schwarzes decided to add large picture windows on the west side of the house to take advantage of the beautiful view that includes Fanno Creek. The property is situated on a steep incline, with the west side having four floors exposed. The new windows had to be installed about 40 feet off the ground, and the original cedar siding had to be removed before the new windows could be put into place.

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“It’s like being in a bird’s nest,” Susan says. “The team was great. Lifetime Exteriors worked on the exterior while Oliphant Construction coordinated all the engineering and framing from the interior. It was a very smooth process.”

The Schwarzes struggled continuously with overexposure of light in one atrium in particular. The glass walls in the master closet and master bath let in so much natural light that clothes in the closet would fade, and anyone standing on the main floor had a direct view into the master bath.

To tackle the atriums, Eastman and her team first removed the glass from them—some 20,000 pounds of it, according to Schwarz.

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“It all dramatically changed the master bedroom into a much more useable space,” Susan says.

The project added about 8 feet to the space, as well as new hardwood floors, a wall of bookshelves, storage and a built-in TV, all of which created a nice library and entertainment area, as well.

“The new layout and material selections in the master bath are beautiful, too, particularly my walk-in tub,” Susan says. “The ceilings are lower, there’s no glass, and we have a much larger shower. It’s lovely. The difference makes it feel like a master suite now.”

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Susan says the initial inspiration for the remodel had simply been to replace 40-year-old carpet in the master bathroom with something new. The project grew far beyond that initial scope, but she says Eastman, whom she met through a local nonprofit networking group called Portlandia Club, had the right answers every step of the way.

“Phyllis just did a fantastic job figuring out what we needed to do,” she says.

In the end, all the parties agreed that the remodel turned out beautifully.