Easy Passage

Wise Design brings a 1918 Colonial into the present.

Construction: Owen Gabbert, LLC (formerly Clarkbuilt)
Architect: Kristopher Celtnieks, Sasquatch Architecture
Landscaping: Blueprint Earth 
Interior Moldings: McCoy Millwork
Photography: Meagan Larsen

Sometimes the best mode of action when redoing a home is to listen to the house. That certainly held true for a family moving to Portland from Germany, who wanted to apply a more modern sensibility to a home on Portland’s Laurelhurst Park but was struggling with its overall layout. 

“This is such a special house,” says designer Ryan Harkrider of Wise Design, who helped on the project. “The more we talked to the clients about this house, the more attached they got to the traditional style of architecture.” 

The couple turned to Harkrider and design principal Annie Wise to achieve a balance between the choppy charm of an authentic 1918 Colonial and the serene flow of an open living space. Making these changes allowed the couple to strike a balance between their love of a mid-century aesthetic and modernism and their affection for the particularities of the home’s Colonial architecture. 

The couple hadn’t originally planned to completely redo the home. But during an initial renovation they discovered extensive fire damage on the second floor, so they became open to a larger project.

The home’s transitions between rooms became vital. Wise Design was able to connect past to the present in the passageways between rooms, through larger structural changes between the indoor and outdoor living spaces, and in the aesthetic conversation between Colonial detailing and modern elements throughout. 

The home’s entry hall retained the Colonial’s traditional front-to-back hallway.

Wise Design kept the walls minimal in the dining room to showcase the family’s personal art collection. 

The home’s new floorplan design called for larger cased openings between the main living areas and thicker walls and built-in bookshelves, custom cabinets in the entryway, and a clever solution at the front of the home for shoes. Wise Design reconfigured the whole while retaining classic Colonial elements like a front-to-back center hallway and of-the-era trimwork from McCoy Millwork, a Portland expert in historic moldings. 

“It really has a nice sense of openness now,” Wise says. 

The designers envisioned a family room where all members of the family could sit together on a sectional that filled the entire room. They wanted to give the family a protected space that was away from the general living space, and they also added beams, historic trimwork, and tuck-in lighting to give the room more character. 

“It operates kind of like a British snug,” Harkrider says. “It helps the space feel cozier.”

A custom sofa from Perch Furniture in Portland adds lounging space in the den.

An Eternity Modern sofa with Two Sisters eco-textiles fabric adds modern flair to the traditional living room.

For the second floor, Kristopher Celtnieks of Sasquatch Architecture completely redesigned the floor plan, adding a proper primary suite and en suite bathrooms for all of the children’s bedrooms. The designers didn’t want to give up too much space for a full laundry but were able to squeeze a washing machine and dryer into a small cubby. A separate office space accommodates the owner’s work-from-home lifestyle without too many interruptions from the children, who got a large third-floor room as a play space. 

“It’s going to be a playroom for a long time, a free-for-all kids’ room,” Wise says.

The greatest challenges came with the couple’s kitchen and the home’s relationship to its outdoor living space. The goal, Harkrider says, was to create a kitchen that looks like it was always there but has all of the amenities of modern living. 

“So often you walk into a historic home and say: Oh, 2003. Or 1970,” Harkrider says. “The people we are working with know that experience of looking at a dated kitchen. They love this home and wanted to do right by it.”

Wise Design struck a balance between traditional and modern with Shaker-style doors, open shelving and full-height pantry storage. They chose a more modern off-black color for the cabinetry, contrasted with an off-white quartz, repeating some of the details that were used in the primary suite. They brought in warmth and softness with the wood details and brass figures. 

Custom casework and beams, along with a walnut island and Cesarstone Black Tempal countertops, make the kitchen modern.

“We wanted to make the renovation feel like it belongs in that house,” Wise says. 

Indoor meets outdoor with a modern spin on the traditional Colonial gridded profile with a large sliding-glass wall and a window that can open fully for serving drinks poolside. Sasquatch Architecture remade the backyard spaces with zones including a swimming pool with a barrel floor designed to accommodate difficult space needs, a sauna, a cold plunge, a covered patio, and an outdoor shower.

“The architect really nailed it from the beginning,” Wise says. “It’s just a dreamy backyard.”

The backyard pool was designed to accommodate a difficult site. 

Start Here: Planning for an Outdoor Living Space

Outdoor living has evolved from a simple patio with a few chairs to a fully integrated extension of the home. Here’s how to start.

1) Define Your Purpose. Do you envision it as a tranquil retreat for relaxation and meditation? Hosting gatherings? Playing with kids? Lifestyle will guide every aspect of the design.

2) Consider Your Climate. In the Pacific Northwest, choose durable, weather-resistant materials that can withstand the elements, and opt for native plants that thrive in the region’s climate with minimal maintenance.

3) Establish Zones. Divide your outdoor space into distinct zones based on functionality, like dining, lounging, cooking and green spaces. 

4) Select Appropriate Furnishings. For furniture, opt for weatherproof materials such as teak, aluminum or synthetic wicker that can withstand exposure to sun and rain. And don’t forget storage for it all.

5) Incorporate Shade and Shelter. Options for shade include umbrellas, pergolas, awnings and shade sails, while shelters like gazebos or outdoor rooms provide additional protection and privacy.

6) Add Light for Ambience. Enjoy your space into the evening with task lighting for functional areas such as cooking and dining, ambient lighting for creating mood and atmosphere, and accent lighting to highlight architectural features and landscaping.

7) Add Greenery. Incorporate a variety of plantings — including trees, shrubs, flowers and potted plants — to create a lush and inviting environment. Vertical gardens, hanging baskets and trellises are excellent space-saving options for smaller outdoor areas.

8) Personalize With Decor and Accessories. Infuse your outdoor space with personality and style through carefully chosen decor and accessories. Incorporate elements that reflect your tastes and interests, such as outdoor rugs, throw pillows, artwork and decorative accents. 

9) Enhance With Water Features. Water features such as fountains, ponds or waterfalls add a soothing element. The sound of running water can create a sense of tranquility and mask unwanted noise from neighboring properties or traffic.

10) Embrace Sustainability. Design your outdoor living space with sustainability in mind by choosing eco-friendly materials, incorporating energy-efficient lighting and implementing water-saving landscaping techniques. Consider installing a rainwater-harvesting system or a compost bin to reduce your environmental impact.