Custom Renovation: Respecting Tradition & Building Dreams

Rebuilding can be an affordable alternative in Portland’s desirable historic neighborhoods.

There’s no shortage of people looking to build a life in Portland’s most timeless neighborhoods. But there is a shortage of move-in-ready family homes.

That’s the reality that defeats so many would-be home buyers, whether out-of-town transplants or families stuck with too-small homes in neighborhoods they love. They want it all — comfort and space, period charm, great schools, close to everything — but they end up facing a stark choice: They can settle for less than what they desire in a good ZIP code or leave their comfort zone for more square footage.

Or they can get creative.

“We just don’t have that much land here in Portland,” says Rick Bluhm, owner of Complete Construction, a company operating in Portland since 1994. “But what we do have is a lot of one- and two-bedroom homes.”

Enter Complete Construction. The company has built its reputation by fulfilling clients’ dreams. The secret, Bluhm says, is respect.

“Sometimes people live in their home already but need more space; sometimes people can get houses at a good price because they haven’t been maintained,” Bluhm says. “In both cases, that’s an opportunity to do something amazing.”

Over the past 15 years, Complete Construction has seen so many old homes demolished and replaced with something larger or trendier, but these communities have made it clear they don’t want that, says Bluhm.

“People don’t want to see the heart of their neighborhoods torn out,” Bluhm says. “And I agree completely.”




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This amazing transformation by Complete Construction perfectly exemplifies taking a smaller underutilized home and turning it into a lovely home a family would be proud to grow into.

Bluhm’s vision is different. Drawing on his extensive knowledge of regional period architecture and construction, he uses existing structures as keystones for an organic mix of old and new.

“That’s where we really shine,” Bluhm says.

There are a lot of homes in these neighborhoods that offer huge potential, Bluhm says, but things can go one of two ways. With Portland’s population growing, there’s already pressure to change the zoning codes to allow for more multifamily structures, like they did in Seattle. If that happens, big developers will start scooping up those smaller homes and replacing them with four- or six-unit buildings. The alternative is Bluhm’s brand of custom renovations, which make room for families while protecting the neighborhoods’ timeless quality.

Bluhm discovered his passion for older homes after he’d already been in construction for years, first as an apprentice to a custom homebuilder in Eugene and then in Portland’s commercial construction industry.

“It all started when I bought a 1906 Victorian duplex off Hawthorne Avenue,” he says. “I was spending more and more of my free time on it, creating custom pieces to bring it back to life, and you couldn’t tell what was old and what was new.”

In the years since, he’s worked on projects in historic Portland neighborhoods like Alameda, Irvington, Laurelhurst, Beaumont and the inner West Side.

“So much of it is about the details and a respect for authenticity,” he says. “I don’t just use production or stock materials.”


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Working with Complete Construction, a family in Laurelhurst was able to stay in the same location and have the new home they wanted for their growing family.

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Sometimes Complete Construction uses reclaimed lumber or elements the company salvages from other jobs. Sometimes it incorporates corbels, eave brackets and other elements custom-made to dimensions that were used over a century ago. If the company can’t match the original moldings in a home, it uses custom knives to carve its own.

“It’s not always what’s easiest or most convenient,” says Bluhm. “It’s about doing what’s right for these historic homes.”

Bluhm oversees every element of these renovations personally, from sketching the initial designs to acting as the on-site project manager for his carpenters and specialized artisans. Unwise renovations from decades past are stripped away. Original lines are brought back to life. Walls are moved, rooms added. The result offers all the comfort, convenience and energy efficiency of new construction while maintaining total harmony with the surrounding community.

Bluhm’s years in the trade have honed not only his skills and knowledge but his efficiency, he says, allowing him to help his clients fashion their dream homes at a lower price than their alternatives, and with greater craftsmanship and quality.

“I want to give my clients homes that look like they’ve always been there, like they’re part of their community,” he says. “Homes where their families can grow and build memories. That’s what living in these neighborhoods is all about.”

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Custom homes give you endless possibilities, making whatever you dream up into a reality instead of making the reality fit into your dreams.

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NE 51st bath pic

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