Westwind Farm, one of the celebrated Portland architect's last homes, undergoes a historically sensitive kitchen remodel.
When Maryellen McCulloch looks out the windows of her home in Portland’s West Hills, she sees a natural landscape. “I love the quiet and contrasts here,” she says. “We can be swarmed by hummingbirds or see elk standing in the meadow, but we’re also close to town.”
The three-bedroom, three-bath passive solar house she shares with her husband, Michael, and their children, Elena, 11, and Thomas, 10, was purchased in 2002 from its original owners. Their home has a historic pedigree: It was the second-to-last home built by celebrated Portland architect Pietro Belluschi. “Pietro put things together in a masterful way,” says Michael, the principal at Michael McCulloch Architecture, who knew and worked with Belluschi. “The house incorporates a lot of his principles. It’s understated. It’s part Japanese, part Scandinavian and part Northwest agricultural. He was very influenced by the materials found in the local environment.”
The 4,500-square-foot house, known as Westwind Farm, sits near the top of a hill in the middle of the 40-acre property. “We’ve changed the carpets and the lighting, worked on the gardens and, of course, added our own things,” says Maryellen. “But we haven’t wanted to mess with the home too much.”
The heart of the house, completed in 1980, is the main floor’s L-shaped kitchen, dining and living areas, whose large single-pane windows frame the home’s views. Its tile floors, wood paneling and floor-to-ceiling fireplace are original to the home. A Bösendorfer grand piano in the corner was the catalyst for one of the home’s early transformations. In 2004, the living area was rewired to connect to a daylight basement recording studio where Maryellen, a composer and producer, collaborates with artists on projects under her Westwind Farm Studio label.
Any changes made to the home are made with the original vision in mind. For example, added features, such as the bookcases in the living room and downstairs library, can be easily removed. Michael, who does the design work on the house, bases his changes on his knowledge of Belluschi and consultations with Belluschi’s sons, both of whom live in Portland. “While the designs are always mine, I’ll discuss materials with them,” says Michael. “Anything we’ve done to the house can easily be undone if anyone ever wants to restore it.”
In 2007, the McCullochs extensively reworked the grounds, originally a sheep farm. “We tried keeping the sheep, but it didn’t work,” says Maryellen. They added terraces and an outdoor kitchen, installed a pool and pool house, turned an old root cellar into a guesthouse. A greenhouse, originally used to grow citrus trees, now shelters cactus. “I think of the buildings and the yard as pieces of a larger composition, as a way to project Belluschi’s vision to the outdoors,” says Michael.
Earlier this year, the McCullochs completed a major renovation project that had long been on their list — a historically sensitive kitchen remodel. “We always knew we’d redo it,” says Maryellen. “But the kitchen was functional, so we also knew it could wait.”
The large, open kitchen had ample counterspace, a center island and an eating area. But the 1970s building materials had not aged well. “The cabinets were the particleboard with plastic laminate that was very popular in the 1970s but doesn’t hold up,” says Michael. “Some of the cabinets were starting to fall apart, and we would reattach drawer fronts with duct tape. During the demolition of the old kitchen, we discovered that the cabinets in the stove area were tilting and probably wouldn’t have lasted much longer.” Another issue was the woodblock countertops. “The woodblock was very high maintenance and always had to be oiled,” says Maryellen.
Pat Kirkhuff, a general contractor and finish carpenter, oversaw the six-week kitchen remodel. “I always enjoy working with someone who understands the implications of a home,” he says. “Michael and Maryellen are caretakers at the historical level and take extra consideration over the details, but they’re also the homeowners and have to customize the home to their needs.”
The new kitchen maintains the layout and look and feel of the original kitchen. The woodblock countertops were replaced with low-maintenance, earth-toned granite. A compost chute near the sink simplifies meal preparation, and an appliance garage with lights and electrical outlets provides additional storage. Lighting under the cabinet makes it easier to work on the counters and also doubles as night lights. With the exception of a new Liebherr refrigerator, the McCullochs kept their existing appliances, all in good working order despite being almost 10 years old. “That was a lesson to me,” says Michael. “If you buy quality appliances and take care of them, they will last. Instead of buying a new oven, I reconditioned it.”
The biggest change in the kitchen was the cabinetry. The custom cabinets are made of maple, which brightens the space. The backs of the cabinets have hemlock panels to echo the hemlock paneling used throughout the home. “Because the back of the cabinets face toward the living area, we wanted them to be hemlock to match the rest of the house,” says Michael. “The hemlock will get more honey colored as it ages to match what’s already here.”
Although their home is designed to be a family home, Michael and Maryellen make it available to the public, and it has appeared on garden and home tours. “While we developed all the spaces for personal events, we also open it up when possible,” says Michael. “It’s a way for us to give back to the community we live in.”