An Irvington Revival

Just in time for Halloween comes a story of black cats and a resurrected old house. Well, maybe that’s stretching things a little. But amidst this gorgeous remodel, there is at least some cat-themed wallpaper to discuss.

This magnificent house in Portland’s historic Irvington neighborhood dates to 1916 and was designed by celebrated architect Ellis Lawrence, who is known for designing several major campus buildings at the University of Oregon in Eugene (including the Knight Library and MacArthur Court), as well as a host of great early 20th century Portland houses. It’s a grand work of residential architecture, but by the time Arciform’s clients purchased the seven-bedroom Colonial Revival home in 2012, it needed work.


The spacious living area shows off the elegant wood moldings and trim throughout.

“It was clear it hadn’t been looked after for about six or seven years,” recalls one of the homeowners, part of a family that relocated to Portland with their children and dogs from Bath, England. “The exterior was faded and the interior looked like it was very dated: lots of flowery wallpaper. The kitchen needed a lot of work.”And given that one of the clients is a master gardener, it didn’t help that “basically the garden looked like a jungle.” It’s no wonder that when the couple first flew here from the UK to have a look at the house,

The first thing we said was,‘This house is too much for us. We’re not looking for a project this big. 

Yet the house seemed to be calling to them, across the time zones. It remained unsold, and the seller even eventually took the house off the market, as if this gem was haunted. By that time, however, the future owners couldn’t deny a spell had been cast. “It wasn’t the typical story: ‘This house is amazing. Let’s buy it.’ It was more of a slow burn,” the homeowner recalls.

The seven-room home has proven an ideal family-gathering spot, with the homeowners hosting 20 for Christmas last year.

Three small spaces were combined to create a new master-bath suite.

The restoration was completed in stages. First up was the master bathroom, which was nearly tripled in size by claiming an adjacent closet and a small sewing room. Next came the kitchen, where Arciform’s sister company, Versatile Wood Products, helped replicate and replace the existing cabinet and drawer faces while maintaining the integrity of Ellis’s original design. “All the drawers open without squeaking and all the cabinets are uniform,” the homeowner says. “We re-used all of the old pillow-top glass knobs on the cupboards. I would describe it as the kitchen that we want in a modern time, but I hope looks a bit like the one that was there.” Other standouts include the copper kitchen hood, a quartzite-topped kitchen island, and Versatile’s historically appropriate new wood windows.

A copper hood and quartzite countertops combine with bold lighting to help anchor the kitchen as both cooking and gathering space.

Removing the kitchen’s existing tile floor, the homeowners were initially excited to discover the original oak flooring intact. But the glue used for the tile had seeped into the wood and, after several sandings attempting to salvage the floor, it had to be discarded. Yet by that time the homeowners had become sold on wood over tile, so a new oak floor was installed. Combined with the remodeled mudroom, with its new radiant heated floors under Pental porcelain tiles, as well as the gorgeous, light-filled sunroom, it makes the ground floor one big, welcoming space. The kitchen in particular is where the family congregates, be it to prepare meals or do homework, while the adjacent sunroom is a place to soak up wintertime sunlight or, with enough windows for an ideal cross breeze and a shady tree outside, a good place to hang out even on the warmest summer days—especially with the help of a new custom built-in bench under the windows, stocked with plush cushions.

The breakfast nook is one of numerous areas of the house filled with natural light.

With Halloween upon us, one can’t avoid noting the wallpaper in the powder room: a pattern of black cats. Well, maybe in truth they’re closer to silver than black. But maybe it’s for the best, because another holiday may be most noteworthy to our clients. Last Christmas the family actually hosted 20 of their relatives, with the six bedrooms providing just enough space for moms and dads, and the renovated attic room the ideal spot for a kids’ sleepover.

It was an adventure, definitely, and I’m glad we did it in a phased method,” the homeowner says. “I feel like we can lean into what we’ve got and enjoy it. 

Are these black cats or silver? Either way, they enliven the powder room.

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