We moved to Portland in early 2000 and were thrilled to buy a house in NE near downtown. We were a one-car family and Scott needed to take mass transit to work. But it was in a very high crime area, which never bothered us much until we started having kids. It was a busy area with a lot of exposure.
I started exploring Portland neighborhoods, driving around while the baby slept in the back seat, and still recall the first time I drove through Brookford. I was taken by how charming the homes were, the access to parks, the mature forest setting, and curving, hilly streets. When we looked at our current house we instantly fell in love with the large peaceful yard and its natural setting. We knew it would be a perfect place to raise our family. We loved that the homes were modest but all had design details and unique features or landscaping that made them impressive and appealing.
When we outgrew the original 1175 square feet we just couldn't see leaving and decided to stay and remodel. We love the way the house has turned out—this is our forever home!
The remodel has been a four year long labor of love and the truth is we still aren't done. We worked on a shoestring budget which meant limited design choices, doing much of the work ourselves, trolling Craigslist and the Habitat for Humanity ReStore several times a week, and continuing to tackle things as we accumulate more money.
The front yard probably won't be done until spring since it's now waiting for me to build planter boxes and get the dirt amended.
The design was influenced by our budget. The downstairs was never bad, just too small. We quickly realized that we could get most of what we wanted by building up on the current foundation. The flat roof felt important to me so that our house didn't loom too much in a neighborhood with few two-story houses. That flat roof then reminded me of Prairie Style homes.
Our house is not a true Prairie Style, but I did then borrow many of that style's characteristics such as a large use of wood, bringing the outside in as much as possible, a single-story entry that is cozy but then opens up to reveal something much bigger—our window wall. We then added a few things out front to try and tie in to our neighborhood more (so not really Prairie) including traditionally shaped and sized windows, and using horizontal siding that was painted rather than something more modern like the vertical natural wood siding we considered at one point. Honestly, a lot was dictated by my bargain finds, such as the floor-to-ceiling tile in the downstairs bathroom, and the color scheme dictated by the fireplace tile.
When I bought the blue glass tile from the Pratt and Larson outlet. I thought the blue would make it a good color choice for a shower wall. But as the process evolved and we decided to use it on the fireplace we then had to work with that for our color scheme. I hadn't intended to go blue at that time, but I love other blues we now have downstairs and how it plays off our dark wood stain.
In the original plan we would have had only a few windows in the back wall of the house. I had priced a more modern window wall, where the framing is made of steel and is very thin—and that was crazy expensive. Our contractor suggested using storefront glass instead, which was much more affordable. The budget-dictated wood framing is one of my favorite features in the house now because I think the use of so much wood brings the outside in, and is much more appropriate for this house and neighborhood than a more modern and harsh metal framing.
Our original plan called for a standard size stove because it was all we could afford. My Craigs List searches included key words that would bring up stoves like the one we have now, which is how I found it. It was brand new. The owner bought it in anticipation of a kitchen remodel, but by the time he was informed he couldn't use a natural gas stove it was too late for him to return it.
I watched it online for a month before responding. The owner was asking $9000, then lowered it to $8000. I offered him $4000, and told him that I wasn't trying to insult him or negotiate, but that $4000 was my kitchen appliance budget and I was willing to pay him in cash if he ever got to that point.
Two weeks later he agreed to my offer. I was incredibly excited. But when my contractor saw it he said to me "You know you need a 48" hood now." I didn't worry about it because I had priced 30" hoods at around $300, so I assumed I could find the money somewhere in the budget. But when I looked them up I discovered 48” hoods ran $2500 and up.
I was so sick to my stomach I couldn't even tell Scott what I had done. I let the news sink in, trying to figure out where the money would come from. The next morning on my weekly visit to the Habitat ReStore I walked in to find they had two brand new stainless steel 48" hoods for $500 each. They were island hoods, which you can't really tell unless you look at the back of where it tapers to the wall. My cabinet guy made it look good by building a false cabinet front to box it in, but I couldn't believe my luck!
We had to finish the kitchen by using my old, ugly white fridge and reinstalling the old, loud garbage disposal that was here when we bought the house. We recently bought the stainless fridge, but we’re still using that old disposal. It’s all been worth it because I LOVE my giant stove and can't imagine my kitchen without it.
As well as the stove turned out, I wanted to share an example of how bargain hunting can backfire. I jumped at the chance to buy a current model Elker stainless steel undermount sink I found on Craigslist for $25 without considering the style. I've never had a nice sink in any home I've lived in, and this was really deep. But it also has two equal sized bowls—I can't even set a 9x13 pan in either side to soak. My large pots and pans don't fully fit so I spill a lot of water when washing those things.
As much as I love my stove, I equally hate my sink. Two years after installation I called the counter folks to get a quote to install a new sink and was told they would only do it if I signed a waiver saying I understood the high likelihood that the thin piece of countertop in front of the sink would break and need repair at an additional cost. I was so upset! Now I'm stuck with that stupid sink.
One oddball feature that works, in my opinion, is our flooring and stair material. We couldn't use our old wood floors, as much as I loved them, because they were very distinctive with wood pegs that were darker than the floor color, and we couldn't afford to recreate them in the newly opened up areas. So my nostalgia took over and we had mesquite flooring and stair treads trucked up here from near my home town, about halfway between Austin and San Antonio. Because mesquite is a weed there it's very inexpensive and even with the freight charge it was less expensive than buying hardwood floors here.
All three of our kids share a love of the creek behind our house. We figured it could be a fun place to explore sometimes, but they all love to take friends down there and check out the creek, dig for slugs, and explore. Our girls love to go out on the balcony when they have friends over because the view is so nice and it gives them privacy with their friends. Sometimes our oldest will go out there and read.
I'd like to share one more story because I think it's interesting. Our contractor had an acquaintance who owned a small restaurant in SE and was wanting to open up a bar. He asked if he could use the wood from our house that we weren't reusing to finish out his new spot and we happily agreed. So he came over every afternoon and pulled nails from our old roofing rafters and flooring wood and hauled it all away.
The place is called Beer, simple name, and the entire inside of his bar is from our house, including the bar top. We've only made it over there a few times but it's a hoot for us to go and see our old house being reused in such a creative and attractive way.
We consider so many of our neighbors to be extended family and treasure the way even neighbors who may live a couple streets away will stop and chat when we might be outside working, or that we can chat with them when we're out on a walk. It seems like we have so much in common with our neighbors, and not just the ones who are our age with children at home.
Some of our neighbors are original owners of their homes and we also have two immediate neighbors who are living in their childhood homes that were purchased by their parents as original owners when Brookford was built. We view our Brookford neighbors as extended family. They are interesting and kind and we would want to be friends with them even if they weren't neighbors.
They are interesting and kind and we would want to be friends with them even if they weren't neighbors. We treasure our ability to sit in our backyard and listen to the wildlife, feel like we're in the woods, and unwind or play in such a beautiful natural setting. It feels like it should be so much farther away from the downtown of a major city.
D. Larson, Editor