Karen and Sima

Karen and Sima live in a house that has seen a lot of changes over the last hundred years--it was even turned into a duplex for a while. They welcomed us into their beautiful home, and supplied images showing what it takes to thoughtfully restore and update a large home with a history that deserves to be honored. We'll let them pick up the story from here and tell us how it was done.

Image c. 1910, courtesy Oregon Historical Society

Image c. 1910, courtesy Oregon Historical Society

We started looking for a house in 1997 after living in an apartment for a couple of years. Karen’s friend, Greg McCarty, became our realtor and started showing us around NE Portland. Because he was familiar and engaged with this area, he showed us many different styles of homes and condos in the Sullivan’s Gulch and Irvington neighborhoods. When we saw this house, we were instantly in love with it. 

The house was originally a single family home and then at some point it had been turned into a duplex. The owner before us had it changed back into a single family home, but as you can imagine there were a number of walls and doors that would not have otherwise been present in a single family home.    

Overall, we thought the house was actually in great shape. We knew at some point we would start making changes, so we decided to start small and work our way inward. In the first couple of years we spent a majority of our time outside, changing the driveway landscape, painting the house, adding new plants and changing the paving to the front of the house. 

As time went on, the very small kitchen was the most troublesome, followed closely by the separation of rooms by walls and doorways. This became readily apparent when two events collided – the birth of our son and every appliance and cabinet in the kitchen falling apart at once. Rather than replace what we had, we decided it was time to return the house to its original look.

Through our connections, we have always been blessed with help finding contractors and people to work on this remodel, and when Karen walks the neighborhoods and sees something she likes, she contacts that person. The house has been remodeled in stages, starting with the outside first, then the master bedroom and associated walk-in closet and linen closet, then the first floor of the house (taken down to the studs) and finally, the basement. 

Most of the inspiration came from a combination of the creativity of the person who had been hired, and our ideal functional yet beautiful space. 

When we remodeled the first floor using a company called Eterne, we worked with the very creative Michael Tunson. He has remodeled homes in San Francisco and possesses a deep desire to restore homes to their original condition, including the ornate detailing of the era. This is the reason our first floor is filled with pieces that would have been found in an early 1900s home including box ceilings, columns, ornate floors, period lighting and cabinet fixtures, and more. 

When we remodeled the basement with Paul Johnston, we recognized his very creative and thoughtful approach to creating the right space. As the plan was developing, we saw how useful it would be to have a space that combined the laundry room with the potential for a small kitchen. Paul built that room to accommodate a small refrigerator, a microwave or toaster oven, sink and the washer and dryer. The basement now has a full bedroom, bathroom, living space and a separate pantry space. This makes it a truly functional ADU (accessory dwelling unit).

We still have things we would like to do, like finishing the last bathroom on the first floor, and if we could muster the energy, landscaping the rest of the front and backyard and fixing the driveway; however, we are also very content with what has been done and could easily stop here.

Interestingly, Sullivan’s Gulch has remained the same eclectic neighborhood it has always been. Many of our neighbors are the same neighbors we have had since we moved here in 1997. There is a sense of pride and comfort living in Sullivan’s Gulch. It has also been a place with unparalleled accessibility to the entire city. Most of the time we do not use our car because we can either walk, bike or use the MAX to get around. The thing that is probably changing most is the growth of the entire city, which is not necessarily specific to Sullivan’s Gulch.

It is our hope that Portland continues to retain the charm it has always been known for while promoting and ensuring accessibility for all persons to live in this city. No one should be marginalized when it comes to living safely, comfortably and happily.

Because we just completed our basement it is not yet furnished but we are sure it will fast become our favorite part of the house. We like to eat dinner together every night possible, so the common area of our living room, dining room and kitchen allow us all to be in the same space while doing very different things (studying, cooking, listening to music, etc).  

The fun thing about our house is that we utilize every part of it on any given day since it has been set up in a way that is comfortable and easy. In fact, Joelle Nesen and Emma Davis, interior designers from Maison, have done a marvelous job of assessing our furniture needs and wonderfully arranging our furniture to be functional and beautiful.

new hardwds dining.jpg

It is crucial before taking on a restoration project or remodel to be sure you have spent enough time looking at other homes, talking to different contractors and designers, outlining what is important to you and reading about all the possibilities that now exist in remodeling a home.

The other obvious but equally important part is knowing how much you are willing to spend, while expecting you will likely exceed that by 10-25%. Being sure you understand what your limit is and how you will modify your plans to suit your personal needs coupled with your financial constraints, is crucial. Remodeling a home should go in stages so that you have the chance to spread out the cost of such projects and because you will change over time in what you want and what is available. 

Special thanks to Kari McGee and Erika George of Living Room Realty for introducing us to Karen and Sima.