An Actor-Turned-Designer Couple Build a Dream Home in Oregon

This residence in Lake Oswego cascades down a hillside to embrace its waterfront locale.
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When Kricken and James Yaker envisioned their dream home in Lake Oswego, Oregon, just outside Portland, the couple wanted to go big—but to also keep a modest profile.

Though their 6,000-square-foot, five-bedroom home, completed late last year, appears to be a relatively modest two-story structure from the street, it descends two further stories down a hillside to integrate the primary living spaces with the backyard’s lakeside view.

The home keeps a modest profile as it faces the street before spilling down the hill to capture waterside views.

"We didn’t want to be those people that come in and build the McMansion," explains Kricken. "But it was really exciting to push and stretch ourselves creatively, to create a home that we wanted to put our name on and represents who we have become."

After years working as actors in New York and Los Angeles, including a starring, Off Broadway role for James as well as appearances on TV’s The X-Files and Cybil, the couple was ready for a change. They then found renovating their home in Venice Beach, California, so rewarding that, when they decided to pack up for the Portland area to be near extended family in 2006, Kricken and James were ready to take on a new role: as design-build entrepreneurs.

The home’s great room can easily extend onto the outdoor deck thanks to glass walls that slide away.

Over the ensuing years their company, Vanillawood, has become a popular combined furniture retailer and design-build service. But the couple wanted a demonstration house to show clients what was possible, and a space large enough to entertain family and friends.

"There are a lot of things to love about Oregon, but one thing we thought was lacking was urban contemporary home design," says James. "And living in this gray environment eight months out of the year, we still get a little stir crazy. We missed being on the water and having that bright indoor/outdoor living. That’s why we brought it with us."

The great room is situated on a lower floor, down the cantilevered staircase from the foyer, with a Nicoline Italia sofa and a variety of textures and patterns enlivening the minimally designed space.

After one enters the home, which the couple designed together and for which James served as the general contractor, a wide cantilevered staircase leads to an adjoining double-height great room and living room. Each looks out at the water through floor-to-ceiling glass doors that can also slide away for indoor/outdoor living in tandem with a large, canopy-covered deck. These spaces sit atop a partially subterranean basement with enough space for sons Liam, Riley, and Beckett (16, 14, and 9, respectively) to rollerblade and play futsal.

The house as seen at dusk, with a day-lit basement tucked under the main floors with the help of a hillside site.

The interiors are crisply detailed yet warm, with artful pops of color. Contrasting the white walls, the kitchen’s black marble countertops waterfall downward to meet oak flooring with razor-thin tolerances. Appliances are hidden away in cabinetry, giving the space a pristine look that belies it being home to a family of five. Yet the family also recently hosted Riley’s bar mitzvah there.

Black marble countertops and backsplash create a high-contrast look in the kitchen.

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A variety of textures and patterns, from zebra-striped dining chairs to a white bearskin living room rug, add a playful contemporary ambiance, as does the Yakers’ collection of contemporary and pop art. Then there’s the master bath, where an oval-shaped soaking tub sits amidst a cocoon of veined white marble floors and walls, with a view through the glass to the canal outside.

The Yakers' master bath surrounds its Beijing Roc soaking tub by Americh in white marble, with a view through the glass to the waterside view. The Mint tub filler is by Fantini.

Though Kricken and James call their house an oasis and a place to connect with family and friends, what seems to excite them the most is that they pulled off the house of their dreams as self-taught design-builders—and can do the same for Vanillawood’s clients. "We have an unconventional path that got us here," Kricken says, "but I think in so many ways that is an asset. Our experiences as actors really inform our ability to put our own egos aside and to put ourselves in our clients’ shoes during the process."

More Lakeside Homes: 

A Lake Superior Escape With a Whitewashed Masonry Sauna

This Mexican Lake House Is All About the Views

Project Credits:

Architect of Record: Organic Modern, Jeff Burns

Builder / General Contractor: Vanillawood / @vanillawood

Structural Engineer:  Allstructure Engineering, Ryan Hardie

Landscape Design: Vanillawood

Lighting Design: Vanillawood

Interior Design: Vanillawood

Cabinetry Design: Vanillawood


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