21 Midcentury Renovations in Portland That Maintain Their Northwest Charm

21 Midcentury Renovations in Portland That Maintain Their Northwest Charm

By Kate Reggev
Take a look at these midcentury beauties that have been outfitted for modern convenience and comfort.

When renovating a historic home—even if it's from the 1950s or later—
one of the biggest challenges is figuring out how to balance its original character with the necessary functional and aesthetic updates for a 21st-century house. Below, we've gathered some of the best examples of thoughtful renovations in Portland, Oregon, where architects and designers have carefully blended key Northwest architectural elements with modern features.

A Midcentury Renovation in Portland Capitalizes on Nature with Seven Doors to the Outside

Jessica Helgerson Interior Design, with project manager and lead designer Emily Kudsen Leland at the helm, remade a Portland abode with a crisp paint palette: Benjamin Moore’s Wrought Iron for the cladding and Venetian Gold for the front door. The home was originally designed by Saul Zaik in Southwest Portland, complete with a wood-clad exterior, in 1956. As part of the renovation, landscape design was completed by Lilyvilla Gardens.

At a 1954 midcentury home in the West hills of Portland, Penny Black Interiors deftly updated the residence with standout cabinetry, carefully-selected tile, and wallpaper galore. The renovation balanced preserving the home's innate character and updating its function for modern life.

In the interior of a 1950s Portland home, architect Risa Boyer's redesign retained the original post-and-beam construction, exposed wood ceilings, and extensive glass windows but updated the confined galley kitchen and dark, narrow front hallway. The result is a renovation that respected the home's original aesthetic and made it easier for the homeowners to entertain.

Originally designed in 1939 by Roscoe Hemenway, the Burton House was once home to famed artist Verne Tossey, who was best known for his campy pulp fiction book covers throughout the 1950s and 60s. Recently, Portland-based designer Benjamin Silver and builder Oliver Olson have completely renovated the home, transforming the property into a modern interpretation of Hemenway's original design.

Portland-base pastry chef Andrea Nicholas purchased a 1953 midcentury ranch whose 2,500 square feet needed "a lot of TLC." Nicholas hired architect Risa Boyer to design the renovation, which involved opening up the kitchen to the dining room and creating a contemporary open-plan living space.

In southwest Portland, Aaron and Yuka Ruell's 1953 house was updated for a growing family with the help of local firm Jessica Helgerson Interior Design. Together, they created an environment where midcentury tables sit beside contemporary sofas, and it’s all punctuated with textured fabrics, vibrant colors, and vivid artwork. The home features large expanses of glass, a bountiful use of wood, and generous overhangs, all markers of its vintage. It is painted in Black Bean Soup by Benjamin Moore, a color in keeping with the period of the original architecture.

Designed in 1972 by local architect Edgar Waehrer, this home was renovated by creative director Ben Watson and his partner, painter Claudio Tschopp. As a later example of Northwest modernism, the home combined the clean lines and open plans of mid-century modernism with an emphasis on natural local materials and natural light. However, while the 16-foot ceilings in the home gave a sense of airiness, the plentiful wood paneling on the walls kept it dark and feeling damp, and so the couple bleached the walls to better reflect natural light.

A design-minded family team with plentiful carpentry experience gives this 1967 abode a modern update while preserving its midcentury charm. The renovation preserved the deeply-recessed entryway, a glass-walled atrium, and the home’s vaulted ceilings, but significantly revamped the top floor to create a more efficient use of space, including a new kitchen with dark-stained maple plywood cabinets, custom vanities in the bathrooms, and a spa bath in the finished lower level that could be rented out as an 800 square-foot space for extra income.

When the homeowners of this 1960 home in Portland’s Southwest Hills bought the property in 2009, they became the new owners of a lot of white carpeting, tired woodwork, dated wallpaper, and lackluster storage. Over time, they came to wish for a home that better suited their lives, but didn’t want to sacrifice the excellent midcentury bones. A two-pronged renovation became the answer to their problems. For the first phase completed in 2016, Fieldwork Design + Architecture remodeled the main floor. The firm swapped out the white carpeting for warm cork flooring, then strategically inserted variegated cedar planking. Fireplace surrounds received new plaster to bring in a subtle, earthy texture. Sharp black accents, whether via dining chairs or new patio doors, add definition. Fieldwork replaced the trim around the windows with CVG fir and added variegated cedar planking for warmth and texture. For the second phase of the transformation, which wrapped in 2019, Annie Wise of Annie Wise Design stepped in for a gut remodel of the kitchen and master bathroom, with the goal of ensuring any changes remained consistent with what had already been done.

When the current owners laid eyes on this home's spectacular city views, they instantly fell in love with the 1958 dwelling. In addition to amazing vistas, the custom-designed house had an authentic midcentury vibe and a cool chevron floor plan. However, the 3,600 square foot home had tiny, closed-off rooms, awkward spaces, and low ceilings that were "begging to be vaulted." Portland-based Risa Boyer Architecture renovated the midcentury house, opening up ceilings to make them vaulted, adding floor-to-ceiling windows, and expanded the kitchen and gave it a modern look with walnut cabinets.

Set in the southwest hills of Portland, Oregon, this 1965 home was designed by noted local architect William Fletcher and entirely renovated in 2008. The low-lying home with a bright blue door was customized with elements that complemented the original midcentury architecture, including updates to all bathrooms, opening up the kitchen and adding cabinetry in Oregon black walnut, and transforming the car port into a dining room.

After searching for the perfect plot of land on which to build their dream home, a couple instead opted to purchase a "Rummer" home -- a typical example of a low-key midcentury modernist house constructed by a local developer, Robert Rummer, in the 1960s. The five-bedroom, 2,400-square-foot post-and-beam house was strongly reminiscent of California Eichlers, and exemplified the couple’s ideal layout, but was in serious need of a major renovation. The revamp maintained the great expanses of glass, wide-open interiors, and indoor-outdoor living, and added new white concrete floors installed, fixed the radiant heating, updated the kitchen and bathrooms, and new landscaping.

While technically a little later than midcentury, and certainly not a traditional home, this renovation of a 1980s RV by a Portland couple took advantage of the potential beyond the dingy wood laminate cabinets and the dirty beige carpet that was consuming the floor. Owner Liz Kamarul envisioned how she could transform it, imagining white cupboards, interesting wallpaper for the ceiling, and texture introduced by textiles. 

Anthony Belluschi, the son of architect Pietro Belluschi (1899-1994), refurbished his father’s 1938 Sutor House with the help of general contractor Pat Kirkhuff. A top priority for the new owners, Aric Wood and Erin Graham, was to unearth the neglected gardens, which were inspired by Jiro Harada, an authority on Japanese landscaping.

This 3,200 square foot home was originally designed by mid-century master John Storrs in 1959 for the Holtz family. The overarching goal for the renovation was simple: to carefully restore existing natural finishes while simultaneously upgrading all functional aspects of the home, including a modernized kitchen, bathrooms, family art studio and media room. Only 80 square feet was added to the home, slightly increasing the size of the kitchen. 

This remodeled midcentury modern home maintained its original features including high ceilings, generous windows and sliding glass doors, pocket doors, and an L-shaped floor plan. Updates throughout the home included stainless steel appliances and quartz counters in the kitchen, a walk-in pantry and laundry room, and a renovated master suite and bathroom.

In southwest Portland, Tyler Engle Architects transformed a midcentury home, taking advantage of existing elements such as expansive clerestory windows, vaulted ceilings, wood decking, and a fireplace. Interior spaces, in particular the kitchen, were updated with new lighting, finishes, and a dividing wet bar that creates spaces that allow for subtle separation of spaces.

The 1952 dwelling that Greg Hoffman and his wife, Kirsten Brady, bought in Portland, Oregon, had many virtues. It had history (the first owner was an inventor who made stereoscopic devices), it had a strong architectural pedigree (it was designed by respected local architect Roscoe Hemenway), and above all, it had views. But, of course, it also had its flaws: the ceilings were low, the interior was chopped into a warren of rooms, and the windows weren’t exactly abundant. "We wanted open plans, more transparency, less tiny rooms," says Greg, the VP of global brand innovation at Nike. With the aid of Bohlin Cywinski Jackson—the 50-year-old architecture firm that is best known for the Fifth Avenue Apple store in New York City—the couple embarked on a project to enrich the landscaping, simplify the layout, and add a new top floor, all while amplifying the view with more glass. After a major renovation, the midcentury home with some of the best views in Portland, Oregon, took on a drastically new look.

In southwest Portland, a 1970s condo, American Plaza Towers, is made up of three high-rise condominiums originally designed in the Brutalist style by Travers/Johnson Architects. This apartment, occupied by the original owner until 2017, received a major renovation while respecting many of the 70s details like smoked mirror, wallpaper and faceted lighting. An open kitchen is the centerpiece of the living space with brass fixtures, quartz countertops, Kitchen-Aid appliances, Cedar & Moss lighting and Heath Ceramics backsplash complimenting the original cabinets. Indoor-outdoor entertaining on the large private balcony perched high in the downtown Portland tree canopy. Photo: Ruum Media

Architect Risa Boyer transformed this 1950s midcentury home, where the home owners were looking for home with a view and found this home that originally had flat ceilings throughout at just under 8 feet tall. The renovation opened up the living room, exposing the 180-degree views from the top of Mount Tabor in southeast Portland.

This 1957 mid-century modern house sits on a 1 acre lot in SW Portland with an incredible view looking east toward the river and SE Portland. The single bedroom, 2-bedroom guest house residence needed a more functional floor plan. Following designs by Giulietti/Schouten Architects, 2 bedrooms were added to an upper level addition, and the guest house was cut in half to include 1 bedroom, 1 bath, and kitchenette + entertaining space. Adding a main level addition with the existing U-shaped plan left limited options with the house’s location on a steep hillside. The existing home featured low and sleek roof lines with large, thin gables, making a second level addition a challenging design problem. Ultimately, the design retained the existing and characteristic roofs while forming a second-level addition into the existing volume.


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