Modern Gabled House in Portland

In Portland, Oregon, a designer creates an open, environmentally sensitive house for a client on a 5,000-square-foot lot.
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Betty Rahman’s corner lot was something of an outlier in Portland, Oregon; at 5,000 square feet, it was occupied only by a modest, one-and-a-half-story bungalow. The 950-square-foot structure, which was built sometime around 1919, was nestled at the back of the lot, leaving ample free space for Rahman to build a larger modern house for herself.

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Scott Pitek designed this gabled structure for Betty Rahman on a 5,000-square-foot lot in Portland, Oregon.

Consultations with two architects left her cold, but eventually she connected with designer Scott Pitek at the suggestion of a mutual friend.

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Inexpensive but sturdy James Hardie lap siding was used on the exterior.

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One tree had to be cut down to make way for the house, so Rahman salvaged two sections of the trunk, had them painted white, and repurposed them as coffee tables.

"The first thing I did was spend a month with her just trying to understand her, her goals, what her style and aesthetic was—not just in on a superficial level but her aesthetic of living," Pitek says. "We also asked how could that align with creating a mutual house? I say ‘mutual’ in the sense that it’s appealing to anybody, it’s laid out in a way that’s flexible, you can add walls in certain locations, and it’s logical. We wanted to create a shell that she could live in but that at the same time had no market detraction if she ever wanted to sell it. That, basically, was the goal."

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Pitek says Rahman asked him to keep the house simple, "and let the texture of her life give it depth." The white color scheme lets her furnishings and belongings take center stage in the space. The kitchen cabinets are from Ikea.

Pitek says Rahman told him she wanted a modern house, but one that would fit in unobtrusively among the structures that define her neighborhood, most of which appear to have been built between the 1890s and the 1930s.

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Transom windows above the interior doors, as seen from the second-floor landing, promote air-circulation in the house, which does not have an air-conditioning system.

"We thought, What are some of the really simple, classic forms of structures, and there was the simple gabled-roof house," Pitek says. "She didn’t want to build a basement, so we thought, okay, a gabled-roof house is great because you’ve got all your storage up in the attic."

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The resident, Betty Rahman, has decorated the interior with items she has picked up on her travels around the world.

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Rahman in her bedroom.

The discussion then moved to proportion and form. Rahman’s request was that the house be "elegant and long," Pitek says. Capitalizing on generous ceiling heights—ten feet on the ground floor, nine feet on the second floor—Pitek installed tall casement windows that swing open on hinges. "The windows on the ground floor, they have a nice syncopation to them, kind of a nice rhythm, and they’re all kind of narrow, tall windows," Pitek says.

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Rahman did her own landscaping in the garden outside her house. The cedar fence was made with planks that were charred and sealed following the ancient Japanese shou sugi ban technique, which is supposed to make the wood resistant to fire, rot, and insects.

Rahman didn’t want a conventional HVAC system, so the house is outfitted with a heat-recovery system that in the winter transfers heat from the stale, outgoing air to fresh air being drawn in from outside. In the summer, she opens her windows and lets the natural cross-ventilation cool the space. "We have transom windows at every door that separates rooms inside, and the house basically cools itself," Pitek says.

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The dining table is one of several custom pieces in the house by Steve White Design.

Outside, Rahman landscaped the small fenced-in garden, outfitting it with low-maintenance pea gravel and potted plants. The garden fence was built with cedar slats that Steve White, who did the interior casework, and Pitek laid in the middle of the street and charred with a blowtorch before sealing them. It’s an ancient Japanese technique called shou sugi ban, one that is designed to make the wood resistant to fire, rot, and insects. But Pitek says the look of the charred wood was as important to Rahman as its sustainable features, and the charred fence complements the James Hardie lap siding on her house.

In part by acting as her own general contractor, Rahman was able to keep construction costs to $122 per square foot. Design work started in 2010, and construction was complete by the end of 2012, Pitek says.

William Lamb
Will Lamb is a writer and editor based in Jersey City, New Jersey. He served as a senior editor at Dwell from 2013 to 2015.


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