Nearly 80 Years Later, an Architect Rescues a Japanese-Inspired Masterwork Designed by His Father
Houses by acclaimed architect Pietro Belluschi rarely go on the market. Instead, his son, architect Anthony Belluschi, often acts as a matchmaker, helping to assure that the homes go to a worthy custodian. So it was that Aric Wood wound up halting plans to break ground on his dream home after Anthony convinced him to tour a Pietro-designed gem in Portland, Oregon, that was about to be vacated. Known as the Sutor House, it was completed in 1938. "He just fell in love," the younger Belluschi remembers. "And he had the right sensitivity about the provenance of the house. I knew he’d be a perfect owner."
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In the late 1930s, Pietro Belluschi and fellow Portland architect John Yeon jump-started the Northwest Regional style, which drew from Bauhaus modernism, the simple lines of local farmhouses and barns, and traditional Japanese architecture. After Yeon’s acclaimed Watzek House and Belluschi’s Sutor House (built within a year and just a few hundred yards of each other), scores of homes by a succession of local architects followed with similar timber construction, pitched roofs, large overhangs, and floor-to-ceiling glass.
Belluschi later became known for his work on larger projects, such as San Francisco’s Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption and New York’s Pan Am Building. Yet designing houses may have been the architect’s greatest passion.
Though located in Portland’s West Hills section near downtown, the Sutor House feels like a secluded oasis, thanks to its four-acre site teeming with native plants like azaleas and barberry, selected by the original landscape architect, Florence Holmes Gerke. It also borders a forested canyon of Douglas fir, maple, and dogwood. A 1948 Sunset magazine article concentrated more on the house’s garden-like setting than on its architecture.
While designing the Sutor House, Belluschi befriended Jiro Harada, a professor at the Imperial Household Museum in Tokyo and author of numerous books on Japanese gardens and architecture who was in town as a visiting professor at the University of Oregon. Influenced by Harada, Belluschi and Gerke created an elegant, Japanese-style strolling garden at the house that in later years disappeared through neglect.
When Aric and his wife, Erin Graham, bought the property in 2012, they made it their mission to unearth the original garden, one shovelful of dirt at a time. "It was so overgrown you couldn’t even find the rock wall," Aric remembers. "But we uncovered the rock wall to find the stone steps. We dug out the stone steps and discovered pathways leading down into the forest. It’s been kind of a continuous process of uncovering."
"You recognize that the house and the garden are inseparable. We flow through the house with the seasons." Aric Wood, resident
Inside, the challenge was to restore. To provide bedrooms for both children—13-year-old Tucker and 11-year-old Madeleine—the couple hired Anthony Belluschi to reconstruct the former maid’s quarters, which had been turned into a breakfast nook. The kitchen was also modernized, with space gained by moving a wet bar to the dining room.
The public area’s sumptuous materials, such as a woven wood foyer ceiling and the living room’s curved zebrawood wall, were in "unfortunate states of disrepair," Aric recalls. But they, along with the original oak floors and built-in bookshelves, were all refurbished. A wall of mirrored glass in the dining room was replaced entirely.
"We uncovered the rock wall to find the stone steps. We dug out the stone steps and discovered pathways leading down into the forest. It’s been kind of a continuous process of uncovering." Aric Wood
Purely by coincidence, Aric works in a Belluschi-designed office downtown: the 1948 Equitable Building, one of America’s first major glass-curtain-walled works of commercial architecture. But he says it’s at home where he fully appreciates the architect’s gifts, particularly in the bounty of natural light permeating every space.
"I can sit on the sofa at any given hour and feel like I’m outdoors," he explains. "Pietro Belluschi did the same trick with the master bedroom, cantilevering it out so there’s glass on three sides." Most of all, Aric says, "You recognize that the house and the garden are inseparable. We flow through the house with the seasons. Spring and summer, our living room is the portico. The dining room is the terrace. In winter we gather around the hearth. I think he really mastered that."
Timeline: Like Father, Like Son
Nearly eight decades after the Sutor House was built, Anthony Belluschi acts as the caretaker of his father’s architectural legacy.
- 1936 Pietro Belluschi meets Jiro Harada, an expert on Japanese garden design, during a lecture at the Portland Art Museum.
- 1937 Editor of The Oregon Journal Jennings Sutor hires Belluschi to design a home capturing views of Mt. Hood and the property’s adjacent forest.
- 1938 The three-bedroom Sutor House is completed for $14,000 and is soon featured in such national magazines as Time and Architectural Record.
- 1960s New owners, who also own the Jantzen swimwear company, add a pool and a guesthouse, holding photo shoots for the company’s advertising.
- 2013 Anthony Belluschi starts a two-year restoration for the current owners.
- 2017 The first acre of gardens around the house is uncovered.