Perhaps it was Jess and Jered Bogli’s colossal-but-cordial rottweiler, Oliver, who spearheaded their move to a highly sustainable home in Portland, Oregon’s Alberta Arts District. While walking Oliver one day, the couple spotted a contemporary-looking house under construction and got to talking with the builder, Darryl Erlandson, about its green features. They passed by the house frequently after that. "It was on my running route," Jess recalls, "and eventually one of the builders yelled to me, ‘Come in!’ Another day one of them even said, ‘Throw out an offer.’ And we did.’"
Proud do-it-yourselfers who first met during high school in Connecticut as hardcore-punk aficionados, Jess and Jered originally sought an alternative space such as a warehouse or even an old church to fix up. "But it seemed pretty overwhelming," Jered recalls.
The couple quickly became attracted to the home’s bold design, which was fashioned by architect Brian White of Architecture W. Renovated from a 1940s ranch-style home, with many of the original materials used in the reconstruction, the boxy form provides a stark contrast to the faux-Victorian homes across the street—–actually built around the same time. Yet the house’s scale and texture integrate well into the broader neighborhood of historic Craftsman bungalows. The design also packs a green punch. A well-sealed building envelope containing insulation made from recycled blue jeans means interior temperatures stay mild year-round. It also has a solar heating system that provides hot water and warms the radiant floor, using a set of roof-mounted tubes rather than the more common flat panels. "Compared to photovoltaic panels, solar thermal achieves around 70 percent efficiency," Erlandson notes. "It’s not giving you electricity, but you get more bang for your buck because it’s already what you want it to be: heat. If you generate electricity and turn it back into heat, there’s some loss there in the transition."
Jered, a graphic designer, and Jess, a school-health-education consultant, are active volunteers in their community and passionate about living sustainably. Avid gardeners who grow much of what they eat, they have eagerly taken advantage of the large backyard by planting an array of fruits and vegetables, leaving plenty of lawn left over for tossing a ball with Oliver or entertaining in the summer months. The couple plans to reserve a portion of their garden for neighbors to pick from freely.
To capitalize on connections with the ample backyard, White’s design moved the kitchen from the front of the house to the rear, where glass doors fold back (without mullions) to reveal a huge unfettered opening onto the yard and garden. "Everybody hangs out in the kitchen anyway," Jered says, noting a recent meal they cooked for 21 people, "but here you can be talking to somebody standing under the tree while you’re chopping food at the counter."
Topping the kitchen counter is simple polished concrete that Erlandson assembled in the garage using crushed rock from a local quarry. This and other industrial materials complement the architecture’s clean lines. The front door and front-yard planters, for example, are made from raw reclaimed steel.
The adjacent living and dining areas, which share a large open space off the kitchen, are situated to the north, where most of the windows have been placed for optimum diffusion of daylight. The interior is decorated with kitschy vintage diagrams and charts. One displays the nutritional value of cheese pizza; another is an educational illustration of the heart. An old library card catalog in the corner once belonged to Jered’s father, a teacher, but could have come from the set of a Wes Anderson movie. Its drawers are filled not with library cards but with oddball items such as skeet-shooting medals and Pez dispensers.
Nearby, a light box displays Jered’s shadowy, film noiresque photo of Portland’s Broadway Bridge and Union Station, taken with his pocket-size Holga camera while cycling to work one morning. "I always keep it with me just in case," he says. "And that day it felt as blue and foggy as it looks. It was enough to stop me in my tracks."
Though the clouds and rain can often make days a little dreary in Portland, the Boglis’ house stays bright most of the time. Erlandson removed two fireplaces in the original house, so to create a similar sense of a hearth he replaced them with a light well extending from a rooftop skylight through the second floor down to the ground. The well is clad in handmade ceramic tiles that make it resemble a chimney. "It really is kind of like our fireplace," Jess says, laughing. "I asked Jered, ‘Where do we hang the stockings?’"
Downstairs, the built-out basement houses Jess’s office and a conference room, but it could also become a separate apartment or in-law quarters. Upstairs, the master bedroom includes a balcony extending the length of the space; it also shades the west-facing kitchen and deck below. A sloping green roof tops the house with sod and native plants. There’s space for barbecuing above the garage, but they may choose to plant more crops. After all, Jered and Jess have learned Oliver has a taste for fresh produce.
"He ate all the raspberries the other day," Jered says, rolling his eyes. "But he actually just picks the fruit that’s ripe. You end up finding all these green tomatoes with vampire marks on them. He can tell when they aren’t ready."
Though not every dog in town has such a taste for seasonal produce, Portland’s residents are certainly aware that their city is a national beacon for sustainable living. The Boglis’ house was dubbed the Stump House by the architect—–perhaps as a nod to Portland’s nickname, Stumptown—– but it might be more fitting to compare it to a sapling. The polished new home represents the beginning of another life cycle for the previously used materials that went into its creation, and the solar-powered heating system is a constant reminder of renewal.
Brian Libby is a Portland-based architecture writer who has contributed to Dwell since 2004. He has also written for The New York Times, Architect, CityLab, Salon, Metropolis, Architectural Record and The Oregonian, among others. Libby additionally writes the Portland Architecture blog and is an award-winning filmmaker and photographer.