Creative by trade as graphic designers, Jon and Karen Whippich are open to possibilities. While they had not lived in a midcentury home before, when they looked around their empty nest, they realized it was their opportunity to try something new.
The couple has two grown daughters and only drank the midcentury Kool-Aid with the purchase of their current home, a 1956 ranch whose initial attributes were its proximity to their downtown Portland design studio and views east to Mt. Hood. “Karen had already gotten into the midcentury style at our 1938 Cape Cod, but it didn’t work that well with it,” Jon says. “We had nearly 3,000 square feet there and wanted to find something smaller since it was now just the two of us. I have always loved architecture and I like the quality of older homes, so looking specifically for a ’50s house had me a little leery. I didn’t want cheap hollow doors, cheap doorknobs and aluminum windows.”
He’s had a conversion since, discovering that this postwar house was solidly constructed with steel beams and a vastly superior grade of concrete foundation than in their previous home. In the scorching real estate market of 2004–5 (remember that?), they were unable to find the virgin gem they hoped for, but this one had hardwood floors, unpainted Roman brick fireplaces upstairs and down, and a cast concrete block wall around the patio. It also had an ’80s remodeled kitchen and bath, but turning those around seemed doable.
The Whippiches surmise that the previous owners remodeled 25 years ago and then never touched anything again. The kitchen’s chipped vinyl tile floor, patched and stained plywood cabinetry, harvest gold mini blinds and fridge, and Jenn-Air oozing with grease—none of it spoke to their design sensibilities.
Leaving the Empty Nest Behind
Not opposed to a challenge, the Whippiches tackled what proved to be a renovation adventure, especially for the home’s kitchen. Find out about the elbow grease, cabinetry snafu and how they overcame it all in Part 2.