Portland home landscaping and curb appeal
Giant fennel, euphorbia, rosemary and cardoon fill the front yard in late spring; by summer’s end, the house is almost hidden by head-high foliage. The orange sculptures on the front porch are by Boyer Mesh.

It all started with a leaky showerhead in a Midcentury modern Portland ranch. Soon, it became a full-scale remodel. Discover how these homeowners uncovered and faced their home’s challenges and devised some remodel solutions.

“When we were buying 10 years ago, we were absolutely committed to a ranch because of its living spaces,” says Portland, Oregon, real estate broker Tom Cotter. “We wanted the open floor plans, the hardwood floors, the windows and that quality of light, plus the connection to the garden.”

Tom and his partner, Doug Beebe, also a broker, recently completed a remodel of their modest-on-the-outside, wow!-on the-inside ranch. They say that it all started with a dripping shower head in the upstairs bathroom, and ended with a sherbet-colored kitchen and an underground pond next to a soaking tub. From start to finish it took eight months, something like $150,000 and plenty of martinis.

vintage Eames table and chair in the dining area
The dining area has a vintage Eames table and chairs, with a Nelson bubble lamp overhead. Encaustic paintings by Martha Pfanschmidt hang above the living room mantel and over a floating display shelf, which mirrors the open shelving in the kitchen on the other side of the wall.

“A lot of people think you need to go up to gain space, but if we find good headroom in the basement we push that more than anything,” says designer Libby Holah, who partners with her architect husband, Greg, at Holah Design+Architecture. “Tom and

Doug had really great headroom downstairs and essentially a blank slate, but often it’s hard for people to envision what an unfinished basement can look like finished.”

The ‘before’ basement was nothing special—rickety stairs, a large boiler (the 1952 house has steam radiators), laundry area, a small corner for TV watching and the rest was open storage. Dark, open storage.

“The walk to watch TV was a walk of shame,” Tom, 46, says. “Originally we just talked about the main level and planned to pay cash for the project step-by-step.”

Living room with Danish and IKEA pieces
The wall behind the dining area was opened up to allow sunlight to filter down the stairs and to tie the lower level visually to the open plan main floor. Furnishings include an Eames Sofa Compact and two Danish-style chairs (all recovered in ultra suede, which their cat finds unappealing), an IKEA bench and estate sale tables and floor lamp

But when their plumber said the galvanized pipes were failing, Doug and Tom figured they should go ahead and finish the basement while they were ripping things out.

Another thing that had always bugged them was that the view into the upstairs bath focused on the toilet; the way around that seemed to be to nix the tub for a shower, but hmm, sometimes there’s nothing like relaxing in a bath …

Libby and Greg saw the potential to almost double the living space of the 1,100-square-foot home, which has two bedrooms and a bath and a half on the main floor.

With their proposed design, the homeowners would gain a bedroom, a third bath, a den and an expansive entertainment area. But that could only happen if Holah D+A could solve the subterranean light issues.

The Problem with Remodel Solutions

To find out how they planned out their remodel solutions for their proposed designs in part 2!