Renovating a house built in the 1950s can be tricky. On one hand, mid century modern enthusiasts often want to preserve the original footprint and design elements that were unique to the post-war era. On the other hand, a home should be conducive to modern living. “With the major remodel, I did my best to give a nod to the original mid century design, even though we took a lot of it down to the studs,” says Beth Williamson of her split level house in Portland’s Concordia neighborhood. Beth and her husband Seth Berman lived in the property for three years before finally committing to a renovation, and even then, they nixed two designers before bringing in architect Risa Boyer.

A living room complete with a blue couch and complimentary orange and brown furniture.
original mahogany-frame windows look out over a city park across the street and flood the main living room with natural light.

“They were really debating whether they should move or stay,” says Risa, who has remodeled several midcentury homes in the area. She encouraged Beth to go with her gut on her design choices and collaborated with her on adapting the home to the couple’s lifestyle.

Related Reading: MCM Architecture of the Pacific Northwest Region

The kitchen of this Portland paradise, featuring the central island with a white countertop and walnut veneers.
white oak floors connect the living room, kitchen and dining area, providing a neutral palette for the newly renovated space. Walnut cabinet doors and drawer faces from Semihandmade add mid century flair to basic Ikea cabinets. The fireplace was opened on both sides to further connect the living and eating areas.

MODERN FLOW

The focal point of Beth’s vision was preserving the original brick fireplace in the living room at the front of the house. “We didn’t have that ridiculous of a budget, so I had to really consider what was important to me,” she says. But amending the floor plan to create a more open space was challenging. Although technically a split-level house, the home is divided lengthwise into four living areas. Adding to the layout puzzle, a rogue bedroom separated the kitchen and dining room from the living room on the main floor.

“For me to stay in the house, I needed better light, I needed a more modern flow,” Beth says. They chose to move the kitchen and dining area to the center of the house and to remove a section of the brick fireplace to make the entire space more cohesive. The homeowners hesitated at gutting the kitchen, which featured stunning plasterwork done by hand from the previous owner, but Beth held fast to her vision. “I felt that if I did that well enough and kept some nods to the midcentury, I was improving the house and not taking away from its original character,” she says.

Related Reading: Inspiration Gallery– Mid Century Modern Fireplaces

A brick fireplace separating the living room and kitchen of this Portland puzzle.
The original brick fireplace serving as the central divider between the living room and the kitchen.

These nods include installing custom walnut doors and drawer fronts on Ikea cabinets, and white Caesarstone on the kitchen countertops with a waterfall edge island. A glass Atos dining table flanked by a walnut bench and modern wire dining chairs create a clean, minimalist aesthetic while providing a welcoming gathering place adjacent to the living room.

“When you respect architecture so much, there’s definitely a lot of pressure when you make substantial changes to a home.”

A kitchen complete with cubed turquoise wall tiles, walnut cabinets, white countertops, and a stainless steel oven.
Details of the renovated kitchen space featuring patterned wall tiles, white Caesarstone countertops and walnut cabinets.

NEW BEGINNINGS

The original dining room, meanwhile, has been reimagined as a nursery (the couple is expecting later this year). A built-in china cabinet will be used to house baby clothes and stuffed animals, Beth says. The kitchen on the northeast corner of the house was converted into a den that also doubles as the home’s main entry. “Down the road, I foresee it being the playroom. Right now, my dog controls that room,” she laughs.

A mid century nursery room complete with mahogany floors and minimalistic infant decor as a part of this Portland puzzle.

Upstairs, the homeowners expanded the half-bath attached to the master bedroom, while operating within the confines of the area’s peculiar layout. “We were working with a 42-inch wide space, so we had to get creative,” says Risa, who maximized the square footage by adding a pocket door across from a narrow vanity. She positioned the shower at one end of the bathroom and the toilet at the other. A large three-section mirror above the sink helps brighten the room, while walnut cabinets and hexagon floor tiles pay homage to the home’s midcentury roots.

A bathroom with a white interior, shower at the end of the corridor, and large mirrors in this Portland puzzle.
The newly renovated and sleek layout of the bathroom.

Although the homeowners had to make due with a clunky layout for several years before saving enough for their desired renovations, they feel the end result was well worth the wait. “When you respect architecture so much, there’s definitely a lot of pressure when you make substantial changes to a home,” says Beth, who hopes to spend many more years in the newly refreshed midcentury abode. She adds, “Finding Risa was huge in helping us visualize this home in a more modern, functional way. We’re pretty proud of what we did.”

The basement of this mid century home with a mahogany wood wall scheme, white credenza, and orange bullet planter.

Can’t get enough of mid century renovations? Learn more about how this A-Frame Cabin stole the show right here!

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