As the renovation of their Midcentury Modern Portland ranch continued from leaky showerheads (part 1) to dingy, dark basements (part 2), Tom and Doug bumped into more problems. When they found the right folks, these hurdles led to groovy results, particularly in their kitchen renovation.
The kitchen wasn’t even part of the renovation scope until late in the game. Partway through the project, the homeowners—who were living in an apartment and functioning as the general contractors with daily site visits—realized they needed both a construction loan and a pro to oversee everything.
Instead of choosing a GC that the Holahs had worked with before, the couple selected someone who came well recommended but who usually worked in another architectural vocabulary, as did his subcontractors—Arts and Crafts bungalows being the prevalent housing stock in Portland. This resulted in some speed bumps.
“The stairs were a perfect example: The guy doing them usually does traditional details like newel posts,” Libby explains. “We could show him picture after picture of what we wanted, but then he’d open up his own book and point to some Elizabethan cottage detail. Even with the drawings, he didn’t grasp it.
“Detailing in a modern house has to be spot-on because it’s very apparent. You can hide things more easily in the Craftsman style; if you have one little thing that’s off in a flush threshold, that’s where your eye’s going to go.”
Greg chimes in about having less clout with a contractor they’ve never worked with before, particularly when problems arise. “One thing I tell people looking to remodel is to work with a GC who communicates well with your architect; that’s why we like it when clients ask for contractor recommendations.”
The cabinets and counters were original but nearing the end of their life, the architecture firm says. Bringing light into the room was again a driving force, and the team even briefly considered installing a translucent panel behind the cooktop. For new windows, Holah A+D chose Marlin models as most sympathetic to the home’s original metal ones.
Libby teases that the kitchen renovation was Doug’s folly. “Libby and Greg showed us this Italian laminate with a really interesting color palette. To me, it’s like a crazy ’60s Better Homes & Gardens kitchen with wood and kooky colors,” Doug says. The combo was initially even wilder, with mint green and hot pink on the short list.
“Lots of times we get rid of the upper cabinets for a better sense of openness,” says Libby. “Doug and Tom are minimalists at heart; they don’t believe in having a lot of stuff. So while the wall [to the right of the oven] screamed ‘pantry’ to me, the guys like open shelving with their dishware on display. On this project, we’d present designs and the homeowners would take it a step further, like having laminate wrap all of the cabinetry edges.”
“Every ranch I’ve seen benefits from subtraction,” offers Greg. “It can be hard to show restraint. We experience clients dealing with information overload throughout the process, and they end up feeling like they have to do everything. Instead, pick a few areas where you want to make a statement.”
“Don’t be afraid to go bold,” Libby adds. “You can make a statement with tile and it can still be minimal. In this kitchen, it’s for the most part lower cabinets, and we have a really streamlined countertop that isn’t competing and lots of glazing for light. You can make a bold statement without going over the top.”
Still, taken as a whole, the house looks to be the antithesis of a vanilla beige, resale value–driven remodel.
“With clients looking to sell, it’s all about depersonalization and spending the least amount of money and getting the most bang for your buck,” says Doug, 52. But he and Tom plan to stay put and couldn’t care less about that.
“We tell people, do what you want to do to fit your lifestyle,” Greg chimes in. “When the day comes to sell the house, there’s always going to be people who love it and another contingent who [feel] it’s absolutely not for them. But never design for the lowest common denominator.”