Eames lounge in a basement den
The den invites loafing on the IKEA daybed and rug, or relaxing on an Eames lounge chair and ottoman; it can be closed off with a barn door in case a guest lingers overnight. A painting by Martha Pfanschmidt and photography by Briana Linden line the bright walls.

With plans for a full-scale renovation of Tom and Doug’s Portland ranch (part 1), a point of particular difficulty was the dark, dingy basement. But with the help Holah Design+Architecture, it did not prove insurmountable, especially with natural light as the solution.

“They’re all about light,” Libby says. The foursome have known each other since the Holahs moved to Portland from Oakland and Doug was their realtor, so they’d been to the house numerous times before taking on the project.

Abiska tile in Ebano clads the custom bathroom
A Kohler Tea-for-Two tub has an overhead filler and a sliding window that opens to the quasi-outdoor water feature. The Whitehaus sink has a Grohe faucet with a Century Bathworks medicine cabinet above. The toilet is a Toto and the wall tile is Abisko in the Ebano color from Rex Ceramiche Artistiche, while the heated floor is clad with Emperador 1⁄2” marble mosaic.

Window wells were the solution to bring natural light into the space, with a particularly generous one making up an entire wall of the new bathroom.

Five wells were dug by hand during a Portland winter, when the rain turns the clay soil into a squashy sponge. The tub-adjacent window well was fully sealed with a cold frame–type enclosure at ground level for temperature control, while the others have deep wood sills where the homeowners display art glass and collectibles.

custom lampshade
The homeowners had a custom shade made for an orange $1 lamp and group art glass, a ceramic vessel by Geoffrey Pagen, sculptures from Boyer Mesh and a vintage bullet planter near the window well at the bottom of the stairs.

“Once you excavate, push out a couple of feet, what’s a couple more feet,” says Greg Holah with a laugh. “It was important to do board-form window wells so you weren’t looking at this blank wall.”

In addition to the bath, which is clad in manly brown faux bois tile and has both a tub filler and shower rain head on the ceiling, the main room was partitioned off from the laundry area, and a gutsy orange den is tucked behind a wood and glass barn door. The new downstairs guest room has both exterior egress and a closet, making it a legal addition to the official bedroom count. Other improvements were new water heaters (it takes two to fill the soaking tub) and plumbing for a future solar power installation when the house next needs a roof.

The men both have strong opinions (they avoid gardening together or sharing clients) and, while their overarching taste is similar, they sometimes veto the other’s choices. For instance, Doug picked the department store art that now hangs over the bar (the only locale Tom could stomach) and, in the upstairs marble bath, Doug wanted to counter that formalism with flocked pink and orange wallpaper—something crazy. (They have a pale pink wall instead.)

“I wanted dark, high-gloss concrete floors downstairs; Doug said absolutely not,” Tom reports, while Doug feigns amnesia. (The basement floor is polished but neither stained nor glossy.) “And everybody had to talk me into the colors in the kitchen.”

Natural Light and Color

Once your home is illuminated with natural light, picking the right colors, especially for such a high-traffic room like the kitchen, can be a stressful situation. Find out what colors our homeowners settled with (and why) in part 3!