Squarebird in Portland ranch driveway
The basement and ground level are each roughly 1,770 square feet, with two large bedrooms, two baths, the living room, kitchen and dining room making up the top floor. Another bedroom, bath and a den were constructed in the basement by the previous owner. Their 1960 Thunderbird ‘Squarebird’ sits in the driveway.

Imagine getting a knock on your door the first Sunday after you move cross country, when you’re camping out waiting for the moving truck and barely know where the nearest fair market coffee roaster and vegan bakery is. That was Bobby and Marti Brom’s wakeup call in February 2011, when they were settling into their 1948 ranch in Portland, Ore.
 The rapper was Karla Pearlstein, a restoration consultant there to cajole the couple into opening their house for the coming kitchen tour put on by Portland’s Architectural Heritage Center. Although they had no living room furniture, the Broms were flattered enough to quickly pull the interior together for the 250-some people who toured the ground floor in mid-April.

“Not only was the kitchen totally original, but all of Marti’s decorative arts and furniture were perfect for the house,” recalls Pearlstein. “It was the best MCM house we have ever had on the tour and, even though it was a ways out from the other homes, the Broms’ house was mobbed with attendees.”

“Karla is a heroine; I’ve since learned she has personally averted many remodeling disasters,” says Bobby Brom. “With us, she saw that we’d purchased an intact home and came by to pitch that we consider the current ‘atomic’ charms before we had a chance to alter it. I must admire her strategy: nothing wakes up an otherwise oblivious civilian to [those] charms as does a day’s worth of people willing to pay to line up and admire them.”

That kitchen is what sold the Broms on the house as well. It’s a pleasant-looking white clapboard ranch from the street, but inside the two original baths and the kitchen have unusual details. The ceilings, walls and doors are covered with metal trimmed Marlite (a Masonite product with a shiny finish that never needed painting), the floor is inlaid linoleum and the appliances are all circa 1948. There’s a roomy banquette, original cabinetry and big picture windows that look out on the treed back yard.

The original owner was a navy physician, and Bobby sees the influence of a maritime aesthetic in the Marlite wall treatment and in the Streamline shapes in the kitchen and the living room fireplace surround. This Brentwood neighborhood location was developed on the site of a former golf course, and the house was obviously designed for an upper-middle-class buyer, with its large bedrooms, sunken living room and lavish baths.

Moving from D.C., the Broms actually lost the house to another buyer and were reluctantly settling on a different one when Realtor Alyssa Starelli got a call. “All the other homes paled in comparison, so although we looked at easily 15 in person, nothing really satisfied,” she recounts.

 

A Portland Home Worth Waiting For

With a heavy heart, the Broms bid on a house they felt was a close second to the sought after ’48. Then fate stepped in. Find out how their luck turned around in Part 2!