With its prime location, beautiful views and a house plan that put most of the living space on the main level, the property seemed well-suited to serve the Takashimas in their forthcoming retirement years. So Laura left a note, then another, in the mailbox, inquiring about a sale. Weeks passed with no reply, until finally one Friday night, after packing for a weekend trip to Sunriver, Laura swung by the Grothaus residence and saw that a for-sale sign had finally gone up. Laura and Gregg’s real estate agent agreed to meet them for an 11:30 p.m. flashlight tour, and they faxed in a full-price offer the next day. “We got really lucky,” says Laura, backlit by a twilight cloudscape seen through the French doors of her new living room.
Unfortunately, the Takashimas and their architects soon discovered there was little of the existing house that they wanted to keep. As Wood recalls, “It had a lot of small rooms that had no relationship to the site or to views, as is typical of a ranch-style home.” The low-ceilinged interior barely interacted with the lovely garden outside. And the gable ends of the roof faced north-south, as if the building was averting its gaze from the galloping views to the east.
The agreed-upon solution was to completely tear down the house and build a new structure atop the basement level, keeping the footprint more or less intact to preserve the landscaping.
In a traditional Japanese farmhouse, communal and public activities typically occur in a main hall. Emulating that arrangement, Tomkinson and Wood replaced most of the main floor with a lofty great room, where heavy fir trusses that support the steeply pitched roof are open to the living, dining and kitchen areas below. Separate bedroom and library wings are arrayed on the west and south sides of the house, while the basement level holds a modest guest suite, office, media room and wine cellar. In another bold reconfiguration, the architects moved the home’s main entry from its east to its south wall. Whereas visitors once entered the house with their backs to the prime view, now the entry procession leads gradually through the main living areas, culminating in an east-facing bank of tall windows and French doors that, on a clear day, frame Mount Hood.
“We believe in sustainability, using fewer resources to get the results you want, so our designs tend to have a minimalist or modernist feel,” Wood explains, referring to a portfolio that includes the interiors of Café Wonder in the historic Wonder Ballroom on NE Russell Street and the Ten-01 restaurant in the Pearl District’s Henry building. Of course, achieving that ideal of physical economy can require some compromises—such as doing away with a perfectly usable structure. To reduce the impact of the demolition, tons of retired building materials were trucked to the Rebuilding Center; and Wood and Tomkinson even nabbed some of the discarded Oregon red oak flooring for their own ’50s-ranch remodel.
But to these architects, respect for the environment means more than conserving natural resources; expressing a sense of place is just as important. To that end, despite its clear references to Japanese architecture, the Takashima residence makes no pretense that the peak in the distance is actually Mount Fuji. “We definitely localized it,” Wood says. To wit, rosy-hued stone from nearby Montana, quarried from a piece of property Gregg and Laura own, forms indoor and outdoor fireplaces. Old-growth fir timbers, used for prominent structural members such as porch posts, create a feeling of richness and authenticity, while younger, lighter-weight fir timbers support the rest of the structure, a move that reduces the home’s footprint on the earth.
“It’s a very handsome house,” says Laura. “Every man who walks inside loves it.” But the house has female admirers, as well, including Julia Grothaus Vea—Molly and Louis Grothaus’s daughter—who, when she came for a visit, paused before the new, east-facing roof gable. “She said, ‘That’s what my mother always wanted,’” Laura recalls.
Molly Grothaus would have also likely appreciated the fact that nearly all of the plants she tended over the years remain precisely where she placed them—a fitting tribute to the woman who saved Rae Berry’s garden three decades ago, not to mention a treasured gift that Laura and Gregg have given to themselves, especially when the scent of magnolia blossoms wafts through the living room windows in the spring.