The creative impulses that inspired the garden aren’t so different from the ones that drive her art, Guth says, after describing one of her projects, Red Shoe Delivery Service, in which she provided free chauffeur service to people who donned glittery flats and clicked their heels together. “In a lot of my projects I’ve thought about space and how people operate in it,” she says. “And this house is an extension of that.”
It’s also the fruit of a 30-year romance, and all the attendant negotiations that come with making a home with one’s partner. High school sweethearts who grew up in Wisconsin, Guth and Landry moved to Portland in 1991 when Landry, then in training as a vascular surgeon, signed on for his residency at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU). They married the following year, bought a fixer-upper in Southeast Portland’s Sunnyside neighborhood, and poured a few years of sweat into renovating it. In 2003, Landry was practicing at OHSU and Guth was in Manhattan—showing her work in the art capital after completing a two-year MFA program at New York University—when Landry called Guth to tell her he’d developed a crush on a new house. “I know this sounds crazy, but I think you should get on a plane,” he said.
‘I saw it for what I thought it could be. She saw all the work it would take to get there.’
A tour of the two-story, 1,800-square- foot house left Guth skeptical, despite the way the residence nestled cozily into the Mount Tabor lot, and the way its leaded-glass windows and decoratively carved, dark-stained ceiling joists gave it a pleasing “alpine-medieval” character, as Landry puts it. The property had been badly neglected by its absentee owner: Blackberries had overtaken the backyard, the plumbing was sprouting leaks, and one of the home’s two fireplaces was falling down. “I saw it for what I thought it could be,” Landry says. “She saw all the work it would take to get there.”
But Guth relented. “There are three fireplaces,” she says by way of explanation (that includes the outdoor hearth they’ve since built). “I’m from Wisconsin. I’m always looking for a place to keep warm. It’s ideal.” Soon she and Landry owned the house, and Guth was back in Portland, hiring contractors to repair the busted pipes and overhaul an outdated electrical system, and completely redoing the garden, a project that became a yearlong obsession. She dug up the blackberry vines and a crumbling concrete dog run, and even joined the Hardy Plant Society and the Fuchsia Society in a quest to procure unusual specimens for her planting beds.
By 2005 the garden was taking shape, and the home’s basic infrastructure was in working order. The living room and the two upstairs bedrooms were furnished, and the formerly decrepit fireplace in the third bedroom, which had become Guth’s main-floor office, was standing tall. But one important element was missing: The house had a large living room and a small kitchen nook, but no dining room. Which is where Houston, who was an old friend of theirs, came in. “It’s a great thing to sit with him over a beer, talk about what we want in a house, and draw on napkins,” Guth says.
With an exterior wall made from French doors, as well as interior doorways connecting to the adjacent living room and kitchen nook, the new dining room establishes a continuous circuit between indoor and outdoor spaces, accommodates 12 for dinner, and adds 300 square feet to the house. That satisfied Guth and Landry, who remained in remarkably solid accord about the direction of the remodel. Although Landry admits that when it came time to decorate, he had to let go of his original alpine-medieval vision. “We had a huge argument about whether we should get an antler chandelier,” Guth says, laughing. Happily, the Nelson lamp won out.