Character and Color: A Creative Remodel Transforms This Portland Home

Two remodelers remove layers of grime to unearth a gem of a house in Portland, Oregon.

| March/April 2006

  • The rectangle of deep orange on the ceiling brings attention to the coving and also increases the perceived ceiling height.
    Photo By Susan Seubert
  • Nestled under an arbor thick with grapevines, this patio is the perfect outdoor summer dining room.
    Photo By Susan Seubert
  • Virginia Young and Janie Lowe, co-creators of Yolo Colorhouse, draw their inspiration from nature.
    Photo By Susan Seubert
  • Janie worked a sheltering tree into the wall of the bedroom.
    Photo By Susan Seubert
  • The dining room opens onto an enclosed patio with a hot tub––an outdoor “room” that expands the home’s livable space.
    Photo By Susan Seubert
  • Janie and Virginia painted and updated the kitchen cabinets, refinished a fir subfloor with water-based sealer and refinished the plaster walls with casein paint and a beeswax glaze.
    Photo By Susan Seubert
  • Virginia Young and Janie Lowe developed and use many of their Yolo Colorhouse hues in their own home.
    Photo By Susan Seubert
  • The walls in the entry are a golden clay plaster. When the sunlight streams in through the front door, it highlights the sparkling sand and mica in the clay.
    Photo By Susan Seubert
  • The elegant coved ceilings and finely carved mantel next to the rough brick of the fireplace remind Janie and Virginia of the beautiful imperfection of nature.The drawing is by David Inkpen.
    Photo By Susan Seubert
  • Eclectic Victorian tiles at the fireplace may be one of the house’s original features.
    Photo By Susan Seubert
  • Janie and Virginia painted the house deep red to complement the many greens in the surrounding lush landscape.
    Photo By Susan Seubert
  • Janie and Virginia left the original pink ironing board in place as functional art. The portraits are by Stephen Hayes.
    Photo By Susan Seubert
  • Amber-colored glass tiles provide color and texture around the bathroom sink.
    Photo By Susan Seubert
  • A salvaged stained-glass window sits inside the real window, providing privacy and a splash of color.
    Photo By Susan Seubert

Driving along Mississippi Avenue in northeast Portland is like seeing a neighborhood renaissance in fast-forward. Once burned-out and boarded-up buildings sprout new restaurants. The Rebuilding Center sells reclaimed building materials from a new warehouse constructed mostly of salvaged materials. Coffee shops and hip boutiques abound.

There weren’t any early signs of neighborhood transformation when artists Virginia Young and Janie Lowe, driven from New York by the high cost of living and the daily grind of commuting, bought their house here in 1998. “We both have a strong connection to the outdoors,” Virginia says. “Living in New York City without a car, it was difficult to get to anyplace ‘wild’—and when we did, it felt like thousands of others were escaping the city with us. Though we were aware of Portland’s progressive bent, we moved here mostly because of its proximity to both the ocean and the mountains.”

Virginia and Janie’s search for an affordable old house in a neighborhood close to downtown led them to their current abode. “Though it was sitting in the middle of a double lot, this house had been on the market for a long time,” Janie says. “It had no curb appeal. Painted dirty white and bright blue with a chain-link fence and barren yard, it was downright ugly.”

But beneath the layers of grime, they saw a gem. “When people ask, I say we bought the house because of the hardware,” Virginia says. “It was built in 1888 and, though it had been remodeled over the years, it had most of the original baseboard, trim, doors and hardware.”

Kitchen first

Like many first-time homeowners and remodelers, Virginia and Janie tackled the most obvious problem area first. “We didn’t have a plan, but I love to cook and the tiny, dark kitchen did not inspire good food,” Virginia says. In the process of opening up a space adjacent to the kitchen, they tore out a dropped ceiling and discovered the house’s original eleven-foot ceilings. Though at first reluctant to take on the extra work and mess, they removed the false ceiling and soffits over the kitchen cabinets as well.

7/31/2014 10:42:34 AM

Do they have friends who would move to my area just outside of Birmingham,AL???? We NEED to be realized and revitalized for the village we once were. There are still beautiful gems that need to be restored and loved again. Mostly 1930s' mill houses,but several craftsmen as well.

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