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Built to Last

A family of four blends the best of country and city life in Portland, Oregon.

| July/August 2013

  • A set of folding walls separates Lily and Iris’ bedrooms from one another, enabling the girls to push the walls out of the way to share space, or to close them for privacy.
    Photo By David Papazian
  • Made of a tree felled to build their home, the rustic dining room table is the location of long, spirited family dinners.
    Photo By David Papazian
  • Low-maintenance plants such as black-eyed Susan, ferns and sedges fit in with the surrounding woods and mean the Emericks don’t have to spend time mowing the lawn.
    Photo By David Papazian

  • Photo By David Papazian
  • Brian folds open the doors that divide the dining room from the deck.
    Photo By David Papazian
  • One of Melody's favorite things is spending time cooking and eating dinner with Brian and daughters Iris (left) and Lily.
    Photo By David Papazian
  • Warm neutrals and wood floors make the interior cozy, while larger-than-usual windows connect the living space with the woods outside.
    Photo By David Papazian
  • To fit their home into the restricted space allowed by the environmental protection regulations of their lot, Brian and Melody designed smaller-than-usual bedrooms. Soaring ceilings make the rooms feel more spacious. Natural wool carpet lends a cozy feel without the chemicals in conventional carpeting.
    Photo By David Papazian
  • The wall of folding glass doors between the dining room and deck makes indoor-outdoor living seamless and dining alfresco a breeze.
    Photo By David Papazian
  • An outdoor lounge area set against a wooded backdrop makes a great place for the family to hang out outdoors, taking advantage of Oregon’s mild climate.
    Photo By David Papazian

The Emerick family lives at the end of the road in their picturesque Portland, Oregon, neighborhood, their house nestled on a wooded lot surrounded by 50 acres of forest—and only five minutes from bustling downtown Portland. On a typical morning, Melody and Brian set off for their shared architecture practice, Emerick Architects P.C., on their bikes, while their two daughters—Lily, 15, and Iris, 13—walk the mile to their school, meeting up with friends along the way. In the evenings, it’s all about the big dinner. The family comes together in the airy, open kitchen to cook dinner from scratch, then gathers around the big dining room table, built from a tree cut down during construction of the house. “That’s my favorite. I love how we sit around the big table and talk,” Melody says. Thanks to their five backyard chickens, housed out back in a coop Brian, Lily and Iris built with leftover materials from the home’s construction, it’s often omelets on the table.

A House in the Woods

The hub of this family tableaux is the house, and it facilitates all the things the Emericks value in their lifestyle—family, friends, nature. It’s hard to imagine, but the home’s amazing wooded lot had languished on the market for more than 30 years before the Emericks happened upon it in 2007. Where others saw challenges, the Emericks saw a vision. “The most common question people ask when they come in the house is: ‘How did you get this lot?’” Melody says. “It was on the market for 30 years, but I think nobody knew quite what to do with it.”

Although it’s at the end of an established neighborhood, the lot didn’t have a road to it or services such as electrical. Plus, the wooded space is under environmental protection, so restrictions limited how much of the lot could be used for the home. “We own an acre, but we could only disturb 5,000 square feet—for the home, the yard, the driveway, everything,” Melody says. “We couldn’t cut down trees for a view, but we liked that. For us, the view is the trees.”

Making homes that work with their sites is a fundamental principle of Melody and Brian’s architecture philosophy. Their firm, which has nine employees and is in its 14th year, focuses on crafting quality, long-lasting buildings and spaces. “We like to think our buildings will last a long time, and we design for that,” Melody says. As they typically do when working on a building, Melody and Brian visited the lot often, taking time to really get to know the site. “We would go up there every weekend for a year, to pull ivy out and just get to know it,” Melody says.

Brian and Melody navigated around the space constraints and sought harmony with their forested lot by designing smaller rooms than in many newly built homes; the master bedroom, typically a grand affair in new homes, is just big enough to fit a queen bed and a couple of nightstands. But the vaulted ceilings lend an airy feel to the modestly sized rooms, and the extra-large windows let that prized view of the trees shine. “We wanted it to feel like a tree house,” Melody says.

Indoor-Outdoor Living

Brian and Melody incorporated many of their firm’s design goals into building their home, but paramount among them was enabling indoor/outdoor living to take advantage of the mild Oregon climate. This was especially important to the couple for their own home, because their family loves spending time in nature—Melody works in her vegetable garden, Brian loves to fly-fish, and the whole family enjoys camping, hiking, running and riding bikes.

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