Turning a Cramped, Inaccessible Dining Room into the Heart of The Home

Banquette as seen from the hallway.
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Simple clean lines of the banquette let the upholstery work shine.
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Wood columns mimic a detail found on the original mantle. We also used this detail in the stairway.
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Large drawers store lots of stuff.
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Double-hung windows and blinds make it possible to open the top sashes while maintaining privacy.
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The clients bought this light fixture in Italy and reworked it to use in their Portland home.
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Black Walnut slabs salvaged from a blown down tree and milled by a local sawyer.
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Furniture is not usually a part of our business, but this project was irresistible!
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This table is meant to be used, and show the signs of years of shared food and shared memories.
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When our clients purchased this home, this small dining room was an awkward backwater in the floor plan, accessible from the kitchen and main hallway via small doors, it did not really feel connected to the rest of the house.  People sitting in the dining room felt isolated from the kitchen and living room, resulting in the inevitable scenario of everyone crowding into the kitchen and milling around.  We wanted the dining room to maintain its identity as a distinct room, but to interact with the rest of the house, especially the kitchen.  The solution was to open the wall between dining room and kitchen, adding an arch which accommodates the required structural beam, and creates a visual border between the two rooms.  Decorative wood columns add warmth and visual interest, and a built-in banquette makes efficient use of limited floor space.  We added a doorway to the living room, reusing the mill work from the old kitchen door.  After our clients’ unsuccessful search for an antique table to fit the banquette, we agreed to build one. The table is built of salvaged Black Walnut, and finished with natural oil, so that it will develop a patina over time.  Now this dining room is truly at the heart of the home.

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Making the Most of a Small Yard

The Tori gate as seen from the front yard.
Tori Gate
The hallway from garden to patio.
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Rain chain from the bamboo gutter keeps runnoff out of the neighbors' yard.
Rain Chain
The shed stores firewood, tools, and Weber grill. The door slides for accesss.
Wood Shed
The owners had a small Chinese antique brass table top that fit perfectly in the door.
Shed Door
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This 1920s cottage in Southeast Portland has an awkward, narrow strip of yard along the south side of the house.  The owners wanted to have a small herb and vegetable garden, so the first phase of the project was to build raised planter boxes, comfortable to sit on, and high enough to catch a bit more sun in the spring and fall.  The boxes are built of 2 1/2 inch thick roughsawn Juniper for strength and rot-resistance, with cedar benches incorporated into their tops .  We placed about four inches of pea gravel under the boxes for improved drainage.  During its first year, the garden saw quite a lot of use, but there were some problems.  First, the garden area felt isolated from the house and the adjacent patio, the site of frequent outdoor cooking and dining.  Second, the heavy clay soil around the boxes quickly became a muddy, slippery mess in rainy weather, a disincentive for the spring/fall gardener.

The solution was to hardscape the area around the planter boxes, removing the awkward fence between the garden and the patio, and building a small shed for firewood and tools.  We built a Tori gate near the front of the house, to separate the sacred from the profane.  Now the two outdoor rooms flow together via a "hallway" next to the woodshed.  Having substantially less grass to mow is an added benefit.  Several inches of gravel under the flagstones make for excellent drainage.

 

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Making a Steep Stairway Liveable

The paint line on the wall shows the path of the old, treacherous winders.
In Process
A sketch for the railing details.
Railing Drawing
Newel post and confidence-inspiring handrail, all milled on site from reclaimed Douglas Fir lumber.
New Handrail
New safety rail on top of old parapet wall.
Safety Rail
This design mimics a detail found on the fireplace mantel.
Newel Post
The hole contains a screw to quickly disassemble the railing for moving furniture up or down.
Handrail
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The original stairway in this house was very steep with a truly wicked set of winders at the top.  The upstairs has a beautiful master bedroom and bath, but the stairs were a constant impediment.

The old stairs.

The old stairs.

There was no way to bring the stairs up to modern specifications without drastically altering the floor plan of the house, so we reached a compromise - the dangerous triangular winder treads would have to go.  We borrowed a little space from the downstairs bathroom ceiling and created a large landing and three comfortable steps to the second floor.  We also created a very sturdy handrail and safety railing.  The original stairs had a knee-high wall around the opening, just perfect for an adult to trip over or a toddler to climb over.  This small, thoughtful change made a huge difference in the liveability of the entire home.

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