Party House, Grow House, Room with a View

Exploring the History of a Home and a Neighborhood

Integrating the natural world

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The other day, taking a break from moving boxes, we saw a red tailed hawk riding a thermal right outside the kitchen window. More recently, again moving boxes, a juvenile bald eagle soared by. Every day as I finish work, I watch the sunset from the living room windows:Image

Here, in the end, is what makes this house so beautiful. Despite the Rocky Butte house’s fortress-like exterior, many elements of the original architecture emphasized a connection to the natural world. This is evident in everything from the huge timber beams that span the open floor plan to the banks of windows overlooking the city, and as we remodel we are searching for ways to bring nature back into the home in keeping with Northwest Modernism.

The original emphasis on the natural was most evident in its incorporation of two large fir trees—probably Douglas Firs—into the plan for the ground floor. The part of the house where the firs were incorporated is one story with the large front deck above it. In the architect’s construction documents, the fir trees are the two circles in the “party room.” (As you can see from the names of the rooms–party room, pool room, card room–the original owner did not plan to spend all that much time contemplating nature. . .) The text beside the the fir trees instructs the reader to “save existing fir trees [illegible] enclose in glass . . .”


Here is a picture of the beams that seem to have been the framing for these firs, evidence that the plan was carried out (the smaller beams painted grey, and the unstained smaller beams edged in plywood painted a greenish grey that seem to been used as an exterior finish):


Neither tree remains today, and there is no record of how or why they died. It is such a shame that they are gone! Since we can’t really plan to grow new Douglas Firs up through the ceiling, what can we do to bring nature back into the building?

As you can see from these photographs we have begun by uncovering some of the beams. We are revealing the beams on the ground floor, while postponing any decision on the beams on the middle and upper floors. My mother still worries that it will make the house “too rustic.” I’ll update this post with photos of the gorgeous tongue and groove that we also decided to uncover throughout the ground floor.

Perhaps most excitingly, my father has suggested that we consider incorporating bedrock into the design of the Accessory Dwelling Unit that we hope to build in the two story “crawl space” that used to be the grow room. Here’s what the floors looked like when the county busted the house:


I am measuring the inside carefully in order to develop a Sketchup model that can be used to develop designs/floor plans. Not sure how we can or will incorporate bedrock, but here are some photos from around the web of different extravagant designs:

Elrod_Murray Grigor_01 Malibu1103rock10 Malibu1103rock11 inside-rock-outside-treepetre4

The last image is from a controversial building that follows a design by Frank Lloyd Wright updated to fit today’s construction codes. As the Guardian notes, “One particular bone of contention with the purists is the “desert masonry” – a much-imitated technique Wright devised for creating massive supporting walls, using large rocks embedded in concrete. Usually the rocks stand proud of the wall by only half an inch or so, but the rocks in Massaro’s desert masonry jut out much further. He couldn’t recess them any deeper, he explains, because the walls have an insulating layer necessary to satisfy the building code.”

Compare the use of large boulders in the images above to Wright’s use of rock and bedrock in his famous Fallingwater:


Our use of bedrock may in the end be limited by the need to mitigate radon infiltration–a neighbor has reported problems with radon, and we are running a short term home test kit now. . .


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