New life for an old cottage

Over years, I've oscillated between studio work, teaching, and creating finely-tuned environments. With this project, I converted a 1937 carpenter's workshop into a funky Airbnb space, designing and implementing all aspects besides the plumbing and tiling.  Tucked into the backyard of a home in the inner northeast of Portland, it has a small-town vibe, despite its urban setting.

It started out as an open space, having more recently been a stone sculptor's, then a painter's, studio.

Conversations with the owner, Cybil Kavan, revealed two words that guided the organic design process: simple and sensual. 

She also shared a dream in which she'd stepped out onto the back steps from the main house to find a chasm in the backyard, with the tree of life growing skyward where the cottage would ordinarily be. That image prompted the idea of having a tree rising up in the middle of the cottage. Later, she found the wind-blown top of a cherry tree on a walk in the neighborhood…a fine addition to the sustainably harvested madrone used for the stair treads, thresholds, and loft edges.

Placing the bed above the bathroom left much more space on the main floor, which is about 263 square feet. We wanted the space to have a light, open, airy feeling, so I created a set of light-toned stairs with open space underneath, extending into the area under the landing.

Imbuing the cottage with a sense of warmth was also important, especially given its Pacific Northwest location, so we revealed the beauty of wood with natural oil, chose a yellowish cast for the zero-VOC paints, and put engineered cork on the rebuilt (and now R-23 insulated) floor.

The shelving for the mini-kitchen and bathroom was up-cycled from an old set of drawers found at the Rebuilding Center. The bathroom has a pocket door adapted from an old Mexican door from there as well.

The eclectic bathroom tile work was done by Mema Greer from her vast collection of reclaimed pieces. The remaining walls are glazed plaster and the floor is ground pebble tile.

A nearby decades-old grove provided the gorgeous black bamboo, and the posts are branches from the fallen cherry tree. Waxed linen thread was used for the binding.

Much effort goes into the things you don't end up seeing, so it's a delight to get the fine details that bring a space to a sublime sense of quiet resolution.

In the long arc of this sort of project, it's easy to focus on bringing it all to a fine conclusion. Certainly gives one perspective to step back and see where it started…

…to best appreciate the result of so much consideration and effort.