Sauvie Island, a river island 16 miles northwest of downtown Portland, Oregon, is a great place to live. Nestled between the Columbia River to the east and the Multnomah Sound to the west, this island is a nature lover’s paradise with berry-filled farms, approximately 11,500 acres of wildlife preserves, and several stretches of white sand beaches. Because of its charming scenery, a family of four chose it as their home, finding a 1979 fixer-upper and building it themselves.
“We had one bedroom through the garage,” says designer Jessica Helgerson, pointing out flaws in the existing structure. (Other absurdities included toilet bowls being built on pedestals to avoid digging into the ground to lay pipes, and fully carpeted kitchens.) Still, the same Sauvie Island Mr. Helgerson, a resident of the labyrinth, saw the potential and thoroughly renovated his way out of the labyrinth. And in the process reconfigure the space within the original footprint. All of her bedrooms are now on her first floor, and the entryway extends from the front door to the backyard, allowing natural light and views of the outdoors to flood into the room. “Opening up that space cleared all the circulation,” she observes.
Given Helgerson’s emphasis on the home’s 1970s style, the focus on paneling was one of the first design decisions Helgerson made. “We always tried to listen to what the house wanted and let it be what it was, in its time,” she says. Precisely and carefully constructed by TaylorSmith Sustainable Construction, the room is clad in individual fir strips, a modernization of the 50-year-old panel trend. “This was really put together by very exacting craftsmen,” says the client. “The way the wood moves along the walls and onto the ceiling, it feels like it completely encapsulates both the ceiling and wall interface, as well as the built-in cabinetry.”
Now, “the upper floors are like living in a treehouse overlooking the main waterway,” the client says. The main living areas were placed on the second floor to maximize sight lines. “We have huge barges and huge ships passing by every hour with the most crazy colors. It’s a really fun place to live.”
Color is something our clients have been craving since the pandemic. Years ago, Mr. Helgerson had beautifully decorated his family’s previous home on the other side of the island, but the colors were neutral. After finding a spot near the beach in the summer of 2020, the family decided to replant roots there, this time embracing a change in aesthetic. “I’m a different person than I was last time,” says the client. I wanted various things around me. I wanted to live in a colorful and patterned house. And I wanted it to be fun, cozy, and lively, but not overwhelming. ”
Helgerson fulfilled his color desires by blending warm, calming tones throughout the home. For one, he playfully used earth-toned encaustic tiles by Zia Tile in the foyer, family room and master bathroom. “They are all colors that go well with the wood. They don’t look like hot pink or fluorescent yellow. [going] With fir,” Helgerson says of the vibrant yet gentle palette.
Now, homeowners are overjoyed with their new forever homes. “We live really well in this house. There is no dead space in it. We use every room thoroughly and regularly,” says the client.