Modern Home Tours heads to Portland this weekend on Saturday, March 9, where we’ll be checking out some of the most creative and interesting designs we could find. As a sample for the upcoming tour, we got in touch with Edgar Papazian, the architect of the well-known “Eyebrow House” at 6221 SE Ash St. The “Eyebrow House” has become a well-known architectural feature of Portland, appearing in ReadyMade Magazine, Portland Monthly and the television series “Portlandia.” The original 1941 structure was redesigned to be more sustainable and sophisticated. Here’s what Edgar Papazian had to say about his design.
The “Eyebrow House” is a remodel of an earlier building. What elements of the original remain and how did they influence the new design?
The bones of the 1941 Cape we started with are still there, including the exterior walls and central stair, as well as the roof gable angle. When we purchased the house it had poor site orientation – you could barely see the backyard from inside. By introducing new dormers on the second level and effectively creating a new axis to the house (north-south instead of east-west) we were able to maximize our views towards the property and the street. The kitchen galley and bath locations are similar to the original locations, although we pulled the kitchen towards the back of the house in order to turn it into a living space. The floors are original, although stained and refinished. We made the call to use cedar siding just like the original house had (and that other houses in the vicinity use), which makes the house contextual.
What materials were you drawn toward using in the renovation?
The idea of using off-the-shelf items but in a unique way pervaded the project. There is an aesthetic theme of the curve and circle that also suffuses the house, and material choices were made based on those criteria ie.: penny tile, circular bathroom fans, perforated steel panels, garden pavers, ceiling coves, kitchen cabinet pulls, range hood, and the arches of the dormers themselves. Also, we were interested in a more industrial modern aesthetic in the use of exposed galvanized steel arches, and revealing the steel connections where we have new beams.
What posed the biggest challenge in renovating the house?
There were many challenges. We lived in the basement during the construction, which I don’t recommend to anybody.
The home has a soft edge motif with curved walls, rounded corners, etc. How do these elements influence how we view and interact with the space in the house?
I find that curved forms have a sympathetic interaction with the human body. They contain, pull, surround, and create continuity in a way that orthogonal walls do not. The central bookcase nearly compels you to walk around it, to see what it reveals beyond. The ceiling coves throughout connect the ceiling to the wall in such a way that you feel a ‘floating’ continuity there. Where they protrude into living space (like the mantel) they do so gently and easily, and deflect your collision with them (in a small home, this is a big deal). All the details also used circular profiles, including the penny tile in the bathrooms, the round columns, the bathroom fans and exterior vents, etc. And the arches provide visual delight with their exposure of their circumference; there is no wall or ceiling there, just a continuity.
What features of the house should tour-goers be sure to keep an eye out for?
We didn’t have a large budget, but we came up with cunning solutions to make cheap things seem more special. For example, we added windows behind our kitchen cabinets, which made off-the-shelf Ikea products into glowing boxes – check it out by opening a cabinet door. The kitchen/dining/back deck space is the real living room in this house. In Season 2 Episode 8 of “Portlandia,” Carrie Brownstein throws a durian fruit off this back deck into the backyard in a fit of frustration.
If you want to see this and other wonderful homes in person, get your tickets here.