Inspiration strikes homeowners in many forms: for the owner of one Queen Anne Victorian, it was improving the flow and feeling of the home while at the same time embracing the original design and elegance of a great example of the “Painted Lady” style … and to make sure that the “new” design featured her red velvet couch.
“I wanted my red velvet couch in the kitchen,” the homeowner confessed. “It’s an antique that belonged to my grandmother, and I’ve been carrying it with me from house to house for years, all across the country.”
Fire-engine red cabinets and turquoise glass knobs bring a welcome pop of color to complement the extraordinary soft white trimwork throughout the kitchen.
Photo by Photo Art Portraits
Vintage wash stand, claw foot tub, light fixtures, and mirror come together perfectly in the new master bath.
Photo by Photo Art Portraits
The windows in the upstairs master bath provide an abundance of natural light on the soft turquoise walls and linoleum floor.
Photo by Photo Art Portraits
The newly-added wrap-around porch on the back appears original to the home. It provides a wonderful place for the family to hang out and easy garden access.
Photo by Photo Art Portraits
The family heirloom red velvet couch has a prominent place in the kitchen. The space was purposefully designed to fit the couch.
But leveraging an antique couch wasn’t the only design challenge put before Anne DeWolf, co-owner and designer with Arciform, the design and construction firm that renovated the house. Beyond the challenge faced by all who own period homes — how best to balance a modern lifestyle with the original design and spirit of the home — the project had two unique attributes.
First, the Victorian was partitioned into four separate apartments, each with its own distinctive look and feel, and these needed to be converted into one fully integrated home. Second, the project was a big one: by the end of the two-year renovation, the house would boast a new kitchen and breakfast area, a reading room off a renovated master bedroom, a downstairs powder room, and a new wrap-around porch facing the back garden.
Arciform’s design team began with the homeowner’s red velvet couch as an inspiration and quickly reached agreement with the homeowner on a color palette, including jewel blue, orange, turquoise, fire-engine red, and black. While most people don’t associate those colors as “Victorian,” DeWolf stresses that the color palette of a renovated home needs to reflect both the original style and the taste of the current homeowners. “The ‘Victorian palette’ has changed historically over time. Early Victorians stressed subdued earth tones, while at its heyday the Victorian era embraced a much more vibrant palette. Many of these houses have been painted many times over the years to match changing taste, and it’s critical that the people who live in the home enjoy the colors.”
Having settled both the color palette and the overall design philosophy of balancing old and new, the designers set to work making the living space both beautiful and usable for a 21st-century family. “Our goal was to keep the living space informal and highly usable,” said DeWolf. “The kitchen has to support two young children; the parlor is the homeowner’s studio. Placing the living room next to the kitchen creates openness and flexibility in the living areas. The dining room is accessed through a butler’s pantry and is a little off the beaten path, for more introspective activities.”
To accommodate the needs of the entire family, DeWolf chose to open the floor plan, connecting the living room to a kitchen that embraced informal, family-friendly living with easy-to-access cabinetry and shelving. “We wanted to meet the needs of a family with a creative lifestyle while being respectful of the traditional architectural features,” she said.
The kitchen is a showcase of the “modern Victorian” color palette selected by DeWolf and the homeowner. Anchored by the red velvet couch, stunning fire-engine red cabinets line the walls, while a creamy white ceiling and trim provide glowing contrast to the turquoise walls that extend into the living room. Subtle finishing touches abound, including wall stencils that echo the home’s original Victorian style and turquoise glass cabinet knobs that play off and complement the wall color. The homeowner’s own artwork adorns the walls of the rooms.
The first floor renovation also included a guest bathroom off the butler’s pantry. DeWolf continued the balance of period and modern, merging restored plumbing into a room painted jewel-tone blue, creating an intimate feel.
Upstairs, the first task facing the designers was the continued challenge of converting the four apartments into a single living space. They chose to revamp the layout, creating three bedrooms (including a master suite with a private bath, balcony, and sitting area), closet space, an upstairs kitchen, and a remodeled sitting room. In a nod to the house’s more recent history, the homeowner kept the apartment numbers on each of the bedroom doors to remind the family that the home had once been divided into four separate apartments.
The master bath was completely remodeled, yet the original character of the room was maintained through the creative re-use of the original clawfoot tub to complement a modern walk-in shower, as well as Victorian-era touches like a repurposed distressed-finish mirror and period light fixtures. An antique wash stand got a new lease on life as the base of a beautiful vanity, and the fresh Tiffany blue walls echo the turquoise on the first floor.
The second floor also features a fully renovated sitting room. An interior door — salvaged from the basement of the home and refinished — balances new flooring, paint, and custom wood windows to create a perfect spot for the homeowner to read to her children, look out over the city, or just get away and relax.
The featured element of the home is a curved turret and curved front porch, common in Victorian homes. It served as the inspiration for the new wrap-around porch in the rear of the house. While the front-facing turret features an original Povey stained-glass window that majestically faces the street, the new elegantly curved back porch offers impressive views of Portland. The porch functions as the children’s play area and entertainment space. It provides an elegant integration of Victorian self-sufficiency into a modern urban lifestyle.
Advice: Break Up Into Phases
Tackling a large project like this can be daunting, and DeWolf has advice for home-owners looking to undertake a large renovation. “It’s important to take one step at a time,” she said. “Breaking a large project up into manageable phases is a lot less stress on the homeowner, and it means the occupants can enjoy the home while the project is underway. The house feels like a home as the phases are complete.”
In fact, the long-term design plan calls for more work in the years to come. The homeowner chose to start with the rooms at the back of the house, and the current phase of the project has lasted approximately two years. In the future, the front of the house will get a similar renovation — a project that will be tackled over the next three to four years.
Without a thorough knowledge of the perils of renovating a period house, small problems, which are inevitable, can be overwhelming. “We pride ourselves on educating our clients about hidden conditions,” said DeWolf. “We approach these projects knowing there are many question marks. You could open up a wall and find hidden damage that was simply patched up. For a person who isn’t educated about old houses, these scenarios can be terribly challenging and costly.”
DeWolf strove to balance the best of the old with the best of the new as she designed the renovation. Upgrades to the electrical, plumbing, and mechanical systems were made as well as structural upgrades at crumbling foundation walls. While these upgrades are expensive and have no impact on the esthetic of the home, they are the most important element of a remodel project and need to be planned for in the budgeting phase.
Key to maintaining that period style — as well as embracing best practices around sustainability and historically appropriate renovation — was the decision to reuse and recycle as much material from the original house as possible. “We re-used everything we could,” said DeWolf. “We literally had a recycling center in the backyard.” To that end, Arciform integrated original countertops, doors, and light fixtures into the design, and the homeowner was thrilled when a search of the basement yielded a treasure trove of doors, windows, and mirrors for the project.
Both DeWolf and the homeowner agree on the key ingredients for a successful renovation project: an open mind and creative approach joined with a balance of modern lifestyle and convenience with the original design and elegance. Finally, in DeWolf’s words, “Don’t judge the final color until it’s done.” With these thoughts in mind, many of Portland’s Queen Anne Victorian houses can become beautiful “(Re)Painted Ladies” — with or without a red velvet couch.
Arciform LLC is a company that specializes in the design, restoration, and remodeling of vintage and historic homes in the greater Portland area. Arciform also offers “Carpenter on Call,” an hourly service that offers homeowners the same level of quality and skilled craftsmanship used on larger projects for smaller projects, repair, and maintenance. They can be reached at www.arciform.com, 503-493-7344, or “liked” on Facebook.