Mid-century modern homes rock in Gresham
Haley and Steve Lewis had always been interested in architecture.
Steve gave Haley a book on mid-century modern homes for Christmas in 2006. She was smitten. On New Year's Day they looked at their first mid-20th century modern home, and by March 2007, they had closed on the only other house they saw, a 1976 diamond-in-the-rough on Gresham Butte.
The Gresham area is a treasure trove of the popular and meticulously designed mid-century modern homes and two of them — including the Lewis residence — will be included on a Saturday, May 11, regional tour of these in-demand houses.
"There are some hidden (mid-century modern) gems in great little neighborhoods" in East Multnomah County, said Marisa Swenson, a Realtor and specialist in mid-century modern homes. She is the proud owner of the other Gresham mid-century modern home on the tour.
Swenson's home was designed by architect Day Hilborn and constructed by commercial builder Paul E. Emerick. The other Gresham residence on the tour is the Lewis family's 1976 beauty built by local mid-century master Robert Rummer.
Although always in demand, mid-century modern homes have enjoyed a major resurgence in popularity recently, brought on in part by the wild success of the TV series "Mad Men" set in the stylish, Kennedy-era 1960s and more recently "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel," set in 1958. The clothing, furniture and other designs figure so prominently in these shows that they essentially become a recurring character.
Part of America's post-World War II economic and housing boom, the mid-century modern design movement ran roughly from 1945 through 1975. The houses are often single-story, have open floor plans and let nature in through large windows. Natural, unpainted wood is incorporated into interior design features.
Many of the quintessential homes use a post-and-beam design, while some have interior courtyards or atriums.
Although there are some spectacular exceptions, many mid-century modern homes are not grand, but smaller, practical abodes built for average Americans.
Swenson, who specializes in MCM homes for Living Room Realty (modernhomesportland.com), came across her Gresham house before it was listed for sale.
"It was so well-preserved," she said, with the notable exception of an unfortunate early 2000s kitchen remodel that was already falling apart.
The couple and their two children moved in in 2013. A few years later, Marisa and husband Peter remodeled the kitchen into a sleek, white, modern, light-filled and efficient room.
Swenson not only loves her house, which has a view of Mount Hood when the trees are not too leafy, but also the neighborhood.
"I feel like we lucked out," she said. "We scored a great house in a great neighborhood."
Their home, referred to as the Paul E. and Miriam R. Emerick House, was added to Gresham's register of historic places in 2017.
Haley and Steve Lewis are having a wildly different experience with their classic Rummer home on Gresham Butte. It's one of four Rummer houses in Gresham, all located on the butte.
Most of the "Rummers" are in Newberg, Lake Oswego, Beaverton and other locations. Oregon developer and architectural designer Robert Rummer built about 750 of his distinctive, mid-century modern homes.
The Gresham Rummers "are some of the later builds," Swenson noted, "and they are some of the bigger and fancier" homes he built.
Haley Lewis, after looking at the Rummer in Beaverton, said "I was in love."
The Lewises found their home on Craigslist. The grounds were overgrown and the house, they said, had been ruinously "remodeled" over the years. The alterations covered or stripped the Rummer of many of its mid-century modern features.
"We fell in love with the house," Haley said. "Well, Steve fell in love with the house and he had to pull me along."
"We saw the potential," Steve said.
"I sat in here, and it was total 'Miami Vice," Haley quipped.
They did a few of months of intense work on the place before they moved in and have been in a constant state of backbreaking restoration for more than a decade.
The children helped. Delaney was 12 and Max was 8 years old when they moved in.
"We put them to work," Haley said. "We handed them sledgehammers and they did demo and sweeping, lots of sweeping."
The glass in the airy entryway atrium had been replaced with inexpensive lattice. That was removed and the glass replaced — to stunning effect. Iffy floors were replaced and cork and other new finishes installed. Doors that had been covered were reopened to restore the original flow of the house.
They gutted the "remodeled" kitchen and replaced the period-inappropriate cabinets with new, sleek modern ones that fit the home's design.
They hacked back and cleared the grounds to uncover a beautiful waterfall that fed the in-ground pool.
They are still not finished.
"We haven't even touched the master bedroom and bathroom," Haley said.
Even in a supposed unfinished state, the house and backyard are striking.
"We love the idea that this is home," she said, "not a museum."
The Lewis' entertain with fondue parties and game nights. When the weather is nice, the pool is a big draw.
"We feel so lucky to be able to live this extraordinary life and raise our kids in this fantastic home. It doesn't get much better than this," Haley said, surveying her inviting surroundings.
There are dozens of other mid-century modern residences in the Gresham area that are not on the tour.
One notable home is the 1952 David and Marianne Ott House, where 93-year-old retired Gresham High School teacher Marianne still resides. The Otts had the house designed by well-known architect John Storrs. The residence is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as well as Gresham's register.
The Ott House has the typical large windows, natural warm hemlock wood and vaulted ceilings seen in many mid-century modern homes. The distinctive exterior is sided with treated, but unpainted, horizontal fir boards.
The Charles and Fae Olson House, whose construction started in 1946, was designed by Charles Olsen himself while serving in World War II. In 2007, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. It features a large sunken living room and massive fireplace, according to the Register entry.
Next door to Swenson is a striking Usonian-style house reminiscent of some of Frank Lloyd Wright homes. Swenson said it is been nominated for national historic designation.
"Prices are more reasonable out here than in some other areas," Swenson said.
Haley Lewis noted that Gresham has more uniquely designed homes than many may realize.
"I want people to know how great Gresham is," she said.
"People can come out here and hope for hidden gem," she said. "There are so many homes out here that are unique."
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