Vintage Eugene Bungalow Reborn

Whole new interior revitalizes west Eugene home while preserving its 100-year-old character.

From outside, the home of Chris Hecht and Dana O’Mary appears to be just another bungalow, similar in age to other early-20th century homes in Eugene’s Jefferson Westside neighborhood. But once inside, the genius of its recent remodel becomes clear.

The couple moved into the 1915 home in 1990 and purchased it in ’92. Hecht (pronounced with a hard ‘k’ sound) kept a hefty sketchbook and folder full of remodeling ideas for more than 20 years until the time was right to embark upon restoring this home.

“One of my overriding rules was, ‘Oh, please, don’t let me be the guy who messes up this beautiful 100-year-old house!” he recalls. “I feel really fortunate to be the steward of this beautiful old lady and wanted to be really careful.”

The two-bedroom, one-bath home suffered from tiny rooms and poor functionality. Previous ill-conceived remodels resulted in a warren of little rooms with a lot of walls and no flow. An unsafe spiral staircase was the only way to get to the second floor, which itself had low ceilings and little usable space.

“To get to the backyard you had to go through the bathroom, and you had to go through the kitchen to get there,” Hecht says.

Same footprint, fresh spaces

The couple entrusted Eugene architect Nir Pearlson with a makeover. Pearlson meshed with the couple’s goals to modernize the home while maintaining its charm and sense of place. The work commenced in March 2014 and ended several months after.

“Our main goals were to connect to the sweet backyard, clarify the movement through the house, increase the usable space upstairs, and create more privacy and buffer between the public space and the private space,” Pearlson says.

The home’s original, 1,800-square-foot shell remains basically unchanged, but walls were torn down to the studs. A substantial portion of a cracked foundation, discovered during construction, was replaced. Dormers upstairs were extended toward the back of the house to increase the ceiling height upstairs.

“We kept the skeleton of about a third of the downstairs and about a third of the upstairs and everything else we had to replace,” says Pearlson. “It was a case where it probably wouldn’t have been any more expensive to tear down the house and rebuild it, but it had enough value and character and real personality to salvage.” Hecht says they basically built a new house inside their old one.

“One of many areas that we aligned with Nir is that I don’t believe houses need to be huge, just very well thought through,” he says. “And with fewer square feet, one can lavish more attention and money on each square foot and, for a given budget, go a little nicer in some ways.”

 The upstairs became an office, master suite and bathroom. The spiral staircase was replaced with real stairs. The two bedrooms downstairs are relatively unchanged, except one door was relocated to provide more privacy.

Now, the whole back of the house opens into one large space, with windows and a full-light door overlooking the large yard.

Reclaimed charm

Hecht and O’Mary salvaged as much deconstruction material as possible and are proud that nothing for the remodel came from any big-box stores.

All of the 100-year-old fir framing lumber was reclaimed and milled to fit throughout the house, including the kitchen island’s butcher-block top. Other pieces were milled into trim to splice with existing trim. The home’s original fir flooring, ensconced underneath the downstairs vinyl tile, was pulled out, cleaned and reinstalled.

Their trim was from a style that was no longer made, so the couple had a machine shop make carving “knives,” or blades, for milling new. According to the mill, the trim patterns hadn’t been made in this area for 65 years.

“Now that we had those knives made up, the guys at the mill told us they’ve run trim for three or four other houses that are about the same age as ours because they heard we made those patterns,” he says.

The couple installed  a “catinet,” or cat door within a cabinet, that can read RFID chips, so only their own cats can enter. A photocell on the outside of the house controls LED lights under cabinets, by the stairs and on the porch, which automatically light up at dusk.

In the master bath, roll-top “appliance garages” with electrical outlets hide all the usual items that sit out on a bathroom counter.

“I think it’s a lot easier to design in systems that allow you to avoid clutter than to always have to deal with it,” Hecht says. “Trying to design a space that would encourage us not to clutter it up was top in our minds.”

There is no painted wood anywhere in the home. Surfaces are in their natural state. For instance, cherry cabinetry in the home is coated with nothing but lacquer, so it’s slowly becoming darker red as it is aged by the sun.

“For both of us,” Hecht says, “this was the opportunity of a lifetime to have fun with design and include things that don’t necessarily take a lot of money but are delightful.”

Starpower Kitchen Near Eugene

On a clear day, Barbara and Robert Jacobs can see to the Three Sisters Mountains from their ranch home’s 5-acre hilltop property west of Eugene. But a lot of good the view was doing them in the heart of their home, the kitchen.

“The house was built in the middle ’60s; it was very compartmentalized,” says Barbara, a retired principal from the Fern Ridge School District.

 A solid wall of cabinets separated kitchen from living room, where picture windows indeed captured panoramic views, first to the couple’s gardens and pastures for their horses, then down to Eugene-Springfield, and from there up to the Cascades.

So for 15 years — yes, 15 years — she would sit in the old, confined kitchen and picture a makeover.

“My goal was that I wanted to bring everything inside, but I wanted to see everything outside, too, because the gardens are absolutely lovely,” she says. “My other goal was that I wanted to stand at my stovetop and see the Three Sisters Mountains.”

Her first obstacle was a bearing wall, affixed with “funky” plywood cabinets, that just so happened to help shore up the 3,200-square-foot home’s roof. So the Jacobses made a call to Eugene architect Nir Pearlson’s office.

“A lot of the remodels that we do have the same goal, to open previously compartmentalized spaces,” says Roger Ota, a designer on Pearlson’s staff. “A lot of times the challenge, or one of them, is altering the structure to make it happen.”

Faced with replacing the old 20-foot bearing wall, Ota chose to go with engineered beams: a lower one, exposed to view in a smooth and decorative finish, and a rougher one above that in the attic for yet more structural support.

General contractor Nick Russo of Renaissance Construction went to work, and suddenly Barbara had her dream: standing in the kitchen, now open to the living room, and gazing out the living room’s expanded picture windows to the outside world.

“As soon as they bashed out that wall, I went, ‘You don’t have to go any further than that.’ I felt so liberated,” Barbara says.

She was teasing about stopping there, of course. Fifteen years is a long time for ideas.

 “Maybe more so than some clients, they had a really clear vision of what they wanted,” understates Ota. “Nobody really knows the space better than someone who’s been living there.”

Artistic contrasts

White kitchens may be the rage, but Barbara “wanted something absolutely different.” Thus, she chose birch cabinets with baked espresso stain and out-of-this-world custom countertops.

“Some people said the cabinets were going to be too dark in the espresso stain,” husband Robert says. “But Barbara wanted them, and she turned out to be right — it’s not too dark.”

Especially with such celestial contrast below.

Local artist Robin Marks-Fife created van Gogh-esque “Starry Night” backsplash mosaics of blue, yellow and white chipped tiles. “I knew I wanted a really brightly colored chip-tile mosaic,” Barbara says. “It’s an absolute piece of art.”

Below the backsplashes of swirled celestial bodies are porcelain tile countertops in cobalt blue.

A pounded-copper, apron-style sink imparts golden warmth, as do the heated, terra-cotta ceramic tile floors.

An opposite countertop, made of food-friendly maple in butcher-block style, runs a full 16 feet along the new wall opening.

“I had been studying it visually in my head for so long, I knew this stuff would go together,” Barbara says. Her mantra to workers was, “Just bear with me. Just bear with me.”

Social connections

Since remodeled a couple of years ago, the Jacobses’ kitchen has invited more than great views.

For years, Barbara had been cut off from both the living room and dining room while cooking for guests.

“I couldn’t be a part of the entertainment or conversations because I would be in the kitchen,” she says. “This way it’s lovely; people can be eating at the (dining room) table, and I can be prep cooking here and still be a part of the whole scene.”

The remodel also updated various other rooms, most notably the living room, where picture windows now extend to more than 16 wide and where white oak floors replace old white shag carpeting.

Hand-forged iron light fixtures from Hubbardton Forge in Vermont mix with other artworks, including several horse paintings by Robert’s godfather, the late Milt Wolff, an American veteran of the Spanish Civil War and last commander of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.

Furnishings include a reconditioned Douglas-fir parson’s table in the kitchen, where the Jacobses dine on produce from their 1-acre vegetable garden out back. “We don’t grow everything, but we grow a good percentage of it,” Barbara says. “We’ll sit down to dinner and I’ll go, ‘Do you realize how much of this we’ve raised here?’”

Now with summer’s approach, each new day brings more joy in the kitchen.

“The sunrise is absolutely breathtaking,” she says. “I mean, absolutely breathtaking.”

By Kelly Fenley

Keys to a Superb Carport

After designing two extensive home remodels for a client, Eugene architect Gary Moye was happy to devise an additional structure at the property: a carport.

Usually carports don’t get an architect’s treatment, and in fact many of the structures end up collecting clutter and storage.

She drew up a garden pavilion concept as a focal point for her and husband Alan Zelenka’s extensive backyard gardening.

With a practical look ahead, the couple knew a future owner might not be as enamored with that, so they had Moye design the pavilion as a carport.

“We call it a pavilion,” Smith emphasizes. “It’s our outdoor dining patio. We use it as a garden room, an extension of our dining room to the outdoors.”

From the street, you’d never know the Smith-Zelenka pavilion — built by the late Pat Shields — is indeed a carport as well.

That delights Moye.

He was happy to take on his first carport project, especially since the owners envisioned it as an outdoor work of art more than sheltered parking space. That it’s also a legal carport underscores Moye’s approach in synchronizing both function and aesthetics.

He matched the design to align architecturally with the home. So while the carport is now garden central for Smith and Zelenka, its larger purpose will long stand in graceful style for future residents.

In contrast, everyday carports usually get the short end of it all, in terms of design as well as materials.

“That happens a lot, especially here in Eugene, where you have a lot of older, smaller homes with garages converted into rooms,” Moye points out. “Then they will add a carport without taking storage needs and context into account.”

Eugene builder and designer Chris Stebbins couldn’t agree more.

A licensed contractor for 25 years, Stebbins has a few more carports under his belt than Moye. But his philosophy is the same.

“They’re tricky little structures,” Stebbins acknowledges. “But it’s so much easier when you put in your design elements at the front end of the project instead of after the fact.”

Design challenges

Stebbins recently designed and built a carport in south Eugene that matches the vintage home’s Craftsman style.

“The main challenge for this sideyard carport is lack of space,” Stebbins says. “We had to be careful that it was 5 feet from the property line and then has a maximum of 2 feet overhang. That dictates your terms.”

He adds that a carport needs to be a minimum of 9 feet wide, “but works much better if it’s 10 to 12 feet. And it’s desirable to create some lovely space between carport and house for light and garden.”

“It’s great if you have enough room to allow 6 feet of clearance,” he continues. “But there’s no hard and fast rules. A well-designed carport is just as good 2 feet from a kitchen side door.”

On his south Eugene carport, Stebbins sized the roof so as not to block sunlight into the home’s living spaces. The home’s residents also appreciate the graceful and functional sun trellis Stebbins crafted with a deft use of angle brackets.

Architectural compatibility

“What I enjoy most about a carport,” Stebbins says, “is that if it’s done well, it emulates the home stylistically. It will use elements of the home, usually on a smaller scale, and the carport will reference the adjacent structure.”

Keep the same detailing, overhang and fascia style, he advises.

“If your house has a front porch, the carport can be a version of it. A successful carport will use elements of the home, but on a smaller scale,” he advises.

Stebbins likens a carport to being “the second cousin” of your home — “there to support the home, not dominate it.”

Stylish solution

Nir Pearlson, a Eugene architect, dealt with a carport challenge recently when a client with a small home on a small lot needed to protect his vintage car.

“Our solution was to make it like a gazebo,” Pearlson says.

Rather than match the shelter with elements of the house, he mimicked an existing gate and trellis on the property to tie it into the right look and feel. And since the owner wanted the functional carport to also look pretty, Pearlson used steel columns to make it slender and graceful.

“That allowed us to eliminate additional bracing, and we were able to achieve a very sleek look,” Pearlson says.

Pavers, rather than concrete, on the carport floor add another layer of elegance. And rain chains in lieu of downspouts also support the lightness of the appearance.

By Paul Omundson

Carport design ideas

Tidbits of advice from designers featured in the preceding story:

Consider alternative uses during the design phase. Most carports double as covered patio space, so a rear storage shed is useful.

For construction materials, consider steel as well as wood. Steel allows for more elegant construction without so much bracing. Likewise, pavers can be more attractive than concrete for the floor.

Tie in elements of the carport to design details of the home and other elements on-site, such as a gateway or fence.

The space between carport and the home’s side door is an opportunity for aesthetic elements that can impact the overall look.

Do it legally (many people don’t). Get a building permit and follow the rules of the zoning. Remember, the carport has to be 5 feet from the property line, even after allowing for 2 feet of overhang on the roof.

Consider a modified garage/carport. Most people add carports in front of their garages.

Don’t forget the importance of good lighting.

The Art of Architectural Sustainability

By Ryan Beltram

Finding Nir Pearlson’s architect studio is a bit tricky. Located off of Agate Alley, the quaint and unassuming space might go unnoticed to a passing jogger, but if you stop and actually look at it, the small studio is a perfect representation of the kind of business Pearlson is focused on; architectural sustainability.

Attempting to avoid the rain on an early February day, I take shelter under the covered entrance of what appears to be a typical awning. But a closer look reveals that it is a recycled car windshield. Inside, the beautiful space is blanketed by site-fabricated steel scissors trusses supporting an angular vaulted ceiling. Using sustainable lumber, the structure features reclaimed wood doors, bamboo flooring and a night-flush ventilation system designed to “flush” heat away from the building at night.What was once Pearlson’s residential garage designed to house cars has been transformed into a creative studio environment that the architect has worked from for nearly a decade. Working a few feet away from home was a convenient and easy decision to make for Pearlson as his work and home life before the conversion was even closer than it is now.

“I worked in a really tiny room that was directly outside of my bedroom so the only way to get into it was through my bedroom which meant that if I ever had a client meeting, they typically happened in my dining room because it was better than taking them through the bedroom. But sometimes I did have meetings in there,” said Pearlson.

Despite the close proximity between his work and his wife and kids, Pearlson is used to working creatively in a family environment. He grew up in a small communal village in Israel where he was constantly exposed to the way things are made not only within the small communal village, but also in his own household where his mother was a teacher.

“There’s always been some form of an art studio in our house and my mom was doing it with jewelry and macrame. She had her own shop since she was a teacher and she taught elementary and middle-school kids so I always had a key and access as a boy if I ever wanted to build something or fix something. I took the key and went to her workshops and had access to all of it,” said Pearlson.

As a young man, Pearlson travelled through different cities and supported himself as a builder and carpenter. He decided he wanted to study architecture after being drawn to both the composition of a building which challenged him artistically, and the simple workings of a building as a carpenter.Eventually he landed in Eugene where he earned his Architectural Degree from the University of Oregon in 1995. Soon after graduating, Pearlson was able to find work almost immediately and he gained valuable experience working on a number of different projects.

“I worked for a company which is now called PIVOT and for five years I worked mainly on Government projects in Salem and Tillamook for the Oregon Department of Forestry. That was a very good education on how to work on big projects and how to work within an office environment, how to manage teams and building campuses and just really complex commercial projects on a very big scale,” said Pearlson.

Eventually he decided he was ready to move on and start his own business. In 2003, Nir Pearlson Architect, Inc. was formed. Since starting the business, Pearlson has consistently had a team of three to four people working in the office. The studio provides a full range of architectural services for commercial and residential projects including site selection & assessment, architectural design, interior design and construction administration.

With all of these services, the architect emphasizes the importance of green-building and sustainability when taking on a new project.

“I’m most excited about the design when doing a project, but you always try to come back to sustainable practices. I think it has definitely influenced our designs a lot. Are designs are rooted in sustainability with regards to efficiency of space, efficiency of material, emphasizing the light and air and making sure we insulate properly.”

Pearlson believes it’s important for architects to constantly research smarter and more efficient ways to design buildings. Pearlson will always push for a more responsible way to design something, but ultimately it depends on what the client wants.

“During initial conversations with clients we ask them, are you interested in capturing the sun’s energy or using solar thermal or are you interested in capturing rain water and reusing it for irrigation or recycling gray water? A lot of times it’s pretty clear from the beginning what they want and many times people actually come to us and say, we want to have this, we want to have that and then we say hallelujah, we don’t even have to ask them.”But there was a time when Pearlson wasn’t getting as many clients as he wanted. Like most small businesses, Pearlson was affected by the recession and a couple of times was forced to contract and work on his own. But because he worked out of a small space that didn’t require as much overhead as a larger business might, Pearlson was able to survive and develop new relationships.

“I like marketing and staying connected with the community with regards to sending emails and newsletters and greeting cards in order to keep my connections and keep people aware of what I’m doing and I was also lucky to have some projects that were fairly high-profile and I think that helped as well. The caliber or level of projects and project recognition helped me through those tough times as well.”

Those high-profile projects he’s referring to include La Perla Pizzeria, Imagine Graphics and the new headquarters and remodel of Hummingbird Wholesale which will open its doors this week. Besides the commercial projects, the studio has also completed residential homes and cottages.

Over the last few years, Pearlson has seen a shift to more remodels and additions than original design projects for the company. More and more people are investing in what they already have and hoping to turn their homes into potential assets to sell in the future. Pearlson believes it is a sign of the times that the housing crisis is still prevalent.

Despite a shortage of new homes, Pearlson is keeping busy with redesigns and feels they prove to be more difficult and rewarding than original structures.

“Generally, redesigning is more challenging because there is always going to be a lot of constraints. In a way that makes it more interesting because you have to focus on the site with regards to the access and the view and vegetation and slope. It’s never like building from thin air. In a way, redesign is more rewarding because there’s more of a transformative process because you have to first undue what’s wrong with it and create what’s right so it’s really fun and challenging.“

As far as future projects, Pearlson has a full plate. The studio recently helped the Lane County Historical Society with a preliminary feasibility study of the Eugene Post Office as a potential future home for the Lane County Historical Museum. The studio is also completing an 800 square-foot residential house on River Road which will be equipped with energy-efficient systems and Pearlson also has a couple of residential remodel addition projects.

This seems like a lot of work for a small architecture studio, but Pearlson maintains the importance of past experiences in project management as the key to balancing not only all of the projects, but also all of the little things that go into running a successful business.

“It’s all part of the creative process actually and I don’t find it loathsome at all but it definitely takes a lot of time. I’m very involved in the different aspects like the building and timekeeping and writing proposals and when I started this business I was unaware of how much depth of knowledge I needed to have in so many aspects that seemingly have nothing to do with architecture,” said Pearlson.But he is proud of the different projects he’s worked on over the years and all the people he’s gotten to know. He’s excited about improving his skills and collaborating with new people who are talented and have a passion for architectural design. Eventually he would like to move out of his small studio and take on bigger and more challenging projects and he feels it has to happen and will happen. But for now he’s content with where he’s at.

“I’m learning how it’s completely impossible to stop learning. We’ve definitely ventured into a lot of areas that I haven’t before like restaurants and a brewery and a grocery store. I hope the economy allows me to do more and I would like to have a team of people where we’re big enough to create great things but small enough to manage.”

2012 People’s Choice Award (Residential)

1st Place – Residential
Featuring: River Road Mini Home

In this competition which takes place annually during the Eugene Celebration weekend, local architects and landscape architects present their featured projects in various categories, and the citizens of Eugene cast their vote for the best project in each category.



River Road Mini-Home
River Road, Eugene

Julie Hulme and Rob Handy

Nir Pearlson Architect, Inc.:
Nir Pearlson, Rachel Auerbach

Pioneer Engineering

Six Degrees Construction

Solar Assist


• Design a sustainable Mini-Home.
• Combine expansive, connected spaces with cozy nooks.
• Weave the interiors into the surrounding garden to celebrate the cycle of seasons.


• Transition between the front porch and the interiors via a slate-tiled entryway.
• Combine and overlap living, dining, and cooking areas within an open central space.
• Expand the great room into the study/guest room and onto the partly-sheltered deck overlooking the garden.
• Anchor the great room with the centrally located wood stove.
• Delineate the passage into the private realm, a master bedroom and a light-fi lled bathroom, with a peaceful altar.
• Expose the hybrid timber-frame structure and the trimwork to frame the naturally-dyed earthen plaster walls and the serene garden vistas.

Footprint: The 800 SF home includes a bonus loft for meditation and storage.
Envelope: Double-insulated walls and roof far exceed code minimums.
Daylighting: Windows, doors, transoms, clerestories, and skylights provide abundant daylight.
Energy Conservation: A super-efficient mini-split heat pump combines with a heat recovery ventilator (HRV) to heat and ventilate the home.
Energy Harvest: The south-facing roof carries a solar photovoltaic (PV) array and a solar hot water collector.
Water Reclamation: The pre-plumbed future graywater system and rainwater cisterns will supply water to the landscape.

“Our home is the intimate interplay of inside cozy places of sanctuary, and outside gardens splashing light and life through windows. The eye and heart dance from one angle of beauty to another as the intersections create a peaceful sense of harmony.”

2012 People’s Choice Award (Commercial)

1st place: Commercial Category
Featuring: Hummingbird Wholesale

In this competition which takes place annually during the Eugene Celebration weekend, local architects and landscape architects present their featured projects in various categories, and the citizens of Eugene cast their vote for the best project in each category.



Hummingbird in the Stellaria Building
150 Shelton-McMurphey Blvd, Eugene

Lichen Yew, LLC

Nir Pearlson Architect, Inc.:
Nir Pearlson, Rachel Auerbach, Ryan Rojas

Goebel Engineering & Surveying, Inc.

Landcurrent Landscape Architecture

Pioneer Engineering and JKN Engineering

Paradigm Engineering

Paddock Masonry, Inc.

Innovative Air, Inc.

Hawks Plumbing, Inc.

JND Fire Sprinklers, Inc.

Energy Design with Sunstone Solar

Day One Design


• Transform a 24,000 SF, 1950’s warehouse into a 38,000 SF, multi-tenant, mixed-use building.
• Create a model of resource reuse and stewardship.


• Reveal the building’s barn-spirit by removing layers of industrialization from the site.
• Create an iconic, utilitarian structure where food-crops are processed and distributed to sustain human life.
• Replace existing paving with gardens around the building.
• Peel and lift the industrial metal skin to form sheltering canopies marking the building openings.
• Soften the entry walls to echo the earthen warmth of fields.
• Add a partial second floor to create space for offices, manufacturing, warehouses, food production, and retail.
• Support a diverse family of tenants providing services, specialty products, and organic food.


Reclamation: Inserting the second floor below the existing timber trusses allowed the building structure to remain in place. Old metal siding panels, wood boards, and concrete sections found new purposes and uses on-site.

Envelope: New high-density insulation in the thickened walls and roof far exceed code minimums. A strawbale wall finished with earthen plaster and rough wood elements fronts Hummingbird’s lobby.

Daylighting: Abundant daylight pours deep into offices and warehouses via new windows, transoms, clerestories, and skylights – some of which reach the first floor via reflective light-shafts.

Energy Conservation: High-efficiency zoned mechanical systems utilize ground and air-source heat pumps, and upgraded lighting controls include zoning, dimming, and occupancy sensors. Electricity, natural gas, and hot and cold water are all metered in-house, allowing tenants to track usage via a digital network and optimize their energy-use trends.

Energy Harvest: Roof and canopy-mounted solar PV arrays offset electrical loads. A thermal solar array pre-heats the central hot water loop and the radiant slab under Hummingbird’s Honey Warmer. Excess heat from food dryers supplements winter heating in production areas.

Storm Water Management: A planted bio-swale for storm run-off infiltrates water on-site and irrigates the landscape.


Elements Acupuncture and Wellness
Eliel Fionn’s Felties & Consultations
Healthy Democracy Fund
Healing Scapes Ayurveda
Hummingbird Wholesale
Incubator Kitchen
Inner Sight
Lane County Farmer’s Market
Mark Donahue Rolfing
Momentum Therapies
Not Your Mom’s Sandwich Shop
Rolf Prima
Rural Development Initiatives
Well Balanced Acupuncture
Willamette Farm and Food Coalition

Small House, Super-sized Living

It’s just 800 square feet, but new home in River Road area feels like a palace to Rob Handy and Julie Hulme.

By Kelly Fenley
Photos by Collin Andrew

Give it up for ol’ Ben again. His waste-not, want-not maxim proves “spot on” in Rob Handy and Julie Hulme’s new one-bedroom, 800-square-foot home in north Eugene.

Every square inch so counts in this hybrid timber-framed cottage, Handy and Hulme say they lack for nothing with livability. And this in a full-on dwelling smaller than many apartment units.

“Small is beautiful,” says Hulme, effusive in her praise for the home’s designer, architect Nir Pearlson, and builder, Six Degrees Construction.

“It fits us,” she continues. “It’s on a human scale. We live a very simple lifestyle, and it fits us perfectly. It has everything.”

In fact Hulme, a longtime teacher at Edgewood Elementary School in Eugene, and Handy, a Lane County commissioner, look at their home more as a spacious retreat than charming but cozy quarters.

The property helps, too: a 2-plus acre lot with flowers, vegetables and fruit trees. But with abundant windows to absorb the verdant outdoors, with sloped ceilings of Douglas fir beams and hemlock decking, and with upscale but soothing finishes like reddish marble for the walk-in shower and a streambed of earth tones in the honed-granite kitchen counters, the house itself is “very calming,” Hulme says.

“It’s like a sanctuary-type feel to it,” she expounds. “We both have very public lives, so it’s very nice to have that kind of sanctuary space. It’s just lovely for us.”

Before and after

Many baby-boomers dream of downsizing to a small home with upscale quality. But the funny thing for Hulme, 56, and Handy, 55, is that they’re actually “up-sizing.”

For 28 years, the couple had lived in a 620-square-foot hodgepodge house — likely dating to the 1940s — on the same property. “We had a bedroom that was literally a ‘bed’ room,” muses Handy, who worked as a landscaper before becoming a county commissioner. “We crawled into bed. We came in (from) the bottom, because there was literally no room on the sides. It was an old tool shed.”

The old home would become a giant recycling project before finally demolished. But first, Hulme gathered ideas for a new house from prominent author Sarah Susanka, an architect who studied at the University of Oregon.

“I have all of her books. She was one of my inspirations,” says Hulme in reference to Susanka’s “The Not So Big House” series.

Then, at the home show in Eugene, Hulme found a visionary soulmate in Pearlson. “Within a minute I knew, ‘This is the man who’s going to build our home,’” Hulme says.

Before starting in, Pearlson spent time with Handy and Hulme, observing how they lived and asking about their lifestyle values. What emerged was the outline for a light-footprint, locally sourced, hyper-energy-efficient home with sustainable materials and quality conveniences befitting a lifetime home.

“This is our forever home,” Hulme explains. “We thought about things. People said, ‘Why don’t you build two stories?’ Because when I’m 85, I’m not sure I’m going to be able to get upstairs.”

Eye pleasers

To give Hulme and Handy their one small step up in square footage but giant leap in livability, Pearlson and his assistant designer, Rachel Auerbach, maximized “connectivity” between spaces.

“Connectivity results in expansion,” he explains.

From any one place in the great room, you can see to the other. Spaces are “separated” by physical elements, such as the wood stove that helps delineate living room from kitchen, and the curved dining bar that helps distinguish kitchen space from the front entry.

No hallways or corridors means no wasted square footage. Vertical space soars, thanks to ramped ceilings framed with Douglas fir beams and hemlock decking.

“That sense of exposed structure helps with the openness as well,” Pearlson says.

What Hulme loves “is that feeling of having spaciousness, and yet having these cozy little intimate spaces, too. It feels like someplace you want to be.”

French doors, each double glazed in a rainwater pattern, separate the home’s guest room from great room. But when left open, “the two rooms become one,” Pearlson says.

Even when closed, transom windows above the guest room’s doors create a sense of expanding volume between both rooms.

Perhaps most striking, the modest-size bathroom seems to expand before your eyes. First comes a curved, architectural glass wall, followed by a single sink pedestal, entry to the marble walk-in shower, stepped-up ceiling, and window view to the garden.

In terra-cotta tones, the marble shower with bench seat reminds Hulme “of walking in Utah, all of those big red rock canyons.”

Twenty-six windows connect earth and sky to indoor spaces, bringing daily joy to a couple who grow much of their own food and lace their grounds with flowers and fruit.

“So much of our life revolves around being outside,” Hulme says while sitting on the home’s cedar deck, which also merges indoor/outdoor living spaces on two sides of the house.

With the kitchen windows, Hulme says she feels like she’s “out in the garden cooking.”

“And when you’re in bed, it’s like, ‘Wow.’ It’s sort of like being in a tree house. You’ve got clerestory windows up there that bring in beautiful light in the morning.”

Heart of the matter

But her favorite connection of all in the house?

“There’s no separation between the kitchen and other (great room) spaces,” Hulme says. “People can hang out while you’re cooking, so you can still have fun cooking. … I feel like I’ve died and gone to heaven.”

Kitchen therapy, says Handy.

“She (Julie) is one of these amazing people who, when she’s tired, she wants to go to the kitchen and cook,” he elaborates. “That helps her relax.”

There’s no dishwasher — “that’s called ‘Rob,’” Hulme quips — but the stainless-steel fridge and power gas stove help testify to upgrades made possible when building smaller.

Spot on, that is, for splendid livability.

A Tiny Oregon House Reaches Beyond Its Walls

A tiny Oregon house reaches beyond its walls to embrace the outdoors, regardless of weather.

“Human scale” is the term owner Julie uses to describe the cozy spaciousness accomplished through her 800-square-foot home. Located on just over two acres at the urban edge of Eugene, Oregon, “it welcomes you in a very open way that feels natural–not confining but definitely embracing.” She and her partner, Rob, sought an earth-friendly home that would bridge the traditional indoor-outdoor barrier while paying practical homage to the often rainy Oregon weather and addressing Julie’s craving for natural light.

The outcome of a close and collaborative process with Architect Nir Pearlson and craftsman Dave Veldhuizen of Six Degrees Construction, the home consists of approximately two-thirds common space with the remainder given to a cozy bedroom bathed in morning light and a highly functional and beautiful bathroom complete with fully accessible tiled shower. “This is our forever house and we designed for that,” the spry, mid-50s Julie says. “The shower doesn’t look like it, but it’s us being realistic about the future.”

Although attention to detail themes the project, the outcome is far from forced. A tall wall of warm tinted plaster anchored by a simple “altar” centers the homeowners and guests as soon as they step over the threshold. The eye travels from the minimalist shelf holding a Buddha, across the room to a series of repeating, horizontal planes of the same wood. Forming windowsills and built-ins, the overall effect is a sweep that directs attention to the verdant greens of the gardens and lawn that sweeps toward the Willamette River. Should you not be distracted by the beauty outdoors (the homeowners hope you are), your eyes come to rest at the center of the home, a traditional woodstove that Julie and Rob used to heat the humble structure that stood in the same place and served as their home for 28 years.

This new home makes living a little easier on the owners–and the environment; it ranks at Earth Advantage “Gold” level. Photovoltaic panels produce electricity, a solar thermal collector delivers hot water, a mini-split heat pump and heat recovery ventilator keep the temperatures comfortable and advanced insulation and air-sealing minimize the need for either.

A stunning butterfly shed roof provides aesthetic interest but more practically, allows for strategically placed skylights, taller windows and clerestories. Light bounces in from expansive decking, which is partially covered by a cantilevered “wing” that offers rain coverage while shuttling more light inside. Not surprisingly, even on an overcast and rainy day, not a single light is on in the house.

The home is situated on 2.12 acres on one edge of an urban core. Even with this space, thought had to be given to a cluster of homes sharing the driveway, and existing gardens and outbuildings: A den/guest room has strategically placed windows that eliminate a view of the neighbors. The bedroom is situated in the most private corner of the home, which faces southeast to capture as much morning sun as possible. A clerestory successfully lights what would otherwise be a dark “hole” above an open-topped closet that would be classified as large even in a much bigger home. In this small home it’s a welcome surprise.

Because entertaining friends and welcoming guests is so important to the couple, the team deliberately framed the den/guest room to be ultimately flexible. A pair of rain glass-inset doors with a clear glass transom above opens wide and multiplies the gathering space if the weather keeps the group inside. But when the doors are closed, the space returns to its primary function of den/guest room. An added bonus is hidden in this room: Another very large closet demonstrates the home’s practical nature. And not content to leave space unused, the closet ceiling forms the floor of an unobtrusive yet significant storage loft.

The homeowners, architect and builder each credit the collective for this stunning and easy living home. “We really dreamt up the space together,” says Dave. “Julie led with her very clear vision of a space that grounds you, that lets you nest while also letting you take in the outside. Nir translated her vision to an intriguing shape with highly functional details that made the most of every ray of light. And my team honored the desire for craftsmanship that respects the vision and the materials. We helped bring that initial dreaming to fruition. We are a bit sad that it’s over,” he confesses.

Museum Fine Fit for Post Office

Bob Hart, executive director of the Lane County Historical Society, could double as actor Richard Dreyfuss, but, in terms of public regard, Rodney Dangerfield might be the better fit for museum folks such as him.

They get no respect — historically speaking, that is.

In 1937, the museum was promised downtown Eugene’s old post office building, but then along came a war, and the government needed the space, which it rented until 1957, at which point the building was torn down.

When Hart took the historical society reins in 2003, the museum at the Lane Events Center already was so run down that he found a salamander living beneath a catch basin used for the leaky roof.

And the Lane County commissioners’ unanimous vote in March to support moving the museum off the fairground property was one of those good news/bad news deals; nice that they granted the society’s desires to relocate, but telling that nobody thought the museum had a future at the fairgrounds.

I mean, come on, when does this discordant bunch vote 5-0 on anything?

All of which brings me to my tour Monday of the for-sale downtown post office as a possible future home for the historical museum.

Frankly, it would be a beautiful fit, a way to literally meld history with history while serving it up to the public with a bit more panache.

“It’s really our best shot,” says Hart, who also is director of the museum.

The New Museum Committee also is considering a new building as part of the Eugene Water & Electric Board’s Riverfront Master Plan. But Hart prefers the post office location at Willamette Street and West Fifth Avenue. Why?

Location. “It’s on the most historically intact block in the city,” Hart says. “We could get some foot traffic.”

Size. At 28,500 feet, it would more than double the museum’s current location, where the building is wedged, like an afterthought, between the Lane Events Center’s massive main building and a parking lot.

Climate control. The current museum, built in 1951 with an expansion in 1959, leans to the cool and damp side, Hart says, even if the roof was replaced after he arrived in 2003.

Ambiance. The old post office isn’t the Louvre, but it has high ceilings, marble, artsy moulding and, of course, the 1940s Oregon-esque murals by Portland artist Carl Morris. And, at 72 years old, it has a bit of history itself.

“We’d be preserving a building that deserves preserving,” Hart says, pointing out that the post office is the oldest brick building in Eugene.

“It’s a starting point for making a beautiful place where people can come to get excited about the history of their county,” says Rachel Auerbach, a designer with Nir Pearlson Architecture Inc., who along with firm namesake Nir Pearlson led Monday’s tour by 18 people.

Imagine a building that maintains its own historic personality but allows for ways to showcase the county’s past at the same time. On the north side, a cafe and gift shop; on the south, a floor-level extension featuring the 1853 “Clerk’s Building,” the oldest structure in Lane County.

Imagine two floors. A library upstairs. And a mezzanine level wrapped around a sort of “grand room” first-floor for major exhibits.

“We want to protect the historical elements of the building,” says architect Pearlson, whose firm has done a “preconceptual” design. “I see taking marble from the bathrooms and using it other places, incorporating some of these historic mailboxes in our cloak room.”

A move to the new location, of course, is a huge financial undertaking; the government wants $2.5 million for the property. The cost to convert the building to its new use is expected to be in the $3.5 million range. And a move necessitates other costs.

Those are big numbers for a museum that pays a $1-a-year lease to the county and operates on a $225,000 annual budget funded by a sliver of transient-tax revenues. And you wouldn’t expect the county to roll up its sleeves too far on this one.

But the post office building won’t even be available for three to five years, which, Hart figures, allows plenty of time for running a capital campaign and seeking grants. And that’s still sooner than a building would get done as part of the riverfront plan.

“We have a lot of work to do,” says Alice Parman, historical society board member and museum consultant. “We’ve got to get museums on people’s radar.”

Hart has taken steps to doing that; he understands that history isn’t just a covered wagon, but might be a blog site for the museum’s recent Tie Dye & Tofu Exhibit. That’s good.

And so would moving the museum to the old post office to better connect people to their own pasts and to give that history the respect it deserves.

“When you understand a place,” says Jim Giustina, head of the historical society board, “you’re more likely to invest in it.”

Likewise, when you invest in it, you’re more likely to understand it.

So, let’s make history. Let’s go postal.