“After raising a family, the house was worn out,” explains Bill Whitsell. “The master bedroom was dark and small, we needed a dedicated home office, plus we wanted much more winter light.” Whitsell, along with his wife Wendy, purchased the circa-1965 daylight ranch in Portland’s forested Sylvan-Highlands neighborhood in 1991—taken by its proximity to downtown and adjoining 10-acre greenspace. Located on a cul-de-sac, it was the perfect place to raise their children, and the Whitsells completed various small updates over the years before deciding they wanted a big change. They spent a year mulling over purchasing a new home, but in the end settled on a major remodel, complete with an open floor plan and beautifully captured views, with locally based firms Richard Brown Architect (RB/A) and Introspecs.

The clients “kept coming back to the fact that where they lived was a great location a five-minute commute to work,” explains principal Richard Brown, who began his practice 30 years ago (the firm has recently begun narrowing its focus back to residential and winery work). But now that the Whitsells are nearing the end of their careers, adds studio director Hope Telford, “they wanted to relax a little more into their home but were ready for an aesthetic change. They wanted people to walk into their home and be surprised, which is not what you would say about their previous layout.”

“It seemed like there were some compromises made when it was being built,” Telford continues, “so we talked about making things more in keeping with the original intent.” The first step was to figure out how to make the kitchen and low-ceilinged dining room, located adjacent to the living room, feel less dark and secluded. The solution: create a vaulted ceiling in the dining to match that of the living room, and add windows to bring in even more light. “We spent time thinking about window placement to maximize views of gardens and open space, and minimize views of neighbors, which makes the house feel like it’s on a large estate instead of in a sub-division,” says Whitsell.

Fourteen-year-old interiors firm Introspecs initially came onboard to help with the kitchen design—brought on by project contractor Hammer & Hand—a scope that quickly morphed into full interior design (including new furniture selection) in collaboration with RB/A. “We wanted to listen to the simple, clean lines of their ranch home and give it a lift in response to RB/A’s design of the raised vault through to the dining room,” says Introspecs’ owner Allisen Larsen. “The idea was to see Bill and Wendy’s home into the next stage of life, a bit more mature and intentional,” while highlighting the many art pieces the couple had collected on their travels over the years, along with various family heirlooms. Part of the challenge, Larsen explains, was to determine what the client wanted to keep on their main level. “We recognized a few bold pieces that clearly were our showstoppers, and we also had additional client faves we agreed were a good fit.” The process actually spawned an offshoot project, an Introspecs-designed gallery wall and collection of Pacific Northwest artwork in the Whitsell’s lower-level lounge.

Because they were designing a home that was sophisticated and modern but also warm, Larsen points out, the palette was limited to just a few finishes—namely horizontal grain white oak, warm neutral porcelain tile, matte black, and white. Portland weather was also top of mind, “so we focused on functionality and durability, specifying a large-scale 24-by-48-inch porcelain tile throughout the entry, kitchen, and into the sunroom,” she says.

The Whitsells, particularly Wendy, love to cook. Abundant white-oak casework sets the tone in the kitchen, where a long, thin center island topped in quartz allows for multiple people to be in the space, while “providing a spatial clue of work zone versus hangout zone,” Larsen explains. Part of RB/A’s exterior deck design was preserving a camelia plant that can be viewed while standing at the sink, and shelving provides a spot to display collectibles.

In the living room, an impressive wood-wrap wall with built-ins augments the existing fireplace’s travertine surround and gray, black, and white tones are in keeping with the rest of the home. An added sunroom provides lots of light, particularly during gray winter months, and direct access to the deck. “When we are in the sunroom, we have a beautiful view and can’t see our neighbors, so we feel like we are in the middle of a forest,” says Whitsell.

“This was a really fun project, to go into a more complicated space and simplify and modernize this house that already has such potential, but was under-utilized,” says Telford. Adds Larsen: “It’s not often we get the opportunity to truly be in a collaborative situation long-term with all players, and this was a great example of all of us coming together to create a beautiful and successful project. Bill and Wendy trusted us implicitly to bring it home and we really enjoyed our role.”


Hammer & Hand

Richard Brown Architect, AIA


Eastbank Contractor Appliances

Milgard: Portland Millwork

Plumbing Fixtures: Kohler; Kitchen Appliances: Eastbank Contractor
Appliances: Wolf, Vent-a-hood, Blomberg, Fulgor Milano, Miele, Panasonic