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Introducing My Brother’s New Build Dream Home – Designing My First “Contemporary” Riverfront Home ( + Meet The Design Team)

It looks confusing, I know. That is not us. We did not trade the farm for a river property. That is my brother and his family and without further ado WELCOME TO THE OFFICIAL RIVER HOUSE INTRO POST. A project we’ll be documenting here the next 6-8 years, JK KEN, but seriously at least 2 -3. It’s exciting and challenging, and while I’ve enjoyed the last year and a half of not having a massive renovation to, you know, stress me the hell out and occupy all my daily and nightly thoughts so I can instead read romance novels and make homemade falafels, the farm and the river house sure are “tickling my brain” as Brian would say. There is a lot to tell you so I’ll break down the who, what, when, where, why and, of course, HOW. And then I’ll introduce the major players because like our farm project I couldn’t do it alone, and have teamed up with an awesome interior designer, architect, and of course GC to make this happen. What makes it an experiment? Keep reading…

But first, a teaser video that Ken shot and Mallory edited! (Just wait for the ad to play:))

WHO: My Brother Ken, My SIL Katie + Kennedy (5) And Frankie (3)

hello there spray tan! i’ve missed you dearly!!

My brother and I did the first Portland house together (Ken/Katie were investors and helped project manager onsite, myself and my team were offsite project managers/designers/decorators). And while there were a lot of fun “challenges” and “learnings” to doing such a high-end investment property far from LA, ultimately we really LOVED working together and can look back and really LOL and LOL… on all the challenges we overcame. A lot of you warned me about investing or working with family and I think it’s an extremely good warning (and I generally don’t do this) but am happy to say we are the exception and it really does depend on your chemistry. The communication was so open (yes even talking about mistakes and money) and we had so much fun together that we actually want to do it again, even before this home we were looking for another project to do together. Ken and I, while being really different, are actually kinda the same person in how we approach life – both 7s, very enthusiastic, very loyal, love to admit faults, own up to mistakes, believe in fairness + right/wrong, really into common sense, have little ego, and love having a lot of fun. So while, sure, I might have “drained some of the budget of the portland project by adding far more custom pieces and herringbone tile that you EVER would to a flip,” we are all good and chalk it up to a lot of lessons learned. Also, I’m not sure I’m “house flipper” material nor do I know how I feel about doing that anyway – as enlightened by Sara’s post about the ethics of house flipping. Turns out doing a renovation on the cheap, fast, and from another state, is not my strong suit nor should it be.

This time, this portland project that we are now dubbing “The River House” is going to be their own home where they want to raise their two young kiddos. They, like us, want a more rural existence so here we are – the Starke kids have apparently come home to roost in settings far closer to how we were raised – the damp, damp, yet beautiful Oregon country:)

WHAT: A New Build Home On A 3-Acre Riverfront Property

This property is SPECIAL. You feel like you are far away, but it’s still only 15 minutes to Portland. The current house that sits on the property is not so special and due to permitting issues, any renovation costs/add-on costs cannot exceed more than 50% of the house’s current value of $82,000. It’s also in very, very, very very very bad shape. The property is magical though and the potential is huge.

So the reason I’m extra excited about this is because it will be my first new construction home – something I’ve always wanted to try but, like not for ME, (yet). We’ll do this from the ground up. From scratch. Skys the limit, right????!!! Maybe that’s why it always felt daunting, without an architectural reference to what it should be or a footprint to launch off – you have even MORE options – a stylist’s true kryptonite.

In fact, as we’ve gotten into it I’ve realized that it’s so fun in a different way – you get to choose the style that makes sense for the property and the family – it’s not like we are going to build a Mediterranean palace or a Colonial farmhouse. A home built in 2021 in Portland on a river kinda has to be a contemporary river house. Now there are many versions of what that can look like, but it narrows things down a lot.

Another reason I always hesitated to do a new build is that seems like they’d cost more than a big renovation, but it also very well might not. Now this new-build will not be builder grade and surely it will add up, but what I keep hearing is that starting fresh is actually easier in a lot of ways once the permits and plans get approved. Ken and I *joke* that we should make this a race. See who moves in first and stays closer to their budget. Team River or Team Farm??

The real winner here (besides Ken and his family OBVIOUSLY) is y’all because with the new challenges of designing a new build comes lots of new mistakes and fresh information for us to document here. (Don’t worry, Ken/Katie, we are in good hands with the team, see below).

Now I know you want to see the house before it gets demolished. It’s falling down and really not reparable.

I actually never even went inside the property, as it was locked up when I visited in the fall and was deemed dangerous to walk through.

WHERE: On A Sliver Of A Property On The River (With A Shared Island)

Without obviously giving out their address it’s on a river near Portland. One of the reasons they bought the property is their good friends live next door and as they were hanging out with them they realized that this house and piece of property was not exactly living its best life. They made an offer off-market and the owner was happy to sell it. It’s awesome because like our farm it has a totally country/rural feeling and again, only 15 minutes from Portland.

HOW: With A Team Of Design Pros, A Hefty Budget, And A LOT Of Planning

Ken and I had this idealistic fantasy when he bought this house and when we were still in the infant stage of buying the farm – that I’d design his house and he’d be the GC or at least project manager for mine. An easy/fun trade, right? Then once we realized the massive scope of both projects and our individual bandwidths (mine – lack of time, his – lack of experience as a GC) we had to find some pros.

Now I’ve gotten a lot of questions about why I would make my brother/SIL hire another designer in addition to me. We have a great architect. We have a great GC. I’m technically capable of designing this house, but here’s why – I don’t have the bandwidth to do the best job on my own. Especially not from a distance (even though we are moving up there in summer). Because of my schedule and how busy I can get, I’ll end up being behind schedule and disappointing everyone. And one thing I’ve learned in my life (and one of the reasons I just started therapy) is that I have a chronic issue with not wanting to disappoint people. But even more importantly I don’t like designing by myself. It’s not “fun” for me and as you know as an enneagram 7 (literally the only blogger or female entrepreneur I know that’s not a 3 – seriously, although the jury is still out and many people think I am a 3) I need work to be “fun” for me to want to do it. ANYWAY. That’s all to say we needed to find a co-designer that was the right fit. The right chemistry. The right experience level and with lack of ego enough to share the credit with me.

*Our Co-Interior Designer – Max Humphrey*

Now a lot of you have heard of Max Humphrey because he’s an awesome designer with a great following and well, cool fresh style. I met him at the furniture show in Vegas 8 years ago when we were both speaking on a panel, him as an experienced interior designer, me talking trends. We hit it off and really liked each other. He worked for years for Betsy Burnham – a pretty famous and legit LA interior designer. This was when I had design clients and really didn’t know how to charge or how to, say, run a business. I would text Max all the time with questions like “how do you charge for travel time??” or “how do you charge for vintage pieces that you buy at the flea market” and he would generously give me the answer. Then he moved to Portland right when one of my best friends needed a designer and I didn’t have the bandwidth (and I hate charging my friends and potentially disappointing them) so I recommended Max for the job. They couldn’t have been happier and their home turned out BEAUTIFUL.

He then went on to do a friend’s beach house in Oregon that we stayed in recently that was SO STUNNING and as we were lounging around in that gorgeous house three weeks ago I was like “Max! YES! I want to design the river house with Max”. After a 2 hour call he was down to do it with me.

design by max humphrey | photo by christopher dibble

This is my friend’s basement he designed that I LOVE – I’m going to do a full tour of it soon. The befores are WILD and he turned it into an epic space that is actually so exciting to hang out in despite the exposed HVAC and low ceilings.

design by max humphrey | photo by christopher dibble

I love this project of his so much, too (it’s his actual home). He has a bravery about him that is really inspiring. Before design, he was in a punk rock band which I find to be one of the more exciting career pairings ever.

design by max humphrey | photo by christopher dibble

He even recently launched a wallpaper line (that cute bandana print) that is sooooo cute and has a lot of styling and collaborations in the works. He’s looking to grown his online presence, I’m looking to work with someone I not only trust design-wise and experience, but legit enjoy being around. This is going to be a long project – we need to like each other.

So I introduced him to my brother and Katie and they hit. it. off. It’s their house and their budget so it had to be the right fit for them and so far it is GREAT.

*Our Architect – Annie Usher*

design by annie usher | photo by kraig scattarella

Annie worked on the first Portland project, so Ken and Katie already knew her well, really trusted her, and hired her for this project. Her background is legit – born and raised in Portland, U of O architecture school, and has worked at GBD, a renowned commercial architecture firm for 18 years. Now she works part-time (project to project) and can take on some residential projects on the side. Ken and JP are so likable that she keeps working with them. Having never done a new build before, the idea of doing the space planning was nothing short of brain-scrambling for me. So she is is the architect and visionary behind the overall structure, how it flows, works and functions. When it comes to space planning, I know what doesn’t work but I don’t know how to make it work. That’s why you hire a great architect.

design by annie usher

Max, Annie, and I will all work together on the overall look and feel, weigh in on major material selection and architectural details (stairs, ceiling design, etc), and she’ll help with all the drawings, get us through permits, etc. After all that, Max and I will be more involved when it comes to executing the furniture and accessories (while we’ll keep her in the loop). She brings tons of experience that I just don’t have. I’ve already learned a lot from her in the process and y’all, doing a new build is REALLY FUN so far. I keep writing down quotes and have a blog post I’m writing called “How to Think Like an Architect” because it’s just so different from decorating, and frankly VERY important.

*Our General Contractor – JP Macy – Sierra Custom Homes*

JP was the General Contractor for the first portland project and we LOVED working with him. Not only did he tolerate some of my less than sound ideas for a flip, but he was really really great to work with. He’s rad and experienced and communicated well and consistently in a very down-to-earth way. He’s done a ton of new construction homes, and he knows the ins and outs of how to get it done well. He’s also very high quality and because he’s so gosh darn likable has really incredible subs that will happily prioritize his projects.

It’s a pretty great team that has so far been wonderful to work with. It’s a long project, there will be mistakes and pitfalls throughout, but I feel like we are set up with at least good major players that can produce the best project for my brother.

What we are so excited about is with a new build the only real design parameters are codes (boring) and budget (boring-er). This particular property is tricky because it can’t be wide (so we have to build up and be more long and skinny) and it is on a flood plane so we almost have to build the garage to withstand a river flood. As you can assume as creatives (I consider GC’s creatives) we want to do something that hasn’t been done before, not a track new build, but there isn’t an endless budget. Annie/Max and I want it to be uber-modern, and yet Ken and Katie want to make sure that it’s also timeless (FINE). So there will be more conversations on how and where we take design risks and what their priorities are in both style and function. First and foremost it has to work for their family. Secondly, LET’S HAVE SOME FUN?????? Can this be my design lab? A place for us to experiment with some new techniques? Likely not do anything too wacky, but really obsess about those details that make a house feel special, long-term. Ceilings. Flooring. Tile treatments. Lighting. Windows.

We also want to design this to be super energy efficient and sustainable. While I can’t control this house as much as I can my own (because it’s not my budget) we want to lean into ways that make sense for long-term energy efficiency and just be SMART. And I’m already learning so much through research. If you have the privilege and wealth to build a dream house from scratch, I personally believe it’s our responsibility to do right by the local community and the planet.

What’s It Going To Look Like??

Well, we are still figuring that out. We are trying to create a contemporary river cabin that feels really warm and family-oriented. They, like me, don’t like anything too pretentious, fancy, or ostentatious but want high quality and long-lasting. Here’s a quick moodboard of where we are headed, but you’ll have to follow along for the next few years to see how it will turn out.

Now, I’d love to know what you’d love to read about with this new build? Knowing that this isn’t my home (nor my budget) I may not be able to deliver all your requests, but I’d love to pass down as much information about this process as I’m allowed to.

AH! I’m so excited and can’t wait to share more of this new and awesome challenge with you. And if you want a sneak peek of the exterior’s design go check my stories this afternoon:) xx


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109 thoughts on “Introducing My Brother’s New Build Dream Home – Designing My First “Contemporary” Riverfront Home ( + Meet The Design Team)

  1. Very exciting, can’t wait to see how it unfolds! Id be curious to see posts on the floorplans and lessons learned when making floorplans, things to think about or avoid. I’ve loved those posts on your farm house.

      1. hahaha. I AGREE. there have been a lot already. i’ll make sure we keep all options.

  2. Can’t wait to read more!
    I know that you can’t share detailed budget info. However, I’m super curious to know what proportion of the overall budget will be going on professional fees because it seems like a lot of professionals for a residential project. I don’t really understand how that’s going to work! Would love to understand more.

    1. I can see how a designer is considered a “nice to have” but it doesn’t seem like bizarre or OTT to me to hire an architect for a residential new build, especially an eco house on what sounds like a tricky plot of land. Would one normally just have a general contractor handle everything?

      1. yah an architect isn’t really an option on a project of this scale. normally two designers isn’t necessary 🙂

        1. The architect I get! And I realised afterwards that this won’t be a typical fee schedule because it’s also generating content and exposure as well as all being for the benefit of the client. So probably a dumb question. Not the first time, won’t be the last! 😂

  3. Congrats Ken and Katie!
    As others have said, I’d love to know more about floor planning and also more about the professionals – seems like a powerhouse team!
    And I will be most interested in how this home is designed for this family’s lifestyle and practical needs. For me the story is only engaging if I know the characters. I didn’t follow the first Portland project because I didn’t know who would live there; it lacked the personal element that the farm and river houses happily have! (Although I’ve since gone back and read many of its posts as needed because they are a wealth of information and the house turned out STUNNING. Years later I’m still pinning it and revisiting its images.)
    All that to say, I will enjoy whatever personal bits the family is okay with sharing, and just the little bit we already know about them is already drawing me in! I’m excited to follow along!

  4. In the immoral words of Cher — no not that Cher, the other one: the movie character in Clueless — “Project!” Very interested in watching this place be born. Your moodboard pics are amazing.

  5. Hi all,
    You uttered the words I have been waiting years to hear: sustainable and energy efficient. I love design— not so much every design blogger’s use of natural gas stoves (and no doubt water heaters and gas furnace). PLEASE go electric— your architect can explain all the electric resources for that. BUT the big thing I’m not understanding is…. “cannot exceed more than 50% of the house’s current value of $44,000”. You have to pull off setting a building structure in place (and obtaining a certificate of occupancy, which means heat, water, etc.): for only $66,000? Please tell me what I am missing here… not a numbers person here, truly quizzical. This will be an exciting project to follow, thank you for sharing it with us.

    1. I *think* that means if they kept the original structure and renovated or added on, but if they tear it down and build new, they can spend whatever they like. I think?

    2. i think i can clarify this because i have friends who live on the river in maryland! from what i understand, there’d be two options here:

      1. keep the entire structure as is and bring it totally up to date/renovate it with $22,000 (50% appraised value, not including land) – obviously this is basically like, impossible, haha.

      2. if you need to spend more than 50% the appraised value on a reno (in this case, anything more than $22,000), you’re now responsible for bringing the ENTIRE property up to modern flood zone code – not sure what it is in OR but i know that my friends had to build all their “living floors” above a first floor garage for safety reasons. new build is really the only option here since requirements have changed so much over the years!!

      i can imagine that this is why the sellers were happy to get the property off their hands – SO CHARMING but also needs more than 22k of work, so this place was basically doomed to be stuck in time (at least, it was til Ken and Katie stepped in :)). bureaucracy is fun!!!

      1. It’s how FEMA incentivizes people to stop dumping money into flood-prone areas that then get destroyed; flood insurance is way upside down and cost for it is skyrocketing everywhere (I assume, haha I also live on a coast). I would love to know more about how you are working within FEMA’s regulations – will the site just be filled to required base flood elevation? Or will house be pulled outside of flood zone? (Idk what topo is there if that’s possible)

        To expand that, site logistics would be interesting to me!

        1. Also interested in this, and how/if you’ll be future-proofing. A lot of FEMA’s floodmaps have not yet been revised to take into account global warming and sea-level rise; they’re really behind on this due to lack of acceptance in the administration that it’s a real thing (and it goes back farther than just the Drump admin). A lot of folks are finding themselves with a flooded house when they’re not even in a mapped floodzone and therefore don’t have flood insurance (think Houston/Harvey). If I was doing a new build along a waterbody, I would be hiring a hydrologist to do some flood models (or have the architect work with one). The “100-yr and 500-yr” storms no longer come every 100 or 500 yrs. Global warming is making this concept obsolete.

      2. Water Resources Engineer here who works in floodplain management… what Caitlin said is mostly accurate. Substantial improvements (>50% of the value) for structures (homes) below the base flood elevation in a FEMA designated special flood hazard area must be bought into compliance with the current National Flood Insurance Program rules. This often involves elevating structures and flood-proofing levels below the regulatory flood elevation.

        Even if the structure is mitigated for flood risk by elevating above the base flood elevation or building outside the high-risk area there’s still a chance of flooding and I strongly recommend still purchasing a flood insurance policy. More than 1 in 3 flood claims come from properties outside a high-risk flood zone! A lot of the FEMA flood insurance studies are outdated and don’t take into account the increased flooding probabilities we are seeing with climate change patterns. Many communities are trying to update standards above and beyond those required by the National Flood Insurance Program to build communities that are more resilient to flood disasters. Yes it’s a lot of bureaucracy but it’s ultimately for the protection of the homeowner and benefits all tax payers by putting less burden on the disaster relief and recovery programs.

    3. Absolutely agree on the electric comment– it (maybe?) seems trivial, but heat pumps and induction ranges/cooktops are really necessary appliances to have in any energy efficient and/or sustainable new build. And, given that we already know this will be a beautiful home, I’d love to be pinning something that features these important appliances long into the future! You can definitely use this project to be the ambassador for actual, not just greenwashed, sustainability for the design world. I’m SO LOOKING FORWARD to this!

      1. I need to do WAY more research. and it should be said that what I want might not be what they want. There is a company up there called Birdsmouth that i’m hoping to help consult on this, because there is a lot of misinformation and misconceptions out there, too. stay tuned 🙂

        1. Living on this street, I will say, if they decide to go mostly electric, ensure they also invest in a generator. We tend to lose electricity on this street often in storms (due to the gorgeous trees) and we always seem to be the last ones to get it back on. Love the idea of considering mother earth while designing this new place. Can’t wait to see the progress!

        2. If the house is well insulated you can both heat and cool using a heat pump. Your electricity can mostly come from solar panels with a battery. Of course you’ll need to check if this works in your local conditions, but definitely a possibility. I’m really looking forward to hearing about the sustainable aspects of this build, as well as stuff like floor plans etc, as I’m starting out on a similar project.

          One thing to consider, materials described as eco friendly may be great in terms of energy conservation, but not so great either for sustainable production, end of life or for human health. There are so many materials and options out there and you need to look at them all carefully to see whether they are truly what’s right for future occupants of the home or for the planet!

      2. This is the third comment this week that I have seen stating that electric appliances (including induction) are more energy efficient and sustainable than natural gas. I am genuinely curious (no hidden snark) how the commenters determine this. Shouldn’t the source of local electric power figure into calculations of sustainability? For example, most electricity in Georgia is provided by coal-powered plants, so I opted for natural gas when I renovated my kitchen 18 months ago. Can anyone clarify?

          1. Yet, her recent kitchen post reveals a gas stove?? I remembered reading that post not long ago, and did a double take when I saw the stove!

          2. Ashley has a post where she shared all the research she did. She also shared the decision she ultimately made & why it was the right decision for them at that time.

        1. If you follow Saul Griffith ( a MacArthur genius recipient) and his organization, you’ll be brought up to speed on no time 🌸. Also, he’s got the best Aussie accent; he is a fabulous podcast guest and have heard him on several different ones! 👍

    4. I’m intrigued by this electric versus gas idea. My husband is a thermodynamics engineer who designs boilers for powerplants. Many powerplants are converting from coal to natural gas because of the abundance of gas and the lower cost. So, ultimately, I wonder if there is truly a difference since many municipalities are using natural gas to generate their electricity. Of course, if all your electricity is generated by renewable resources then it’s probably a win. I’ll definitely be looking into this more as being green is important to our family. My husband’s job has definitely taught me that truly being green/energy efficient is more complicated than it seems on the surface. Thanks for the food for thought!

      1. A lot of the determination has to do with time of day use and the energy mix. In California for instance, we generate most of our daytime use through renewable sources, and then starting around 4 pm, the grid gets a lot dirtier because the natural gas power plants kick up. Switching up personal use habits can help use clean excess capacity during the day. I think in Oregon the grid is pretty clean 24 hours a day because they have a lot of hydropower that supplies the electricity.

        I am not sure if you saw the Grand Designs where the people built their house in a river flood zone, but the house was built using a system where it gently rose with the flood waters. It was really neat engineering!

  6. I would LOVE to hear about ways your architect designed for your budget. What features did she call out as being too expensive and why? What materials did she call out because they’re too expensive to have installed? Those value engineering concepts are GOLD!

    1. YES please! All about the splurge/save conversation. Would love to know what she says no to, as well as where she offers substitutions that achieve a similar visual effect without breaking the budget.

  7. Holy moley lady, you’re gonna have two houses on the go over the next couple of years?! Woohooo for us, I’m already excited for what’s to come! I’m interested to hear all of what your brother and his family want to share – how to design a house to fit the scope of a site, floor plans, choice of materials, all of it. And I don’t want to jinx anything by saying ‘flood plain’ but I live near a town that often floods and so I’m also interested to see how the building/construction will/can mitigate/address that issue and whether it influences the choice of materials used in the house.

    1. Not knowing exactly where this is, but knowing the river it’s on and this area pretty well, there’s a damn not even a mile up the river from this spot and multiple flow-regulation structures along this river. While flooding is always a risk while living close to water, this is a controlled river and the risk is much lower.

  8. Since the average person can afford (I assume) a powerhouse team like the one assembled, I’m curious to know what percentage of the project goes to the team and what is the actual cost of the house itself. Does it at 50%, less, more? How does a person afford to pay the team? Do they get paid at the end?

    1. At least in Los Angeles, an architect bills by time spent/square footage; a contractor takes a fee of 20% of the final cost; and a designer is 10% of final cost (sometimes with additional cost per hour depending on the time/tasks). They usually get paid in installments along the way, with a final 10% held at the end until full completion.

  9. Ooh, I’m very excited for this! My question is based on personal experience: My parents’ home flooded with six feet of water during Hurricane Harvey, and they don’t live in a flood plane. How will you plan for/mitigate the likelihood that the property will get and hold flood waters from time to time? What, in addition, to building up can you do to protect yourselves? I know there are materials out there created for this sort of thing, so I’m very curious to read more about them.

  10. I’m in the middle of a new build and here are the things keeping me up at night that I would love to learn more about: How to mix finishes in a room (like a bathroom), pros/cons of painted or stained cabinets, how to choose vanity sizes for big bathrooms, I’m sure you are doing custom vanities but would love to see how to choose a good quality storebought vanity (what to look for), how to choose doorknobs and finishes for hardware, setting up a lighting plan (how many sconces are too many? how many can lights are too many? which rooms need to be brighter than day and which are ok to stay darker?), different woods and their uses, wallmount vs. single hole vs. centermount vs. widespread faucets… I could go on but I’ll stop for now. 🙂

    1. Half of the people on the team are the family. She can’t help that her family is white. Lol. And the state of Oregon is 86% white. Are we going to pretend it’s not? So getting a diverse LOCAL design team is not going to be possible on every project.

    2. ken, annie and JP are an existing team that have worked together for years on multiple projects. as the team expands diversity will certainly a priority. I love that we have a female architect and she is killer. xx

    3. If I’m paying someone to design/build my home, diagnose/operate on me, or perform any number of other specialized services, I don’t care what color or gender he or she is. I want the most skilled, experienced, honest specialist possible. YMMV.

  11. Very curious to hear how you deal with the lot shape and necessary setbacks! Please share.

  12. I lurve the sound of the sustainability elements. 😊
    I wonder if some solar company or suchlike might be up for a partnership?

    Man! This sounds like a mammoth amount of work, I’m so glad you have a team helping!

    My brother has a country property fronting a river near national park in a place called Nannup. Eagles, native marsupials, it’s stunning, also flood prone and tricky, so this’ll be a really interesting project for me to track.

    1. there has been so much talk about the flood plane and admittedly my eyes glaze over and its not my responsibility (thank goodness). Annie and JP along with engineers, geo-experts – all the right proper channels are setting the house up for success (and to be legal). its a LOT!! Like the whole basement and garage has to be built to withstand 6′ flood planes (I believe). Annie is doing a great job of staying on top of it.

      1. Even with the flood-mitigation measures, I hope your brother and SIL will still look into a good flood insurance policy. They can be reasonably priced with an elevation certificate and would bring some piece of mind in protecting their investment in their new family home. Extreme precipitation and flood events are more probable with the climate change trends we are seeing so even though it may be built to the current standards to be legal it doesn’t completely eliminate the risk for flood damage potential!

  13. Oh– this is going to be fun– so looking forward to following along. That first photo of you and your brother is just sweet, I love it!

  14. I’m over the moon that you’re working with Max Humphrey. I don’t know the others (yet) but I’m sure this will be fantastic. Having said that, and having grown up about a mile from the Mississippi in Iowa, I would never live on a river! lol But also having spent a lot of time in Hawaii, I see why they build their close-to-the-water houses on stilts. (I learned to water ski on the Mississippi.)

    To me, Max almost defines Pacific Northwest Americana. Funny, since he’s only lived there a fairly short time. I have looked at his website so many times and I love it that the pink and white basement is you friend’s basement! Your style and his are very different. It will be fun to see what you do together. You’re right; he does have an inspiring bravery!

    This project, plus your house, will give you so much content for the foreseeable future! And it will all be in the same general neighborhood. Lots of happy reading ahead for me and all your readers.

  15. So fun! Would love to hear more from the architects perspective and floor plan options, versions, how they change and rework them etc. Excited to see it all unfold!

  16. I’m so excited about this project! A river house near Portland is awesome. And you’ve built an amazing team. Can’t wait to see more.

  17. super exciting! love the moodboard, but can i gently advocate for birds here and encourage you to consider them when adding big windows or windows that allow a view from one side of the house to the other? it can be really confusing to their little bird brains, especially if the windows reflect vegetation or allow a view of vegetation on the other side! here’s a great resource one why they hit windows and how to prevent it from happening, including info for people building new home! thanks for considering!

    1. I would agree with this! We have large windows and for certain times of the year, I just put up a bunch of post it notes in various places to prevent bird strikes. You really don’t want the kids living here to walk outside and find a dead or injured bird. It’s really not a good experience.

      1. Hmm. I disagree. Death is part of life. As a parent, it’s been my experience that the kids finding a dead bird or rodent or whatever sparked a good conversation about that.

        1. ok we can’t prevent every critter’s death but… certainly a living creature is worth more than just being a conversation starter with children?

          1. Amanda: You misunderstood. I wasn’t disagreeing with Susan’s efforts to protect birds. I was disagreeing with “You really don’t want kids to walk outside and find a dead or injured bird.” I don’t think kids finding a dead or injured bird is anything to fret about.

    2. Actually “little bird brains” is a misnomer. Check out the excellent books by Jennifer Ackerman (“The Genius of Birds” and “The Bird Way”).

      Birds are not as dim and confused as people think they are. I mean humans have big brains and yet we run into walls and windows, too. 😉

      1. louann–i’m definitely aware of the misnomer…but millions of migratory birds die every year from window collisions, so while they may be intelligent in many ways, a lot of them just still haven’t figured out the whole window situation we’ve thrown at them.

        not trying to say birds are idiots, just trying to advocate for less harm on our part, because unlike sue i don’t think a dead bird is a great conversation starter…especially when that bird didn’t have to die in the first place.

  18. Exciting!! I’m wondering how you and Max are going to split the content, like who reveals first, who gets the magazine spread, who gets to use what photos for their portfolio going forward, etc. It would be very interesting if you lifted the curtain on this.

    Also, is your brother paying you? If yes, I guess he was fine with paying both you and Max. 🤔

  19. Emily, this looks amazing and as a fellow Portlander, it’s super exciting to have all this design awesomeness happening in our city!

    Something that’s bugged me over the years is when you mention “good” schools and districts. I bring this up as a member of a family of educators (like you). When creating the dichotomy of good vs bad schools, the vast majority of the time what is reflected is the socio-economic status around the school/within the district.

    It’s easy to have “good” schools with great test scores and lower teacher/student ratios when you have kids with educated middle/upper-class parents and PTA’s that create foundations to fund additional teachers and programs within their school.

    We all want “good” schools for our kids, but most can’t afford (historically especially Black and brown folks) to move into the higher priced neighborhoods that guarantee the “good” schools, that have little to do with the actual school, and nearly everything to do with the socio-economic status of your neighbors.

    I think you said you read How to be An Anti-Racist. There’s a great chapter in there talking about opportunity gap vs. achievement gap. I think shifting language among middle/upper class white parents (of which I am one), away from good vs bad schools (which is based on achievement metrics) is a direction towards more equitable outcomes in the future.

    I also strongly suggest listening to the podcast Nice White Parents, if you haven’t already.

    Thanks for hearing me out. I’m a fan, and a near-daily reader.

    1. I agree (I now cringe any time I hear or read that concept of “good schools”) and recommend the podcast Integrated Schools, too!

    2. This is something I think about a lot! I think it’s important to be able to describe the real, racist/classist differences between certain schools… without perpetuating the systemic causes. For example, are there cops in the schools promoting the school to prison pipeline? Are the buildings safe without lead paint or tainted drinking water? It’s ok for individual parents to want to send their kids to a school that meets some basic qualifications, and of course we need ways to describe the inequities between different schools and school districts. I’ve been trying to use the term “well-resourced schools” to describe schools that are sufficiently staffed, have enough school supplies and structurally sound buildings, arts programs, etc.

      1. Ha! There are almost no schools in the Portland area that are safe. They are almost all way beyond their use-by dates, with asbestos, lead paint and lead in the drinking water, not to mention that they’ll all come crashing down if we ever get that big earthquake. Because of two property tax measures that passed in the early ’90s, Measure 5 and Measure 50, the school funding model here is abysmal. I completely agree with the idea of not using a good vs bad school terminology, but it’s also a very sad fact here that the neighborhood you live in determines the quality of education for your kids. I’m really hoping that we can get some changes in place soon to change this.

    3. Agree and thank you for saying this so well. When we moved to Portland we actually had people tell us to look only in the south and west suburbs to avoid PPS, and that there were no “good” schools in SE Portland. PPS has challenges like all urban districts, but we are here in SE, attending/supporting our local public schools and working to be part of a solution for equitable schools for all kids. The language around good/bad schools and districts is damaging and disheartening.

    4. Yes, this. Thank you for pointing this out, fellow Portlander here. Our PTA actually just sent out an email saying they came up short on the budget to fund an assistant position for next year. The email said (not a direct quote, a summation): “we are only $35k short, that’s not much! Let’s get together and raise this!”. The money was raised before the week was out. As someone who lives on the edge of the boundary of this “good school” my mind was blown that there are parents that have that kind of cash on hand to make this happen. I’m thankful, but also feel guilty. Nice White Parents was very eye opening.

  20. I would love to hear about any considerations to plan for solar gain. The combination of wanting exposed windows for sun but also wanting overhangs for covered porches in rainy season is an balance I’m trying to work through on a new build my husband and I are starting. We are doing it ourselves on a budget so no architect to rely on for help. I’m super excited for these OR projects to help guide some considerations we may not have been able to learn on our own so far.

  21. I’m looking forward to OH CRAP moments – please include them! Most of us out here lack the resources and access that you have with your team to fix or mitigate things. Knowing about the oopsies can not only save us from repeating them, but show us how they are corrected, and that they aren’t the end of the world.
    OHMYGOSH I’m so looking forward to seeing how both projects unfold and the final homes. Thanks for bringing us along!

  22. This will be fun! Not exciting exactly because it’s hard to feel excited about something that will unfold over 3 years but a good anticipation 😉 I AM super excited to read about “how to think like an architect” because I realized a few years ago how important it is to having a lovely, good-feeling (as well as good looking) home. A bunch of box shaped rooms grouped together is not it. My current home is just a basic rectangular ranch on the outside but somebody put thought and knowledge into its architectural elements that give it a more special feel. Things like orientation on the lot, window and door placement, sightlines, flow, ceiling pitch, a sense of expansion as you move from the mudroom to the living space, that kind of stuff. Tell me all the things!!

  23. Oh my gosh!!! So excited for this project!!! I live in a river house in Nashville. It’s an old log cabin (which we adore) plus a poorly done nineties addition, which we’d love to redo one day. We’d aim for a modern / contemporary style that would complement, but not “match”, the cabin.
    I’d love to see how to best capitalize on the river view. Do you create narrower rooms so that each gets its slice of view? Do you allow a horizontal expanse across one larger room for a more impressive span of river view?
    I’ll read each and every post associated with this project. SOOOO very glad this is happening!!

  24. Excited for the new project and particularly interested in seeing as much budget breakdown as possible. I love a good transparent budget post.

  25. Totally unrelated to the topic at hand but since you did bring it up: Jenny Komenda and Shavonda Gardner aren’t Enneagram 3s, so you do know a couple at least lol! Jenny got me into the Enneagram and has mentioned how often bloggers and influencers are 3s….I’ve found I don’t closely follow any of the ones who are 3s, so I believe you when you say you’re not one.

  26. For this project, I’d love to learn about how sustainability is practiced in terms of design and materials at each phase (architecture, demo, build, material section, furnishing…). Why any compromises might need to be made in terms of sustainability, for example something might be cost prohibitive, if so then a deeper dive into why that material/item costs more, etc. Also interested in designing/building for big weather events, like flooding, which relates to a structure being sustainable. And how/if this project in any way impacts the ecosystem of the river and how to minimize that impact. And all the floorpans, I love pouring over floorpans 🙂

  27. I would actually love to know more about things like permits, buildable space, setbacks and things like that. I feel as if sometimes we all want to fast forward to the pretty things like wall colors and materials but the groundwork is a necessary process. I know it varies from city to city and state to state but things like this would be so helpful for us (me) haha to understand what is allowed and why.

  28. Oh wow, this is gonna be so much fun! I found that after 18 years working in remodeling a new build is friggin’ heaven. Good architecture is mathematical poetry.

  29. So exciting! We recently moved to the Midwest from New Zealand and this is the type of architecture we are used to and miss SOOO much! I look forward to following along on this ride 🙂

    1. I live in NZ and thought same! If we ever move from here, we will miss this type of architecture as well. I think it’s fitting because the Portland climate is so similar to NZ.

  30. Can’t wait to see the magic of this, I’m very interested in this modern look. I would love to see how you plan to bring in warmth to a modern space. I’m always drawn to the exteriors of a modern design, but they can feel cold on the inside.

  31. I love you and am genuinely happy for both your immediate and extended family, but I am finding this blog less relatable as it drifts further into “dream home” territory. It’s a natural evolution for you and where you are in your life, and I respect that. But I am sad to leave a site that once fit me so well.

    1. I find myself really enjoying the posts by her staff and guests – their house hunts and slow renovations all shared with tons of honesty and transparency.

  32. Can’t wait to see what you all come up with! I’m already loving Max’s think outside the box creativity. BTW, Elsie Larson of A Beautiful Mess is also a 7. 🙂

  33. So cool! I’m really looking forward to following along on both projects. And I really love reading what you write Emily. There are so many wonderful writers on your team but you’ll always be my favorite. 😊

  34. As a current architecture student, I am eagerly awaiting that blog post on how to think like an architect!

  35. I live on a flood plain; we had to have flood insurance when we built, and we kept it for years as the price escalated even without any claims by us. BUT you are not required to have it once your mortgage is paid down. We dropped it after paying off the mortgage because the policy would cover damage to the bottom level – the garages and mostly unfinished basement. FEMA requires (at least in our river drainage) all living areas to be at least three feet above the river dike which is well above the 300 year flood mark and would not flood. It might be a risk, but it is one we are willing to take. Climate change has made our winters far less severe than even 20 years ago when we built, and there is usually less runoff from the surrounding. Usually. Hopefully. Fingers crossed.

  36. I’m so excited from this. SO EXCITED. I’m from Portland and have friends who live basically spitting distance from this lot and it is soooo beautiful and peaceful. I’m looking at building in a flood plain with wetlands myself (in another area of the country), so I’m going to be glued to this to find out how you navigate that and how you manage to build in this area, with the land restrictions, for the budget parameters of the permit.

  37. So exciting! I can’t wait to see the way this all comes together. I know their kiddos will be at least a year or so older (I imagine) by the time they move in, but I hope the blog includes some notes on how they plan to make riverside living safe for young kiddos. Obviously my parental anxiety is showing, but in our house hunting, I almost immediately vetoed anything with a body of water on the property, because the risk always seems greater than the reward for me.

  38. Emily! I’m so excited for this new OR phase for you! Both the farm and river property are amazing – and how cool that you get to enjoy both! I can’t wait to follow along with Max too. He has a 4 vibe while you bring the 7!
    I can totally see from afar how you are more 7 than 3 (coming from a 9). You have an authenticity, vibrancy, that 3s do not have.
    Thank you for the continued inspiration!

  39. So timely! We are early stages in starting a new build in the mountains outside of Seattle and I was just in an internet rabbit hole last night trying to find good online resources (literally wished EHD had guidance but knew you were more remodel focused!) Here for the PNW Modern River (in my case Mountain) vibe. Ours will be a family vacation home + rental property and we’re planning to do semi-custom. I’m giddy with ability to create a beautiful, stylish home, but since we definitely have a budget (it’s not a main home build). Excited for the architect post + other resources on what to think about when building, how to source materials in stylish but mid-price ranges, etc. + Guidance on where to turn online to do your own research!!

  40. This is my favorite place on the internet (besides Google). Sometimes my heart goes out to you Emily and Co, because try as you might, the peanut gallery (myself included!) just NEEDS to call you out on every possible thing. We just cannot allow you to gloss over a thing: energy sources, floodplains, earthquakes, historic preservation, racism, diversity, education inequality…and on and on. For the most part, I think this is absolutely fantastic. But damn, you all must have thick skins to persevere. Kudos for staying true to your goals while also being open and receptive to the whole internet’s input! 🙂

  41. This is SOOO FUN. I’m excited to watch the Farm and River house unfold. Also – the 7s I know are creative/artistic energy-bunnies. I think it’s under recognized 😉

  42. Ha, my house and the houses of my closest friends look very similar to the falling-down, unsafe-to-walk-through, impossible-to-repair edifice currently on the property; maybe even worse.

    Since contractors to repair our homes are extremely difficult to find in my tiny town, I’d love to see a post directly from your contractor himself. He could write about almost anything related to construction jobs and it would be interesting to me.

    Another thing I haven’t seen requested in the comments yet would be posts about how the Starkes will be using the river: do they have or will they build a dock and shed; does the riverbank have a beach-like area; will there be something like a gazebo or deck near the water where they can sit close to the view? How is the island shared, and with how many other homeowners?

    Looks like a great team. I hadn’t heard of Max Humphrey until he was featured in the color palette post the day before this post, and I loved seeing his decor. Thinking of pre-ordering his book …

  43. I’d love to know if sustainability and being green is a focus and if it is how is that accomplished? I’ve also been learning about preventing mold and read about how new “green” homes are often too airtight and that contributes to major mold issues down the line, so is this something the average builder considers? Lol or is it just me? Sounds like a really cool project and I’m excited to follow along!

  44. I am just so excited to see the whole River House/Farm House projects. Years of fun! Yipeee!!!

  45. This is my dream house!!!! I see a wide variety of exterior, floor and ceiling finishes in your current mood board. Would love to hear about how you finally make those decisions. Pros/ cons/ price per sqft/ and how you’re sourcing the materials etc would be greatly appreciated. Can’t wait to follow along! It’s going to be a work of art.

  46. Interested to see if there are any geothermal opportunities here, and to hear if solar is an option. Solar is so hard in this climate with all of the tree cover. Agree with the person saying to have a back-up generator! This general area does lose power often and this past snow storm showed how long it can take to get back up and going. Can’t imagine it’s going to get better any time soon since we can’t afford to bury the power lines.

  47. Every little thing. Four years ago, we built our second new home. I am intrigued by the process, the people and the 2000 plus decisions made when building a new home. Bring it! Have fun!

  48. Dear Ken & Emily, what a fun project! Maybe, can I be your local fisheries biologist popping in to mention (to you & readers) that future modifications or shrub clearing to enhance the river view & island may unintentionally harm important salmon habitat. Your brother bought a parcel that provides critical off-channel salmon habitat for resting & refuge during fish migration to the ocean & during high winter flows (aka floods). Since realtors rarely mention there may be beautification constraints along the river, and as responsible developers it’s important to model and show wildlife-conscious actions, I wanted to mention there are a lot of free local conservation resources to assist. Check out the local soil & water conservation district district for a start (everyone), or give me a shout! I’m just up the Columbia River in the Gorge, if you like. Cheers! -AG

  49. I really love the idea that this will integrate more contemporary/modern design… love all the styles but that’s my happy place… this will be fun!

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