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)
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.
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.
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.
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*
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.
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