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Design

The River House Renovation Is Done!! FOUR YEARS LATER + Questions From You And How It’s All Going To Roll Out…

Four years ago my brother found a tiny kit house on a river that was vintage in all the bad ways, but the property was an absolute gem and he, like me, had dreams of living near a river where I plan on plunging every summer morning. So today, I wanted to reintroduce the project that I have been a part of for the last four years. I want to be clear that while I was heavily involved in many design decisions there were so many players involved and I am the only one documenting it – but huge credit goes to Annie Usher, JP Macy of Sierra Construction and Max Humphrey. Today I’ll give you a couple more “empty” sneak peeks (YAY!), and answer all the burning questions people seem to have about how this whole collaboration is working.

Wait, Why Did It Take Four Years? Is That Normal?

They found the property in late 2020, which was quite the year as you know. Planning a new build can be fast if it’s in a development with a basic plan for a house that is easy to replicate. Therefore, permits are mostly signed off on (or so I’ve heard) but this house is near a river which means that a lot more engineering and permitting needed to happen to ensure that it is solid and can be flood-resistant. Not to mention all the pylons that were drilled into what felt like miles underground to find our firm foundation (sorry, neighbors – that was LOUD). So the planning took a year, at least. But honestly, the supply chain situation, the cost of wood for framing, and the scarcity of subcontractors or higher quotes kept my brother from wanting to move super fast. And without a rush to move in they intentionally waited for costs to come down and the supply chain to normalize (which wasn’t til 2023). I was not really involved in any of this – Annie Usher, the architect (who did an incredible job) and an engineer, and JP Macy of Sierra Custom Construction are to be credited for all this planning. It was 2 years from foundation pouring to move-in and that sounds super fast when you think of all the work that goes into a house of this scale and quality.

What Was The Initial Inspiration And Vibe?

We wanted this to be a contemporary and yet cozy river house, similar to the mountain house, with more PNW vibes. Ken and his wife (and me, duh) love the mountain house because of its simplicity and ease to just exist there. So a lot of the choices were modeled after that (tons of wood, focus on nature, warm minimalism, views), with the hopes that the decor and styling will be more PNW-inspired. I’m excited to bring in cozy colors into the decor but we have a great neutral foundation to get going.

Does My Brother Pay Me Like A Design Client? (Kinda?)

I’ve mentioned it before but it’s such a common question so here goes: I essentially struck a deal with my brother four years ago that I’d donate my time in exchange for the rights to document the design process here. This meant that they wouldn’t get full creative control (and neither might I, btw), but that I’d be able to help them land deals to bring down the cost of some materials, fixtures, and finishes. Meanwhile, my time is paid for by our brand partners, ad traffic on the blog, and more (read below). It can slow things down (some contracts take 2-3 months to solidify) but is worth it in the end to get the best of the best. This takes a huge amount of bravery and trust on my brother’s part because this project was still expensive, despite the (literal) material contributions of EHD, and so much of the process is out of his control. It’s 100% not normal but hopefully will pay off.

How Does The Pitching Work?

At this point, we’ve built incredible relationships with all kinds of partners (whom I love – it’s great when the people are as awesome as the product), and after years of collaboration, they’ve seen firsthand that EHD can create high quality photo and video assets. You often see these on the blog or on our stories, but partners often use these shots or clips on their own sites and in their own paid marketing. These partnerships often gain a second life through print media, like our Soake Pool partnership in this month’s Better Homes & Gardens. 

So this time, I pitched certain projects and areas in the River House to a handful of our tried-and-true partners. Those spaces became my focus, but it also means that I wasn’t involved with some of the more granular renovation work like the electrical plan, window/door plan, HVAC, etc. Obviously, I want the entire house to be stunning from top to bottom so I was emotionally invested in all decisions, but there’s only so much you can do in a day:) Moving forward, my job is threefold. I’m going to make Ken and Katie happy (because it’s their house, and they are still paying for the labor – it’s not totally free for them), I’m going to put my own spin on the home (you’ll see it here on the blog), and eventually, the team and I will work with our partners to create whatever type of assets they need.  Does this complicate things? SURE. Does it save them loads of money? YEP! I hope. I’m so used to the process that it doesn’t really phase me, but I know it frustrated others and this type of exchange definitely set us back time-wise.

WAIT… I Also Charge A Percentage Of Traded Materials

As my team became more and more involved, we had to find a way to cover their time (and not just mine). So Ken and I decided that if they loved and approved of the tile/sconce/flooring we’d suggested, they’d pay EHD 30% of the retail cost (thus saving them 70%, while helping to cover the cost of pitching, negotiating deal terms, etc.). I’m hoping this fee eventually evens out to what I spend for my team’s time but there are no guarantees (which is fine, it’s my risk to take). This is a nuanced process though and we’re constantly finding ourselves negotiating and renegotiating to make it feel fair and even. It felt weird to charge 30% when I was the one who pitched this incredible Blueprint Lighting chandelier, for example, or when I was the one pushing for certain design elements. Would they have splurged on some Ann Sacks tile? Yes, but maybe not for every single room (or even as much square footage in a room. I truly don’t think this is a model that can be replicated easily – my brother and I have a very good relationship with awesome communication and we both feel like this has been a huge win so far – THANK GOD. For the most part, it came together so beautifully. But balancing these brand relationships and building a home that I’ll be proud to share here while making sure that each of Ken and Katie’s needs are met has been our biggest job.

Do They Like Their Home Being Documented So Publicly?

I’ve never asked them but I doubt they LOVE this part of it. I know they are grateful for the benefits of this blog, just like I am and they weighed the pros and cons thoroughly before entering into this deal. I’ve already coached them to stay out of the comment section on social (we can’t control it very easily and people can say really gnarly stuff). My brother is famously hard to offend (same) but I’m not sure the whole family shares that thick fair skin. So again, they are taking a personal and emotional risk just being involved with me and this blog/social media. Neither of them have public social accounts if that tells you anything. While Ken is about as private as I am (lol not very at all), I try to be as respectful as possible. This is also why his wife isn’t in as many photos/videos – it’s just not her thing.

When Will It Be Decorated/Styled And Shot?

Well, we are working on most of the rooms now, and I’ve been iterating design plans for a few rooms in hopes of pitching a cohesive vision to our furniture and decor partners. I love this house so much and I’m excited to get my hands on every single space but I don’t have the bandwidth outside of running my company and writing this blog to do it all at once (without staffing up which I don’t want to do – I like to do it myself with my lean and mighty team!). So we’re designing slowly but surely, using each room for a purpose – the living room and family room will showcase something exciting we have been working on(!!!!), the bedrooms each have their own partner that I’ve already pitched and scheduled. And if you are wondering if I have an agent that pitches these deals the answer is “nope”. I pitch myself with the extreme support of Caitlin who handles the contracts, deliverables, and execution. We’d love to see the River House published in a magazine which means that we may need to hold a few rooms to make them exclusive to a print issue, while also revealing some to honor the deals and timelines we established with our brand partners. Does this complicate things further? IT SURE DOES. I love it, TBH. I love making a fully partnered room look interesting, personal, and unique (not like a catalog). So in one way, it’s easier to choose the major pieces that work within the style and function, but then my real creativity starts.

Are You And Max Decorating The House?

We did! While I was living in Arrowhead I knew that I needed a real pro on the ground to help design this house. Max and I were very close colleagues and I trusted him more than anyone else in Portland, and still do. He’s designed multiple of one of my best friends’ properties. He’s not family but he’s family adjacent. This collab made so much sense for a long time and his strengths were often my weaknesses. When it came to design choices we often agreed and sometimes disagreed. Ultimately, having his expertise was so beneficial on this project and I would hire him any day. I took over the furniture and decor because Ken is, well, my brother. He popped by for our empty room shoot the other day and thank god loved how some of the rooms he was super in involved in turned out.

When Can We See The First Reveal?

Well, we are shooting the bathrooms in July, the kitchen as soon as we get stools and style it out (I’m also reconsidering some design elements), the mudroom, and a patio space or two. Living, family, and dining rooms are closer to fall (with our next rug and secret project launch!!), and bedrooms will be slower to reveal. So barring a magazine exclusivity embargo the next 6 months to a year will be full of river house reveals. I’m VERY EXCITED. Again, I did NOT do this alone, i’m just the only one with the blog to document it. Annie Usher was the architect, a lot of the major spaces and bathrooms designed with Max Humphrey and JP Macy of Sierra Construction was the contractor.

I honestly get so jealous every time I’m here (and I LOVE our home so much). This sense of space and warmth, and the light – I walk in and I’m like “HOW IS THIS NOT MY HOUSE?”. I obviously have a huge emotional connection to it as well. Two very very lucky and grateful siblings, for sure 🙂 More to come ASAP. xx

Unless Otherwise Noted: Photos by Kaitlin Green

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Sally
1 month ago

Would be great if when you do the reveals you explain what PNW style is. You’ve mentioned it a few times and I’ve got no idea what it looks like. Looking forward to the seeing the rooms. Hope we get to see some of the smaller but no less interesting reveals of your team during the coming months as well still!!

Kristi
1 month ago
Reply to  Sally

I’m curious how PNW style is different than the CA style mentioned often. I see overlaps.

Kate
1 month ago

It’s beautiful, inside and out, even in these very preliminary photos! Crazy to see the original house compared to what you were able to create. The time spent waiting to build seems worth it when you look at the outcome. Can’t wait to see more of this project, as always! I have a feeling the outdoor spaces are really going to shine!

Brenda
1 month ago

It looks so good!! I always get excited to see the River House and enjoyed hearing about how you and your brother have been working together.

Susan
1 month ago

2 days ago, we experienced a 7 inch rainfall in 6 hours that took out roads and caused tens of millions of dollars in damage. This kind of event never happened when I was a kid. I’m just curious what is the plan for when the river floods? We supposedly experienced a “once in 100 year flood” in 2012, yet here we are again. I know this isn’t a weather blog but curious what further contingency planning was made to protect the house since its so close to the river.

MBJ
1 month ago
Reply to  Susan

Yeah, not to be super doom-and-gloom, but I always wonder what people in Portland think about the fact that they are long overdue for a massive earthquake/tsunami event and why it’s worth it to live there given that fact?
House is gorgeous, though!! Haha

Marisa
1 month ago
Reply to  MBJ

I think it’s worth it to live here because the climate and availability of water make it one of the most sustainable locations in the world for humans to inhabit! I have a hard time understanding whether people in the lower half of the U.S. think it’s worth it to live somewhere that’s quickly becoming too hot and dry for human survival.

Lynsy
1 month ago
Reply to  MBJ

Well a tsunami isn’t going to reach Portland with any devastating consequences. There’s an entire coastal mountain range between the Pacific and it. Come on.

Unah
29 days ago
Reply to  Lynsy

It sounds like you don’t live in Portland. Here are the tsunami evacuation plans: https://www.oregon.gov/dogami/tsuclearinghouse/Pages/pubs-evacbro.aspx

Alex
1 month ago
Reply to  MBJ

Seattle native here and I for sure think about the earthquake, especially because the city is built on unstable land (old Seattle). But just like everywhere else, if you were born here it is home. There are also tons of companies that bring in tens of thousands of employees. Not to mention the beautiful scenery, to me, probably the best in the US.
But yeah that earthquake…😬 I think we are currently overdue by a couple hundreds years so there is a good chance it won’t happen in our lifetime.

Andi J
1 month ago
Reply to  MBJ

Every time another article comes out about the BIG ONE, our family always does a check-in and asks if we all want to move. But then we think about the extreme heat, floods, hurricanes, fires, blizzards and tornado that keep hammering the rest of the country and we’re like – yeah, everywhere has its risks. Not to mention the political climate in much of the country is not in alignment with our ideals.

Kristi
1 month ago
Reply to  Susan

I live in Michigan…my husband predicts a heightened popularity of the midwest in the future due to having less natural disasters than some other areas! Seems unlikely–unless it gets that bad which I fear it might.

Susan
1 month ago
Reply to  Kristi

We are already getting climate refugees in our city in MN. My last client specifically told me he moved here because he lost his Colorado home to a wild fire and he would never live in an arrid climate again. He is retired, bought his house with cash. Said he started his search in Maine, and kept moving West in his search until he landed here. He likes the physical and political climate and that we live on Lake Superior. I’m sure desert communities are going to try to figure out how to get access to great lakes water sooner than later.

Tiffany
29 days ago
Reply to  Kristi

There was an article in the NYT last year called ‘climate-proof Duluth’ (might be where Susan is?) The city lost population for years and now it’s gained, although the actual number of new people isn’t that high (a few thousand). Still, I’m inclined to agree that the upper midwest in general is becoming more attractive as other places become hotter and more expensive. But you still have to be willing to put up with some winter.

Brianna
1 month ago

So beautiful and thank you for sharing all this context and behind-the-scenes stuff!

Alex
1 month ago

Any chance you can share the source of those gold, semi-flush ceiling lights in the hall next to the kitchen? They are exactly what I have been looking for!

Admin
1 month ago
Reply to  Alex

Here’s the link!

Roberta Davis
1 month ago

I love what I’ve seen so far. Can’t wait for all the reveals!

SARAH
1 month ago

Genuinely excited for your brighter and sil which is saying something because I think I get envious easily. The house is beautiful with how it highlights views and I’m happy that they can enjoy and share this place with their community. Well done architect, designers, and builders!

Stephanie
1 month ago

I’ll take two of every light fixture in this house, please. STUNNING. Can’t WAIT to see the reveals!

Hillary
1 month ago

I need to know if you got those stains out of the marble countertop. I’ve been stressed out about it from afar!

Lane
1 month ago

It’s so fun that you get to do this with your brother. It already looks so beautiful. Can’t wait for the full reveal.

Sam
1 month ago

Do you have a source for the four-light fixture with white globes in the photo with the white tiled fireplace?? Asking for a friend (me)

Michelle
1 month ago
Reply to  Sam

Hi! I used Google image search and it looks like the Rejuvenation poplar quad pendant!

Sam
1 month ago
Reply to  Michelle

Thank you! Looks like you are correct! I tried image search and it didn’t work for me 🙁

Linda
1 month ago

Lovely house! Not to be picky, but It’s “Fazed”, not “Phased”. ☺️

Jill
1 month ago

Love reading your blog. Positive, intelligent, informative and inspirational. Appreciate your care in crediting others, love, respect. fairness and sensitivity to your brother and sister-in-law.

hickenack
1 month ago

I consume a literal TON of design content and I’m not sure I’ve ever loved any other houses more than the mountain house and the farm. Something about these pics tells me the final result of the river house will put it in my top three.

Sona
1 month ago

Good things come to those that wait! But gosh we have to wait some more to see the furnished and styled rooms! 😂. What is the projected move in date for your brother and sister-in-law?

Kelli Burman
1 month ago

Tell us about the wood floors.

Unah
29 days ago
Reply to  Kelli Burman

I think it’s Stuga Drift on the ceilings and Stuga Shell on the floors.

emily jane
29 days ago

Wow… within even these few ’empty’ images of The River House: a feeling of calmness comfort safety? a deep exhale/release -a healing balm!

Julie
29 days ago

Oh the views!! It looks like a wonderful place to live, I’m sure to be filled with family noise and football chaos, but also refreshing and nourishing.

Nicole
29 days ago

Just seeing it empty, it looks like you’re all really nailing it! It’s BEAUTIFUL! (I’m not sure I’ve ever had such a strong reaction to an empty space!)

Hilary
29 days ago

I hope that if and when there is budget for landscaping that we get to see it! I assume whatever is chosen for this house – maybe prairie influenced / japandi, oh my – will be stunning. I absolutely love how the farm landscape has turned out so I imagine this has massive potential!

Caroline
26 days ago

It looks beautiful but what I do not understand is why you always build so extremely BIG houses in the US. To me the proportions of e.g. the living room, the number of bathrooms just seems too extreme. Very expensive also to heat, clean and maintain such a big house…