Moving to a Portland, Oregon Craftsman-Style Home Turns Owners into Preservationists
Peggy Moretti: After living in the San Francisco Bay Area for many years, we found ourselves at a crossroads in 2002. Our youngest child had just started college, and we’d sold our stake in a business. For our next chapter, we decided to move to Portland. We looked around Portland Heights, which is a neighborhood with a lot of great turn-of-the-century homes and is still very close to downtown. On our very first visit there, we found the one for us. It was built in 1906 and is one of the earliest Craftsman-style homes in Portland.
Robb Moretti: Before we even walked inside, we saw this wonderful Dutch door with hammered brass brackets and a top half of hand-blown bottle glass. It was like, “Now that’s a door!” Then we opened the door and saw the big stone fireplace and thought, “Wow, that’s a great fireplace!”
Peggy: We knew it needed work, since it had been a rental for a while and had a lot of deferred maintenance. The kitchen was dysfunctional, and there was a bathroom from hell. We didn’t know anything about historic preservation, but the realtor mentioned that another couple had come through and had been researching the architect, Emil Schacht. Through them, we connected with the Architectural Heritage Center in Portland and learned about period-appropriate rehabilitation. The center’s programs and annual Kitchen Revival tour helped educate our eye and guide our decisions.
We learned that Emil Schacht was a regionally significant architect who designed the house for Louis Pfunder. Pfunder designed parks and gardens and was a major business figure in the community. The house is special because of its design and also for its stained-glass windows by Povey Brothers, a famous glass studio in Portland. The windows are on all four sides of the house and have floral motifs like water lilies and tulips.
Robb: When Pfunder built this house, the neighborhood was new, and Craftsman style would have been very cutting-edge for its time. The way the house is sited, you can see it from blocks away. He was a German immigrant who had made good, and we suspect he was showing off a little.
Peggy: To acknowledge all the craftsmanship and local heritage that are embodied in the house, we decided to nominate it for a National Register listing. The state of Oregon also gives you a tax break by freezing your assessed property value in exchange for rehabilitating a listed home. And we wanted the home to have some degree of protection—we’ve seen some fabulous houses demolished here in the urban core of Portland.
Robb: It takes time to go through the process and do the research. Fortunately, the previous owner left us a postcard with a photograph of the house from 1910, so we could see what it looked like originally.
For the first few years we just worked on getting a livable bathroom and fixing up the kitchen, which was not original to the house. We took some of the kitchen walls down to the studs and saw the pencil marks made by the contractors in 1906. We found the original bill of lading for all the lumber used for the woodwork. When we redid the kitchen, we created a little time capsule and buried it in the wall, knowing that there will be someone who will redo that room in the future.
Peggy: It wasn’t until year five that we got around to the exterior renovation, which the state historic preservation office had to sign off on. We believe that the house originally had stained cedar shingles. We scraped off six layers of paint and repainted it in a special brown shade and accent colors designed by a consultant who specializes in period palettes. The house has 88 rafter tails, many of which needed repair. (Some were in amazingly good shape.) And we had to find someone to re-create the crazy-complicated original railing on the wraparound porch, which had been replaced by two-by-fours. It was the most expensive part of the renovation, but it transformed the house. We had a giant porch party after it was finished in 2008.
Buying this house and doing the rehab really changed our lives. It unlocked this inner preservationist that I didn’t realize was there. After we started going to the Architectural Heritage Center in 2003, I fell in love with the field and ended up joining the staff, using my background in marketing and business development. In 2009, I developed a new business plan to reboot the statewide preservation organization, which is now called Restore Oregon, and became its executive director. So the process launched me down this second career. And Robb got launched into volunteering for the organization!
Robb: When I’m not volunteering, I get to spend time in a very cool home office for my work as a management consultant. From my desk in the third-floor attic, I can see views of downtown Portland, the Columbia River, and Mount Adams. I love the feng shui of old timber and wavy glass.
Peggy: I like to think that, unlike much of the product of my earlier career, the places that have been saved will still be blessing communities when I’m long gone. When our family is together in the dining room for Thanksgiving, I can imagine all the Thanksgivings that came before us. I imagine Pfunder’s family in the exact same space over the generations, and what was going on with them and in the world. We’re sharing space with history and adding our DNA to it.