The Westwind Residence
Portland, OR, USA
It is a lush oasis, teeming with flowers and fruit trees and the smell of lavender. At its heart is a priceless work of midcentury-modern design by a leading American architect of the 20th century: resplendent with glass walls, vaulted ceilings and exquisite natural materials. It is a picturesque perch from which you can see the weather rolling in from 50 miles away, and a rare 40-acre property in city limits with scarcely a neighbor in sight.
Situated off Portland's Germantown Road, a winding two-mile path that takes one from an industrial district into a rural, forested scene, the Westwind Farm is a place to get away from it all. That could come by taking a swim in the outdoor pool, going for a wooded hike, or watching herons and hummingbirds from the kitchen window. Yet dinner with friends in downtown Portland is still only 15 minutes away. It just feels like you're away from it all.
For generations, this was a large if humble sheep farm, with fenced pastures going right up to the house and a full operation of shearing and weaving the wool onsite. What the sheep may not have noticed, though, was that at the top of this gentle slope came a panoramic view.
In 1978 the farm became much more, when its owners, the Papworth family, commissioned Portland's greatest architect, Pietro Belluschi, to design a 4,500-square-foot, three-bedroom house. By this time, Belluschi was in the late stages of a career that brought world renown, for he was a master of skyscrapers, houses, and cathedrals alike.
Born in 1899 in Italy, Belluschi came to America in 1924 to study at Cornell University. In love with Portland after a visit west, he became a star designer for the city's premier architect, A.E. Doyle, who had been responsible for many of the city's best-known civic landmarks. After Doyle's 1928 death, Belluschi first gained notice with 1932's Portland Art Museum, a pioneering work of Modernist architecture that included Frank Lloyd Wright among its admirers. In 1947 came his most famous design, for what is regarded as America's first modern glass and aluminum office building: the Equitable in downtown Portland. He would go on to design or co-design over the 1950s and '60s several famous midcentury-modern landmarks like New York's Pan Am Building and San Francisco's Cathedral of Saint Mary.
Though intertwined with the history of modernism, his career was based not on intellectual premises but on an intuition about what constituted enduring values, writes Meredith Clausen in her biography, Pietro Belluschi: Modern American Architect. Belluschi was not an experimentalist designing space-age buildings that now seem
dated. His vision, modern or not, was all about what Clausen calls lasting quality...a sense of what ultimately counts in architectural form.
Although office towers and museums may have brought him acclaim, Pietro Belluschi's most lasting designs were arguably houses. Along with colleagues like Portland's John Yeon and Seattle's Paul Kirk, Belluschi in the 1930s and '40s helped birth what is today known as the Northwest Modern residential-style, which fused principles of the International Style—clean lines and ample use of glass—with local materials like wood and practical approaches like pitched roofs with large eaves to keep the rain away. It began with masterful designs like 1937's Sutor House (subject of a recent Dwell magazine feature), which shows off a strong Japanese influence, and continued with 1948's Burkes House, a boxier beauty that Belluschi favored so much he eventually purchased it from the original owner. By the time Belluschi designed this house, his career was winding down, but this enabled the legendary architect to more fully devote himself to the design, and to channel the lessons of a half-century career.
For the great Pietro Belluschi, this project was a labor of love.
With its vaulted hemlock-clad ceiling and its wall of south-facing glass, this is an exquisite design yet also a subtle, even somewhat humble one. Belluschi and other Northwest Modern architects took inspiration from a variety of sources around the world, from Japanese pagodas and their surrounding gardens to local farmhouses with their simple rugged beauty. Yet while the Papworth and other beloved Belluschi-designed houses can feel luxurious for their many fine details, generous natural light, and wide-open volumes, these homes resist ostentatiousness and embrace a relaxed comfort.
The architect famously once wrote, \"We never could design a building as beautiful as the trees.\" And indeed, part of what's so powerful about his designs, even when they favor steel over wood and soar into the sky, is that Belluschi was always in tune with nature.
The house is situated ideally on its site, perched at the crest of a hillside that's part of Portland's West Hills and just a half-mile from the largest urban wilderness in the United States: Forest Park. Belluschi also arranged the house on a nearly perfect east-west axis with one extended living room, dining room, and kitchen along the wall of glass. From here, warmed by a fireplace clad in Belluschi's favorite Mt. Adams stone, it's possible to look far into the distance toward Washington County farmland and the Coast Range. At the same time, there is also a surprising coziness to the setting. The property isn't just a hillside, but a natural amphitheater. The owners have even hosted small outdoor, classical concerts here for charity, and needed no microphones or amplification. On either side, framing the view, are huge fir trees, and in the foreground
a series of terraced gardens. Belluschi also designed the house perfectly for passive-solar heating and a minimum of glare. Wintertime sunlight penetrates to the back of the room to provide passive-solar heating, while summer sunlight, with the help of a quintessentially Northwest Modern large overhang, falls outside the eave line.
Though it's not ostentatious architecture, there is nevertheless something breathtaking about the combination of Belluschi's clean-lined midcentury modern house with a spectacular hillside perch. It calls to mind the famous Case Study houses of Los Angeles, depicted in classic Julius Schulman photographs with these glass boxes cantilevered over their hilltop sites to take in a flickering nighttime view. The view from this perch is every bit as dramatic.
From its 1978 completion until 2002, this house had a single owner. After purchase by a local family, including an esteemed local architect inducted into the American Institute of Architects' College of Fellows, the original design has been lovingly preserved. Unlike many midcentury homes, Belluschi designed the Papworth residence with a quite contemporary open kitchen, but its particleboard cabinets and woodblock countertops were showing age. Today the kitchen retains its design essence, including the original hand-made ceramic tile kitchen floor, but sings with all new custom maple shelving and granite counters. Elsewhere, the new owners, now here for nearly two decades, began by replacing worn-out carpets and added new period-sensitive new lighting.
The house is ideal for entertaining because it's conducive to both large groups and small. The interior and exterior act in unison and a variety of different public spaces can break down larger parties into a series of more intimate conversations.
On the main floor are two bedrooms with full baths, the primary bedroom facing south and west to capture the sun and valley views. The current owners added a new door and deck just outside, which leads to an outdoor hot tub and shower, both of which have complete privacy and afternoon sun. Should new owners seek expanded space, the owner, an architect, has also designed an expanded version of the master suite that maintains the gable lines of the original house but converts the master bath to a dressing room, converts the bedroom to a large master bath and builds a larger bedroom and deck/tub extending west. There is a second main floor bedroom with a full bath en suite.
One floor below is the basement, which includes an additional bedroom, bath, and sauna as well as a recording studio created by the current owners, one of whom is a composer and producer. In fact, the entire home and outdoor terraces are wired for recording, allowing musicians in different parts of the house or even outside to play and record together. Next door to the house is a detached studio apartment, which provides another one of numerous opportunities to welcome overnight guests with an added gift of privacy. Overall the property has six complete suites with full baths.
While the essence of Belluschi's masterful original house design has been lovingly maintained, over nearly two decades the owners have transformed the rest of the property in a variety of ways, each adding value, and delight.
A new poolhouse acts as not only a place to change into a swimsuit but can double as a yoga studio or even a tiny guesthouse. It was constructed with Port Orford cedar using traditional Japanese timber-framing techniques, and no nails. Just steps away to the east is a root-cellar building, the oldest structure on the property, which has been lovingly remodeled into a two-story, loft-style guest house in an agricultural building. There is also a glass greenhouse with its own commercial irrigation and propagating equipment, anchored by a Meyer lemon tree.
Most of all, the current owners have made Westwind a place that garden clubs and Audubon Society chapters want to visit. When they purchased the property, it included 10-foot-tall blackberry brambles and sheep fences. In its place, they added hundreds of trees, from Douglas fir, hemlock, and Italian cypress to cedar, redwood, and pine. They planted thousands of colorful bulbs, flowers, and a veritable orchard's worth of apples, cherries, currants, and raspberries. Above the house, a segment of the property is now full of lavender fields, which double as a modest income source. The farm has been run organically and even certified organic by Oregon Tilth. The owners also donated the lower, wooded 20 acres to the Three Rivers Conservancy, which will hold the land as a conservation easement in perpetuity.
All of which makes the Westwind Farm feel like a forested wonderland, where elk, rabbits, coyotes, and even the occasional cougar or bobcat roam, and where a vast array of birds come to visit. It doesn't take an expert birdwatcher or a pair of high-powered binoculars to spot hawks, eagles, herons, owls, sparrows, swallows, robins, and woodpeckers. The many flowering varietals also attract countless varieties of native bees and butterflies.
Living here, its owners say, gives one a greater sensitivity to nature. On days with blue sky and sunshine, it feels idyllic: a kind of paradise where modern design meets an almost fecund sense of natural abundance, and the pool is practically begging for a dive. Other times, when the fog rolls in, the dampening effect makes this place as quiet as a meditative retreat. It's easy to forget how centrally located Westwind actually is. Not only is downtown Portland accessible in 15 minutes, but living here gives one a head start on driving to picturesque Astoria and the Oregon Coast. Just down Germantown Road five minutes away is the St. John's Bridge, carrying one to Northeast Portland, the airport, Mt. Hood, and the Columbia River Gorge. Heading west down the hill puts one in close proximity to major Washington County employers like Nike and Intel, not to mention Willamette Valley wine country.
Westwind Farm is a rural paradise and architectural gem you never want to leave. It just happens to be ideally centrally located. Either way, living here is a dream.