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Light house- an architect's vision

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TOP: Paula Acker looked for furniture that was “minimalist and uncluttered.” The crisp white modern shapes are warmed up with a tribal rug and colorful accent pillows.

MIDDLE: Paula Acker relaxes in her front room. A single slab of granite from the Rebuilding Center adds interest above the “fireplace,” actually an energy-efficient wood-burning stove.

BELOW: An alcove off the living room serves as the TV room. A tall, narrow window in the corner provides a peek from the front entrance onto the far wall. Greg Acker designed it to frame a view of a tall, narrow sculpture.

//Photos by Paula Watts

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Step through the front door of this hillside home and face an expansive view of sky and cityscape. Floor-to-ceiling glass, white walls and pale-gray tile floors create an airy feel. Even normally enclosed spaces, hallways and stairways remain visually open with interior windows that welcome natural light into back corners and frame rooms into pleasing compositions. 

“I never tire of the view,” says Paula Acker. “The sky changes. The light changes.”

Seeing things in a new light is what the Paula and Greg Acker do best. She’s a therapist. He’s an architect. Greg was an early explorer of sustainable design and has become an expert in demand on international projects. The Portland couple met and married 37 years ago. They raised two sons, Andrew and Loren, in one of Greg’s first green designs. With the boys grown and gone, the time was right for change. 

The Ackers wanted to live small but still have space for an additional dwelling unit to rent. They wanted to live close in so they could walk to work but they also wanted an energy-efficient house rarely found in older neighborhoods. They found what they needed in an existing house in Portland Greg could modify. 

“It was just a little green stucco house, but the minute we walked into it, I knew Greg would want it,” says Paula. “It’s an architect’s site.”

They kept the original basement and infrastructure of the 1924 house in the northwest hills overlooking the city but not much else remains the same. The main living area is a relatively modest 1,500 square feet that accommodates an open kitchen, living and dining room, an alcove like TV room, and the master bedroom and bath. An additional dwelling unit and two home offices bring the total square footage to 3,000. They put in sustainable bamboo kitchen cabinetry and repurposed the old ones in the laundry room. Stainless steel forms the L-shape counter top, sinks and backsplash. A secondary workspace is topped with a thick slab of white marble with steel-gray streaks. Greg salvaged it from a remodeling job in California decades earlier, moving it from home to home without ever finding the right spot for it. 

“It was propped up against our garage at the last place,” says Paula with a laugh. “I said, Honey, you have to find a use for it or let it go.”

 

 


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TOP: Paula’s mother lived in Brookings, where she regularly combed the beach to find the glass fishing floats now displayed in their living/dining area.

MIDDLE: Recessed energy-efficient lighting runs the length of the counter. A white and gray marble slab rescued 35 years earlier from demolition finally found a home in their kitchen.

BELOW: An expansive view within walking distance of work drew the Ackers to buy an older home and rebuild to be energy efficient.

//Photos by Paula Watts

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All the appliances are electric. Some argue that electric is less energy efficient but the Ackers don't consider natural gas a renewable resource. Their induction stove looks similar to other glass-ceramic models but the new technology can boil a pan of water in seconds and almost immediately cools off so it’s safe to the touch. Very important, Greg points out, if they ever have grandchildren. 

“That stove,” says Paula, “is kind of our hope chest.”

Paula loves the light walls and floors but was ready to introduce a little color to the mix. Greg was skeptical.

“You know how architects would like everything to be white, black or gray,” she says.

While Greg was in the Middle East for work, Paula took a chance and painted one wall in the living room an adobe brick color. They both like the way it brings out the shades of sand, rust and gray in the granite slab that sits above the wood-burning stove.

A side table against one wall holds dozens of pale blue and green glass floats collected by Paula’s mother, who lived in Brookings. Above it hangs a vintage 1934 World’s Fair poster Greg’s parents bought on their honeymoon to Chicago. Even though the two things are completely unrelated, somehow they complement each other beautifully.

“The ancestral wall,” Paula says.

 

 


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TOP: The couple’s old dining room set was repurposed as a conference table in Greg’s spacious home office/studio that also houses a draftsman table, files, sofas, shower, a small kiln for his glasswork, an easel for Paula to paint and lounging space for dog Nikki.

An interior window in the landing by Paula’s office (MIDDLE) looks across to Greg’s office and below for a glimpse of Paula passing between the kitchen and dining area. (BELOW)

//Photos by Paula Watts
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Upstairs the guest room opens onto a rooftop balcony with solar panels and a solar-heated outdoor shower. On hot summer nights guests can sleep under the stars and still have privacy in the city. 

Entrances on either end of the house lead upstairs to separate offices, complete with bathrooms, and that same spectacular city view. Eventually, the two could move their architecture and therapy practices home, allowing clients to visit without passing through the main living areas. At the same time, the offices are completely integrated into the home so they could be used as additional bedrooms if needed. 

Paula’s office is an L-shape with room for her desk in one area and a sofa and chair for talking in the other. Just outside the door is the bathroom and space for a chair to serve as a small waiting room for a client, or simply a great reading nook.

Greg’s office is a large open studio with soaring ceilings and room for a long conference table, desk and drawing table. A charcoal-gray sofa with yellow print throw pillows and a large low table forms a comfortable sitting area for meeting with clients or just hanging out with family and friends. 

“The boys joke that they’re going to turn it into a basketball court,” says Paula.

There’s an easel by the windows for Paula to paint. And, against one wall, a small kiln for Greg’s art glasswork. Built-in cubbies hold slender tubes of colorful glass. It’s the perfect spot for the two to create and continue to enjoy seeing things in an ever-changing light.

 

 


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Metal-clad exterior is long lasting and low maintenance. From left, son Andrew, Paula and son Loren near the edible garden. Greg was at work on a project in Qatar.

//Photo by Paula Watts

Sustainable Designing

  • The 1924 Portland house was remodeled on the original footprint and upgraded to earthquake standards. New backyard terraces act as ballasts and host an edible garden.
  • Separate entries and stairwells lead to home offices that can also serve as additional bedrooms.
  • An 800-square-foot additional dwelling unit is currently rented.
  • All windows are double pane and sealed against infiltration. High R-value spray foam insulation in walls and roof is non-toxic. A high-efficiency pump provides heat and cooling. All lighting is fluorescent.
  • The fireplace insert can heat the house during a power outage. A rooftop deck holds solar power panels and serves as sleeping porch with outdoor shower.
  • Interior glass windows allow spaces to be heated or cooled as needed.
  • The rooftop three-kilowatt photovoltaic collector array provides 75 percent of summertime energy demand. A passive solar water heater provides all hot water in summer and preheats water the rest of the year. Additional PGE green power comes from renewable sources, making the house carbon neutral. Total electric bill for house and rental this past August was $15.
  • All water fixtures are low-flow and toilets dual flush. The house is plumbed so that they can use captured rainwater to flush toilets after installing a cistern.
  • The house was framed with 90 percent certified sustainable managed forest timber studs and plywood. All cabinets in the house are non-toxic bamboo.
  • All paints, adhesives, floor finishes and sealants are non-toxic to maintain good indoor air quality.
  • Standing seam metal roof and metal siding are long lasting and low maintenance. Materials can be recycled at end of life.
  • Tile floors are long lasting and low maintenance.

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