An architect turns her eye toward her own home.
Photos by Marshall Steeves
Portland architect Maria Lawler always wanted a house with some history and character. The Craftsman bungalow she and her husband purchased in 2017 fit the bill thanks to its original details and corner-lot light, but it didn’t quite fit all of their desires.
“We knew at least a kitchen remodel would be in our future,” says Lawler, owner of Maria Lawler Architecture.
With the couple’s original plan to increase the home’s connection to the outdoors and make entertaining easier, they turned to builder Jeff Law at craftbau for help. The only element left untouched in the kitchen was the existing south-facing windows over the sink. The remodel also included a complete bathroom redo, removal of the wall between the kitchen and dining room, the transformation of an enclosed porch off of the kitchen into a breakfast nook, the addition of a large patio door, and reorientation of the basement stairwell. Since all the trades were on-site, they used the opportunity to also modernize the home’s systems.
The view through the living room, dining room, kitchen and out to the rear patio through the 8-foot-tall glass doors is where Lawler’s holistic vision is the most apparent. Before, the layout required navigating three doors to reach the backyard. What was once a narrow galley kitchen with a solid door — which had to be propped open for light or air flow — became the new heart of the home.
One original feature that couldn't be incorporated was a small built-in bar in the dining room. To pay homage to that and reclaim a little bar space in the kitchen, Lawler, with the help of cabinet maker George Ramos Woodworking, installed a bar top and designed a custom stained-glass window for its upper cabinet.
“Blending the old and the new is important,” she says. “I used different detailing for that to reflect a bit more of the original construction.”
Flipping the basement stairwell moved it closer to the rear of the home, allowing for less of an impediment to circulation between the kitchen and the dining room. This also solved prior problems of low head height in the old stairwell and structural issues related to floor joists that had previously been cut through.
Lawler even thought of the view from the outdoors by reproducing a piece of geometric wall art by Sol LeWitt on a living room wall that can be seen by pedestrians when windows are open. “It was a pandemic winter project on a wall that never had the right art,” Lawler says. “I always thought it would be nice to have something interesting for people to see if they looked in.” Although Lawler specializes in remodeling and additions, she considers every home as a whole and not just the remodel of one room as a standalone piece. Her work helps make homes reflective of both personal identity and changing lifestyle demands.
“I think people are realizing more and more that their home is their safe space and are wanting to make it more reflective of that,” Lawler says.
Lawler’s background is in single-family residential remodels in San Francisco, and she worked at a large architecture firm in Portland before starting her own business mid-pandemic — and in the midst of her own home remodel.
“With so much uncertainty in today’s world, I want to help people preserve and highlight the elements they love about their homes while also creating a space where they can be happy,” she says.