2024 RDAA | Custom Urban House | Tonal House | Observation Studio

This “lovely little family house,” as the judges described it, is light and bright despite restrictions that dictated a long, deep footprint of 1,200 square feet. The roughly north-south-oriented lot aligns with high-up views of downtown Portland to the west and Mount St. Helens to the east, and so does the house. Its form-defining east- and west-facing shed roofs act as light monitors that let in morning and late afternoon sun. They correspond with stair halls that channel light into opposite sides of the floor plan. 

“From the primary bedroom on the east, light washes down through a three-story stair hall,” says Chris Brown, AIA. “The reverse effect occurs as light from the client’s office flows down through the entry stair, a double-height volume. Those alternating shed roofs almost become like catcher’s mitts for light.”

The materials are as restrained as the structure. An ode to the client’s Swedish heritage, the shell’s stacked insulated concrete form blocks are covered with plaster inside and out. Combined with white oak casework, the palette “is so reduced it became a study in tones and the way light falls,” Chris says.

“They distributed the materials so that inside and outside feel like they work well together,” a jury member said. “There’s a thoughtful placement of windows, not just a wall-of-glass kind of approach but making every window count.”

Custom Urban House

Observation Studio

Tonal House

Portland, Oregon

Architect: Chris Brown, Observation Studio (formerly Linden Brown), Portland, Oregon

Builder: Callum Clark, Structure Build, Portland

Interior designer: Sara Bergqvist, Hemma Staging, Portland

Landscape designer: Wesley Younie, Portland

Project size: 3,600 square feet

Site size: 0.16 acre

Construction cost: $360 per square foot

Photography: Lara Swimmer Photography

Cabinetry: Custom by Callum Clark, Anthony Fodero

Cladding: Integral stucco

Cooktop/Cooking ventilation: Bosch

Countertops: Caesarstone

Dishwasher: Bosch

Entry doors/hardware: Jeld-Wen, Emtek Hardware

Faucets: Kallista, Crosswater

Fireplace: Valor Fireplaces

Flooring: Solid rift-cut and quarter-sawn white oak

Interior finish materials: Plaster

Lighting: Nomad, Cedar & Moss, Ferm LIVING

Lighting control systems: Lutron

Millwork: Custom white oak

Ovens: Bosch

Refrigerator: Dacor

Sinks: Franke, Icera, custom concrete

Toilets: Icera

Tub: ADM, Fleurco

Vanities: Custom concrete

Washer/dryer: LG

Windows: Jeld-Wen