By Jane Hartle
It is not every day that a seller chooses to go with the lowest offer. Around here, with property values skyrocketing, it’s practically unheard of. But that was the case for Dan Rosen, a local art director who brought a tired 1964 ranch house back to life, transforming it into a vibrant, light filled home with a seamless blend of modern and retro features.
Originally from London, Dan moved to Portland from New Orleans seven years ago. His background is in graphic design, for both print and digital media. He’s also the percussionist in a band — don’t miss Arrows in Orbit at the Mississippi street fair at the end of July. You can see some of his design work around town; he created the signage for Pip’s Cafe in exchange for what he describes as a mile long gift certificate for donuts and coffee.
Upon first moving to Portland, he purchased an older style Craftsman home. It was nice but completely finished, offering little room for creativity and customization. Dan began his search for something that would better match his aesthetic.
Three years ago, the mid-century ranch house wasn’t much to look at. The paint on the exterior was fading and it needed a new roof. Inside, the original gray wall-to-wall carpeting wasn’t doing it any favors. The living spaces were small and closed in, the bathroom awkwardly designed, and the kitchen was suffocated by old linoleum flooring and cabinetry. It was untouched from when it was originally built.
But Dan saw something more in it. “I loved the house,” he says. “I could see the possibilities.”
Dan’s offer was outbid by several developers, whose intentions were to demolish the house and build several condos in its place. Emboldened, Dan wrote a letter to the sellers, the home’s only other owners. He outlined his plans for the house and the untapped potential he saw in it, describing how instead of tearing it down, he planned to restore it, holding on to many of the original features. Miraculously, it worked. Dan bought the house in August of 2014, less than a month after it went on the market.
“There’s this sort of trend to just not bother with dealing with what you have, and to just to knock it down and start again.” Dan says. “It’s nice to do something positive instead of tearing something down. I mean, I could have easily tore it down myself and created condos. But then, I wouldn’t have got the house.”
The first step in the home’s transformation was planning. Before the actual building started in February of 2015, there were months of design work and time spent hunting down and restoring the features that complete the look. Instead of buying things new, Dan tried to track down vintage or secondhand items whenever possible, saving money to use on other parts of the restoration. Items were selected to match with the original features he decided to keep, like the cheerful pink bathtub that truly embodied the home’s mid century style.
“For instance,” he explains, “I have this 1950’s pink sink that I found. It’s like the Cadillac of sinks. This thing is not going anywhere, it’s cast iron.” That was discovered at a building center on Mississippi, the matching toilet was found on Craigslist, and the pink accent tiles that brighten the bathroom floor were actually free samples from a specialty store. The single vintage pink subway tile that serves as a focal point in the shower was the only one of its kind Dan could locate, and it was originally much wider than any new tiles, and had to be very carefully shaved down to match the other ones.
Before moving in, Dan found a treasure trove of round light fixtures from the forties and fifties at Hippo Hardware. Someone else might have walked right past them: they were in terrible condition and at some point they’d been sprayed with silver metallic paint. Once that had been removed and they’d been polished, they looked good as new.
It’s safe to say Dan has mastered the craft of finding hard to find things. “It was part of the fun and the challenge of it,” Dan explains. Working on a budget, it was important to prioritize where to spend money, and really think about the best way to achieve his goals.
Of all the aesthetic changes that were made to the living areas, perhaps the one with the biggest impact was redoing the floors. Dan’s real estate agent suggested he look under the worn carpeting, at the wood floors beneath and sure enough, they were pristine. By bringing down some walls between the kitchen and the living room, and extending the gorgeous hardwood floors throughout, Dan was able to create a much more open plan.
In the kitchen, the fantastic viking stove (another Craigslist find) and white subway tile backsplash complement the ample cabinetry that Dan installed himself. Removing unnecessary closets created more counter space and room for the sink, and a skylight floods the area with natural light. He kept the inside spaces bright and airy by sticking to white walls, countertops, and cabinetry, setting the scene for colorful artwork and furniture.
He had a contractor, but since Dan’s job allows him to work from home, he was able to help out on site all the time. Living in the construction zone wasn’t easy — there were a few days while the kitchen was being redone that he had to go without a working sink, doing dishes in the washing machine.
“I don’t really want to go through that again, not to that extent,” Dan laughs.
Once the dust began to settle, Dan’s focus turned towards decorating. The boldly colored and patterned furniture is true to the mid century theme of the home. Like the appliances, much of the furniture is refurbished, reupholstered, or reconditioned. One chair even came from off the sidewalk destined for a trash pile. Not unlike the house, Dan saw the bare bones of it and immediately knew that with a little patience and the right materials it could be transformed into something really special. “The people helping me work on my house at the time were like, I’m not quite sure what you’re doing here! They were used to throwing all this stuff out.”
Last summer, the yard and garden areas had a complete overhaul, with tall grass and shrubbery being replaced by recessed flower beds, tidy concrete walkways, and a sunken fire pit. Although the home is mostly finished, Dan says he is far from done with his projects. His future ideas include converting a bus into an ADU on the property either as a guest house or an Airbnb, revamping his study, and designing and opening up a bar.
Dan speaks of the knee-jerk reaction he got from people who heard he was doing work on his home. It seems like the assumption is that if you’re upgrading, it’s because you’re planning to sell. Sometimes though, it’s more than that. It can be about creating a space that reflects your personal style, or preserving an architectural time capsule from the past, or simply doing something positive.
“It’s a modest house,” Dan says, “but there’s a lot of love that’s gone into it.”
This full feature appears in our July issue of All Things Real Estate magazine. To learn more, email email@example.com.