When Alissa Pulcrano first saw this young couple’s home in Portland, Oregon’s lush Southwest Hills neighborhood, the principal designer and CEO of Bright Designlab knew she had to tone down its unmistakable ’80s vibe (we’re talking glass brick walls and aluminum framing). The challenge was to do so while preserving the integrity of the work of Bob Thompson, the renowned architect who originally designed the house.
“When it’s something that iconic, we have to listen to the whispers of the house. There’s no way we could ignore that it’s literally an icon of the ’80s and done well for that time,” says Pulcrano.
The homeowners weren’t looking for a complete overhaul, but they did have a few specific requests, mainly enhancing the acoustics and redesigning the kitchen. “The house was gray with dark floors,” explains Bright Designlab design director Katie Dahl. “They wanted to bring warmth and color.”
Work With What You’ve Got
At first, the team figured removing the flashy slices of royal blue in the terrazzo flooring was the best way to go. In the end, though, it just wasn’t feasible. “We maintained the original floors and embraced the detail in all of its quirk,” says Pulcrano. For the basement-level bathroom, the designers even found new Concrete Collaborative terrazzo tile that complemented the main level.
Another architectural echo: the tiled shower wall’s subtle curved edge. The sinuous shape pops up again on the kitchen cabinetry, the bathroom door, and the bedside tables to break up some of the home’s straight, rigid lines.
A Window of Opportunity
One quick Internet search will give you a general idea of how people feel about ’80s design. (Hint: It’s not good). But the era’s signature eccentricity inspired Pulcrano and Dahl to play with a memorable retro feature: the pass-through window. The designers installed one in a once-solid wall to open up the kitchen and dining areas, an unexpected solution that they found more appealing than a traditional open-concept floor plan.
Pick a Theme and See It Through
The basement-level bedroom in particular was a time machine—think: a high-gloss laminate headboard and wall-to-wall mirrors. Pulcrano and Dahl worked their magic by swapping in a simple wood option with built-in nightstands, instantly bringing the space into 2021.
Vertical slatted white oak (easily accessible in the Pacific Northwest) above offers an infusion of “visual rhythm and warmth,” explains Pulcrano, and not just there. The team carried the application over onto the main bathroom’s arched door, the kitchen island, and a slim room divider separating the bar.
Dining Room Do-Over
A dated aluminum window frame nearly derailed Bright Designlab’s dining room updates. “There was a vent and a cabinet with some mechanical stuff underneath it,” explains Dahl. “We decided to use that to our advantage.” A slim bench hides the unsightly HVAC system while providing welcome extra seating at the table.
Hold Up a Mirror to Nature (or Not)
The original bathroom was “a fun house of mirrors,” says Pulcrano. While the reflective surface did illuminate the space, which was on the darker side due to its subterranean location, Pulcrano and Dahl nixed them. Installing a picture window brought in more light and helps the clients feel connected to the natural surroundings. “When standing in the space, you feel like you are immersed in the trees, which is luxurious and calming,” she adds.
The home has a newfound “curvaceous yin,” a term Pulcrano uses to describe how arches softened the property’s angular architecture. This renovation may have the same effect on hearts that are hardened to all things ’80s.