Name: Jessica Engeman & Erik Hovmiller
Profession: Historic Preservation Specialist & Social Worker
Location: Portland, Oregon
Size: 1500 sq. ft.
Years lived in: 5 months, owned
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When they began their house hunt, Jessica and Erik, like so many first-time home buyers, found that most of the houses in their budget were old and needed a lot of work. But for a young couple with the creativity, vision, and unstoppable work ethic of these two, a fixer-upper can be a blessing in disguise. Their three-bedroom 1924 bungalow near downtown Portland is a beautiful example of how with a good dose of DIY ingenuity, an historic home can be made modern without losing its original charm.
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Jessica and Erik launched their litany of projects back in February, as soon as they moved in. (Check out some before and in-progress photos here.) To give you a taste of what the renovations entailed, here's Jessica:
We had a lot to deal with—popcorn-textured walls in the living room, stick-on leather wainscoting in the dining room, a totally pink kitchen, plenty of late-80s vinyl wallpaper, uninspiring brown bathroom floors and tub surround, a dark and dingy finished attic, and a yard that had gone to seed… just to name a few. Erik and I spent our evenings and weekends for almost five months straight with hammer or paintbrush in hand, finally getting to a point where we walk in the door and feel content that this is our home.
What's amazing is that even after all that work, the house doesn't have the sterile, too-perfect feel that seems to plague so many modern renovations. Instead, because Jessica and Erik were so careful to preserve original details, collecting antiques and salvage pieces that would resonate with the home's historic character, it feels like a well-loved, cozy retreat.
Our Style: Vintage eclectic, with a few modern pieces to keep it fresh and practical.
Inspiration: All of the women in Jessica’s family are very artistic and have great design eyes, so they are a big part of her inspiration. Favorite decorating books: Flea Market Style (Emily Chalmers), Decorating with Vintage Fabric (Lucinda Ganderton), and Nest for Two (Allison Serrell). Being in Portland is also a big part of our combined inspiration. There are so many creative, resourceful people here. We’ve really fed off that DIY spirit as we’ve transformed our house.
Favorite Element: It’s a tie between the front porch and the upstairs studio. When the weather’s good, we spend as much time outside as possible. The flower baskets and vintage Japanese paper lanterns make it such a wonderful place to relax. For an indoor retreat, it’s hard to beat our finished attic. The all-white interior keeps it bright and light—a great place for making art, doing yoga, or working on our latest landscaping plan.
Biggest Challenge: Not being overwhelmed by it all. In the beginning we were faced with so many projects, it was nearly paralyzing. It was important to just keep moving and not allow ourselves to stop and think too much. That’s when we’d lose momentum.
What Friends Say: Even the ones who didn’t see the house in its “before” state seem to sense how much work we’ve done and are amazed.
Biggest Embarrassment: House-wise it’s our stairs. They are so steep! We installed handles to make going down safer, but we’ll definitely have to build a new staircase if this is the house we want to grow old in. Décor-wise, we still have a few pieces of furniture that seem out of place… like our 80s Aztec-print couch, which is currently covered in about six linen sheets. I’m on the hunt for something simple, stylish, and comfy.
Proudest DIY: The kitchen. It was pretty atrocious when we bought the house. The layout was funky and made for a lot of dark, unusable spaces. It was also almost entirely pink. We knocked down some walls, took the doors off the upper cabinets, uncovered the original fir floors, and painted everything white except for the vintage Formica countertops. It’s the perfect kitchen for us now.
Biggest Indulgence: Inside, our biggest indulgence was the bathroom tile. We completely redid the floor and tub surround in hex and subway tile. Outside it was the new two-tiered retaining wall in the front yard, which completely changed the look of the house from the street.
Best Advice: If you’ve got a lot of work to do and don’t want the projects to drag on ad infinitum, set a realistic target completion day. Then schedule a party or an open house. We committed ourselves to a completion date even more by having family from the East Coast come visit.
Dream Source: European flea markets, Aurora Mills Architectural Salvage, anything from Noun, art by Hadley Hutton and Elizabeth Soule, bird cages from Flutter.
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Living Room: All the furniture is second-hand. Favorite finds were the gray mid-century end tables at Stars Antiques (Portland) and the roll-top desk, which I scored off of Craigslist. Curtains are IKEA with vintage trim. I used the post-hemming curtain remnants to make the chair slipcover. Lamps and sconces are from Hippo Hardware (Portland). Bicycle prints are from an ’08 calendar and the black frames from IKEA. Huge Paris map was the ultimate estate sale find. Most the objets d’art throughout the house are from thrift stores or estate sales.
Dining Room: Counter-height table is from Whittier Wood Products… we did the finishing. IKEA was our source for the chairs, the curtains, and the big white houseplant pot. Chandelier is vintage… I’ve had it forever.
Kitchen: The butcher block came from IKEA and the stainless steel range is from Peerless Premier. Jadite knobs and light fixture are from Rejuvenation.
Bathroom: Tile is from Dal-Tile. Knobs, soap dish, light fixture are from Rejuvenation. Narrow white shelf is IKEA. Old medicine cabinet door mirror is from Stars Antiques. Curtains are handmade, but the wire and clips are from IKEA.
Master Bedroom: Wallpaper is original to the house—we debated as to whether it should be kept. Unbelievably comfy bed was purchased from Foamorder.com. William & Mary matelasse bedspread came from Maggie’s Bedding Warehouse. Bird art was from an estate sale… now in an IKEA frame. Little white tables were from Stars. Erik made the coat rack with a piece of beadboard and vintage hooks.
Upstairs Bedroom (Guest Room): It’s all second-hand… estate sales and antique shops.
Studio: IKEA (shelves, table, drawers). I had the white magnet board made by a local sheet metal fabricator. My sewing chair was thrifted at Village Merchants (Portland). Dress form was my grandmother’s.
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(Thanks, Jessica and Erik!)