Back To Basics

A compact Victorian lives large in the Kenton neighborhood.

By Amara Holstein October 16, 2012 Published in the November 2012 issue of Portland Monthly

The story of this house starts with its wood floors. Small dents betray dropped tools. Unfilled cracks run along its surface, and patched-together planks are reminders of rotted-out boards, too old to rescue. Despite the scratches and dings, the richness of the Doug fir glows as warmly as it did when the home was built in 1908—and Vicki Simon and Tim Cohrs wear that weathered past with pride. “I have a lot of respect for the original integrity of the architecture,” says Simon, an interior designer. “I like a story and a history.” 

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The pale blue Victorian holds a lifetime of Vicki Simon and Tim Cohrs’s treasures in light-filled and lofty remodeled rooms.

When the couple bought the 916-square-foot home in the Kenton neighborhood a year and a half ago, the flooring was hidden under a layer of marmoleum and walls and doorways were finished with off-the-shelf materials. “There was nothing historically accurate,” Simon says. Given her well-trained eye, she immediately recognized the potential of the home’s high ceilings and open layout. “As soon as I set foot in the house, I was in love,” she says. “I had a vision for it.”

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Simon put an ad on Craigslist for a “master craftsman who wanted to work with me every day to restore the place.” She got 70 responses and chose Rick Christianson and Adan Sotelo, “the perfect pair of carpenters who really cared about the job,” she says.  

Over 10 months of remodeling completed last winter, Simon painstakingly reworked every inch of the house while she scoured local salvage shops for material. (Cohrs, a creative advertising director, tackled painting throughout, but otherwise left the interior to his wife in favor of claiming the garden.) Simon directed her team to heighten the doorways by almost two feet, and they replaced the base moldings with taller custom millwork to add a lofty sense of interior space. Simon found bits of discarded Victorian trim, and the carpenters pieced them together to surround all the doors. She replaced shiny chrome fixtures with old copper pipes and antique brass fittings, and dug up switchplate covers, door locks, and towel racks from stores like the Rebuilding Center, Hippo Hardware, and Aurora Mills Architectural Salvage. 

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From the punctuation of the aqua towels and sink in the bathroom to drapery rods found at a flea market, everything in the house was hand-picked. Paintings by Simon, her mother, and her son, Tate, round out the personal mix.

“My motto is a quote from the book Pippi Longstocking: ‘The world is full of things, but somebody has to look for them,’” Simon says. “My house is pretty much the result of a lifetime of collecting.” She and Cohrs found their teak kitchen chairs while honeymooning in Bali. They picked up an old wooden tortilla roller on a visit to Santa Fe and unearthed ancient scrolled drapery rods at a Washougal flea market. Simon’s mother’s paintings hang on the walls alongside sketches created over the years by the couple’s now-teenage son, Tate, and oils Simon painted herself.

Despite its modest size, the house lives large. A clean color palette provides a quiet backdrop, and furniture reaches for the 10-foot ceilings rather than sprawling across the floors. Cohrs’s domain, an expansive garden of lush clematis threading its way around paper-white birch trees, also helps to extend the living area. “It’s not over-gingerbreaded,” says Simon. “It’s a clean, modern take on a Victorian.” Indeed, it’s a carefully curated but entirely relaxed home, with memories in every corner. “My style is about respecting the integrity of the architecture, while adding subtle sophistication,” explains Simon, looking around her home with a smile. 

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Rooms like Simon’s home office (top) and the kitchen (left) come off as effortlessly harmonious. But look closely, and the meticulous attention to detail emerges—like the hand-painted, striped walls in the vestibule that could be mistaken for wallpaper.
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