How a Portland Architect Built His Dream Home in Six Months

In July 2012, Jamin Aasum set out to build a modern abode overlooking Industrial Northwest Portland in time to get married inside—on New Year's Eve. Here's how he did it.

By Amara Holstein October 19, 2015 Published in the November 2015 issue of Portland Monthly

Most people approach life one major milestone at a time. Architect Jamin Aasum, 56, decided to tackle the big ones simultaneously. “It was insane,” he says. “I became unemployed, designed our house, had our wedding, moved my elderly parents, then got a new job. As a friend said, I grew up all in one year.”

In December 2011, Aasum and then-girlfriend Susie Walsh lived in a rented apartment near NW 23rd Avenue. A nearby 1948 prefab house had been on the market for years; overpriced and sited on a double lot, “the place was a disaster,” says Aasum. “One corner of the house had sunk a foot, the roof was sagging, and it wasn’t worth saving.” But after the market tanked, an acquaintance bought both parcels, divided the lot, and sold the house to the couple for a good price.

Though the house was a mess, the location appealed to Aasum and Walsh, now 49, a research director at national nonprofit Friends of the Children. Perched on a hillside above the Northwest Industrial District, with a view out back of railyards and factory buildings, the house fronts a busy street on the fringe of a tidy West Hills neighborhood. “I’m always looking for these places on the edge, where one area turns into another area,” explains Aasum. “It’s dynamic, and you can be a modern house, you can be anything.”

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An all-white kitchen frames the ever-changing streetscape.

Image: Scott Larsen

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The front of the house is meant to “look inviting but also provide security from the street,” says Aasum.

Image: Scott Larsen

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FROM LEFT: White subway tiles cover an understated bathroom; at night, the wraparound deck is the perfect perch for sunsets.

Image: Scott Larsen

Aasum spent the late winter and spring of 2012 drawing up architectural plans. A day before the house was to be deconstructed in July, the couple hosted a party there. Afterward, Aasum turned to Walsh and proposed. “He said, ‘Do you think we could get married in our new house on New Year’s Eve?’” Walsh remembers, laughing. “Then we woke up the next morning and said to each other, ‘Do you realize what we agreed to do?’”

Over the following months, the house was stripped nearly to the foundation, then rebuilt to Aasum’s plans. Given Aasum’s limited experience designing actual homes—his expertise was in schools, recreational centers, and other large public spaces—the realities of his self-imposed deadline soon became apparent. “Six months seemed like a long time, but it was a ridiculous thing to do,” he says.

Trying to adhere to a modest budget of $175/square foot for the 2,000-square-foot house, Aasum spent every day on-site alongside the contractor, Highpass Construction. As the wedding neared, and Walsh hurriedly hunted for a dress between decisions about window heights and kitchen layouts, things became ever more frantic. Aasum was spending 12 to 15 hours a day on the house, and workers

were there on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. “A week before the wedding, there was no plumbing or front walkway,” says Aasum. “The stove, which the caterer needed, went in two days before.” When Walsh’s parents arrived a few days before the wedding, they didn’t believe the place would be done in time.


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Aasum designed the interior stairwell to mimic the strong lines of the exterior; a Nietzsche quote on the floor by the back entrance greets the couple after bike rides.

Image: Scott Larsen

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Living room furnishings are low, lean, and neutral to keep the focus on the view.

Image: Scott Larsen

Ultimately, thanks to heroic efforts from their construction crew, family, and friends, the couple did exchange vows that New Year’s Eve in their new home—albeit on unfinished floors—followed by an intimate five-course dinner with 22 guests. Instead of a honeymoon, the newlyweds continued to work on the house, then finally moved in that February.

Nearly three years later, the house, with its uncluttered all-white interior and clean lines, shows no sign of its frenetic creation. Both bedrooms are tucked downstairs, away from the noise of the street. Upstairs, a capacious living area is oriented around the view, framed by a wraparound wall of 10-foot-high windows. Radiant-heated red oak floors glide underfoot throughout the lofty space, divided by a wall of cabinetry that holds a vintage stereo system. An elegant Ikea kitchen helped with the budget.

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Image: Scott Larsen

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Image: Scott Larsen

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Image: Scott Larsen

Outside is similarly simple. With blueberry bushes and tomato plants tumbling around the perimeter, the exterior clad in cost-conscious cedar siding and shiny aluminum trim, the house perfectly achieves Aasum’s goal of looking “part rural Oregon, and part machine for living.”

Now an architect at Skylab, Aasum still seems a bit shocked that they pulled it all off. But in the end, everything fell into place. As Walsh recounts, “In my dad’s wedding toast, he said, ‘I don’t know how they did it, but somehow they turned a construction zone into the Waldorf Astoria in 48 hours.’” Maybe there is some wisdom in tackling multiple milestones at once. 

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