Love Triangles

Step Inside These 3 Dreamy Oregon A-Frames

With passion, dedication, and a ton of work, three local families revive sterling specimens of the suddenly chic A-frame.

By Marty Patail Photography by Christopher Dibble September 18, 2018 Published in the Design Annual: 2018 issue of Portland Monthly

The Nest Egg

When Sasha Burchuk and her husband launched a hunt from their small Portland condo for a second home, they dreamt of a peaceful future on Mount Hood where—maybe 30 years from now—they could retire among the trees. Worried about getting priced out of the market, the couple began scouring the mountain’s outlying neighborhoods for that perfect future home. In 2015, they purchased this A-frame in Rhododendron, which they would soon dub Rancho Relaxo.

“This place was the cheapest we looked at, but it also had the most character,” Burchuk says. “We snapped it because it had really great bones and a lot of potential. It just was disgusting inside, with mold and dog pee.”

They knew it needed major renovation love—but didn’t expect to have to do all the work themselves. “It’s difficult to get anyone to even go up there unless you have a million-dollar budget,” says Burchuk, a former web developer for a marketing agency who (thanks to this project) now owns a furniture and interior design studio. “And the contractors who are local tend to have a different lifestyle. If it’s nice out, they’re going to go to the mountain.”

Rancho Relaxo’s bright, open space is available for rent on Airbnb—and will soon be available to poets as an artist’s retreat.

So the couple got down to work themselves. For 14 months starting in September 2015, every Friday night through Sunday evening, they worked on the home. Burchuk, who says she barely knew how to hammer a nail before starting the project, feels like a home improvement pro now.

The finished Rancho Relaxo (which the Burchuks currently offer as a vacation rental) sits on a totally open 1,300-square-foot floor plan, with no interior doors except for the single bathroom. Two upstairs bedrooms are stacked atop each other, both accessible via a spiral staircase, with privacy from Japanese-style slotted screens. The couple will offer the place for poetry residencies next year—adding to their own elbow-grease-driven creative achievement.

The Getaway

When Liz Castellon-Nelsen moved to Hood River from San Diego with her husband and two toddlers a couple of years ago, she didn’t expect the white-hot real estate market that awaited them. Sky-high demand and low inventory meant a yearlong home search bore no fruit. Then, she happened to drive past a run-down cabin, surrounded by trash and abandoned cars, with a for-sale sign out front. The derelict property charmed the couple instantly.

“I was like, ‘Whoa. What’s this funky little cabin about?’ I was never really a fan of A-frames,” says Castellon-Nelsen. “I always thought, like, little gnomes live in them. But our kids saw it and said, ‘This is the coolest fort! I can’t believe we’re going to move into a triangle!’”

Used as the family home for the school year, the Burchuk A-frame is a rental summers and holidays, while they do some traveling of their own.

Starting in October 2017, the family spent about nine months renovating the place by themselves. (Husband Andy Nelsen, a schoolteacher by day, learned tiling from bingeing how-to YouTube videos.) Already clad in signature red paint on the outside, the house got new appliances, new furniture, and new floors. Two bedrooms and a single bath squeeze into the 1,400-square-foot space, but 22-foot-high ceilings/walls add a sense of grandeur and openness to what could be a claustrophobic space. (With a future expansion in mind, a newly installed septic tank could accommodate three bedrooms and two baths.)

“We moved to Hood River for space,” Castellon-Nelsen says. “We wanted to set down roots and buy a home—the dream of open pastures in Oregon.”

During summer and holidays, the family travels, visiting relatives and camping, while renting the space on Airbnb. This past summer, the home was sold out for 10 weeks. The appeal?

“There’s midcentury-modern architecture inside, in the sconces and the kitchen handles,” says Castellon-Nelsen. “They don’t make stuff like this anymore. I find inspiration from every angle.

The Green House

This massive Southeast Portland A-frame is a true classic of the genre—but you would be hard-pressed to find it unless you knew exactly where to look. Built in 1961 by a Reed student, the natural-wood-colored house is tucked off a cul-de-sac, up a driveway under a nestle of old Doug firs. In fact, its current owner would never have found it either, were it not for a random post on her Facebook feed.

“It was a lot prettier on the pictures,” says Anna Margaret, an online boutique owner, who now shares the home with her partner, artist Srijon Chowdhury, two daughters, a newborn, and two Pomeranians. “The floors were rotten, and the paint was crazy inside. It was just poorly kept.”

This Southeast family home is a riotous explosion of color and greenery.

Fast forward three years, and Margaret’s family has transformed the space into a verdant sanctuary. Beyond the bright green front door, they’ve mirrored the outside, turning the main living area into an explosion of potted and hanging plants, all surrounding a central fireplace. Befitting this lush setting, the family TV is relegated to a shelf in a back room.

“When I first saw the front room with the big windows I thought, ‘Oh my God, this could be such a great environment,’” says Margaret. “Especially in Portland—it’s so gray, any bit of light we can have is a huge bonus. It just feels like you’re outside.”

With no side windows, all natural light comes from the front and back of the house—plus a 60-foot-long skylight along the peak where the two sides meet. The home features a spacious kitchen overlooking the backyard, and a master bed and bath on a second story. A new “wing,” added in the late ’60s, juts out from the back at a perpendicular angle and houses the kids’ bedrooms. Margaret says the family eventually aims to knock down a few walls and open up the upper floors even more, to allow more light to flow in, and add a cozy library.

One quirk?

“We have lots and lots of art that we can’t hang on the walls because they’re slanted,” she says. “You do a lot of propping things up. I have lots of benches and ways to display stuff. Everything sort of has to float in the middle, not anchored to a wall.”

Top Image: red A-frame in Hood River (left); Rancho Relaxo near Rhododendron (right)

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