How a Gossip-Haunted Mount Tabor House Became a Wholesome Family Abode

Nanny affairs! Secret passages! This midcentury marvel boasts juicy stories galore.

By Amara Holstein October 17, 2018 Published in the November 2018 issue of Portland Monthly

The front of the house with gas fire pit and landscaping by Lilyvilla Gardens

When Maggie and Greg bought their Mount Tabor home, their new neighbors whispered creepy rumors about it. A doctor who stashed his new wife’s kids next door, a possible affair with the nanny, a secret passageway—the gossip was rich. Add that juice to a pristine midcentury modern, with views for miles, and the result was a heady architectural cocktail.

Finding the house itself was a matter of happenstance. Initially, Maggie and Greg designed a new home a few blocks away, with architect Risa Boyer. After almost eight months, the house was ready for permitting, but a tricky site proved too expensive to build on. “It was crushing,” says Greg, a creative company owner who moved to Portland from New York with Maggie and daughter Sloan three years prior. “We’d really thought it was going to go through.”

In a stroke of fate, however, a nearby place hit the market. Oddly similar to their unbuilt dream home, the 3,600-square-foot, four-bedroom house had a pitched roof, lots of glass, and even the same number of fireplaces (three). “I came up here and just exhaled—with that view, the yard, the layout—it was everything we were looking for,” Maggie recalls.

The interior, however, needed work. In pristine condition thanks to its the second owner, it also preserved a 1958 sensibility. “It had a low ceiling, heavy drapes everywhere, textured walls, baby-blue carpet, and small openings into rooms,” says Boyer. “Plus, it had all these crazy angles. In the plan, it kind of looks like a stealth bomber—everything shoots off in these chevron shapes.”

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: A child’s reading nook; a half-bath; the airy living room with a stunning west-facing view

Boyer and the homeowners decided to embrace the overall aesthetic while modernizing and making it their own. The floor plan remained the same, but “we took away stuff and opened things up rather than moving things around,” says Boyer. She vaulted the formerly flat eight-foot living room ceiling and installed wooden beams (another element from her own unbuilt design) and high windows, adding both light and loft. The reno removed walls throughout, along with cramped openings. Now the living room pours into the fully updated kitchen, which then flows up through a sliding glass wall onto a new patio with a fire pit. 

The team likewise refreshed all finishes, with a nod to the vintage. “We wanted it to be a not-too-kitschy throwback,” Maggie says. On the Level Custom Cabinets upgraded a former bar cabinet in the kitchen to a wall of chic custom walnut, with brass Schoolhouse pulls, and a teal backdrop of Ann Sacks tiles. Bathrooms were completely redone; Sloan’s bath has pink and orange cheetah-patterned wallpaper from Hygge & West set against marble countertops, and a sleek walk-in master bath playfully enhances the lines of the house with its “angles, angles, everywhere,” says Greg.

Furnishings provide the final polish. Calm blues and grays predominate. The couple curated their collection for years: items like the iconic Castiglioni Arco lamp, an Eames lounge chair, and an oval Saarinen Tulip dining table looked a little cramped in their former rental Craftsman, but fit in perfectly here, as does the elegant Ralph Lauren dresser in the master suite, and a huge photo of an owl named Theo in the entryway.

Outside, with landscaping by Lilyvilla Gardens, an evergreen hedge provides privacy, a series of low-maintenance grasses sways in the foreground and hides the rooftops below, and pops of bright purple Perovskia welcome bees.

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: The family’s wet bar with storage; front yard windows; the eat-in kitchen

And as for any vestiges of the original owner? A tiny concrete vestibule and a passageway that used to open to the outside, hidden behind a hinged bookcase in the master bedroom, is no more. All that remains of the Poe-meets-Cheever neighborhood legend: a pair of concrete pathways that led to the supposed new wife’s kids’ house next door. “There’s even a rumor that the stepfather ended up having an affair with the nanny,” says Maggie. “We have no idea if it’s true. But it makes for a good story.”

The family has settled in nicely. Sloan roller-skates around the open-plan home; they roast marshmallows over the fire pit and lounge on the living room couch, watching clouds scud over the West Hills in the distance. “It’s so crazy how we went from our dream house to this,” says Maggie.

“It’s the best of our ideal home,” Greg concludes, comparing it with the project they’d originally planned, “with a better view.”

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