Real Estate

Property Watch: A Hidden Gem In Salem

Did Frank Lloyd Wright inspire this Usonian-style home?

By Melissa Dalton April 18, 2022

Image: HD Open House

Editor’s Note: Welcome to Portland Monthly’s “Property Watch” column, where we take regular looks at interesting homes on the market in Portland’s super-competitive real estate market (with periodic ventures to the burbs and points beyond, for good measure). This week: a smartly designed Salem home in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright. Got a home you think would work for this column? Get in touch at [email protected].

The origins of this Salem house are something of a mystery. Built in 1970, per the listing write-up, it’s a streamlined “Usonian-style” home in a neighborhood rife with charming 1940s cottages. Usonian was a term used by Frank Lloyd Wright and connotes a scaled-back approach to residential design, celebrating a smaller floor plan and economical ornamentation. There were common characteristics to these Usonian houses, including using native materials, flat roofs with deep overhangs, clerestory windows, and a carport, a word attributed to Wright himself.

Image: HD Open House

This house revels in all of that. The materials here are brick, steel, glass, and cedar. It has 3,540 square feet over two floors, with the carport tucked underneath the main level. Two sets of stairs lead up from the driveway: one to the outdoor spaces that encircle the house, and one to the entry and a deep covered porch, which has cedar decking, and a steel railing and partial brick wall limning that space. 

Image: HD Open House

The next impression is glass—specifically, the glass that surrounds the main living room on three sides, with another generous covered porch opposite the first. With all the mature landscaping on the one-third-acre lot, the effect is to feel surrounded by greenery in the middle of the city.

Image: HD Open House

A fireplace wall separates the living room from the rest of the main-level plan. There, a cedar half-wall is topped with a richly patinaed copper facade that hides three storage cabinets. Clear cedar covers the high ceilings, and continues outside uninterrupted, to cover the exterior porch ceiling.

Image: HD Open House

The galley kitchen is centrally located, with wood cabinets and an adjacent eating nook. In addition, the upper level has two bathrooms, four bedrooms, and a den with a freestanding gas stove. Every room on an exterior wall has a glass exterior door to the surrounding deck for optimal indoor-outdoor flow. Downstairs, there's two baths, a bedroom with fireplace, and in-house sauna.

Image: HD Open House

The exterior walls are brick, topped with a band of clerestory windows, while the interior walls on the upper level are largely cedar, and also don’t meet the ceiling, so natural light spills down from above. Apparently, many of the interior walls were designed to be movable, which would be in keeping with Wright’s belief in “space-in-motion,” described by writer Peter Blake as when “the contained space is allowed to move about, from room to room, from indoors to outdoors rather than remain stagnant, boxed up in a series of interior cubicles.”

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised this house would pop up in Salem, seeing as how its builder may have been inspired by the only Frank Lloyd Wright design built in Oregon, just 15 minutes away in Silverton: the Gordon House, which was completed in 1964, six years before this one.

Listing Fast Facts 

Address: 1555 Fir St, Salem, OR 97302

Size: 3,540 square feet/5 bedroom/4 bath 

List Date: 3/3/2022 
List Price: $849,900 
Listing Agent: John and Sandy Van Dyk, Paramount Real Estate Services

Melissa Dalton is a freelance writer who has focused on Pacific Northwest design and lifestyle since 2008. She is based in Portland, Oregon. Contact Dalton here.



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