A Manzanita House with a History Gets a Game Changer of a Makeover
s legends go, it’s hard to get much bigger in American popular culture than the original Great One of basketball, Mr. Woulda-Coulda-Shoulda Been a Blazer himself, Michael Jordan, if only the team brass at the time hadn’t put all their chips on some guy named Sam Bowie.
He might not have come to Oregon to be a Blazer, but legend has it that Jordan, fresh off a national championship at the University of North Carolina and about to debut as a Chicago Bull, first agreed to lend his name to the shoe that would become Nike’s wildly popular and highly profitable line, the Air Jordan, at an unassuming house in Manzanita, then owned by Nike’s charismatic, king-making director of marketing, Rob Strasser.
Strasser died young, at 46. So we’ll never know what he might have thought of the recent top-to-bottom reimagination of his Manzanita home, which sits a few blocks south of the town’s main drag, a house or two back from the beach.
When the current owners—who are keeping their names to themselves, an act of privacy MJ himself would understand—first saw the house in 2019, it marked an end to months of searching around Manzanita and Arch Cape, where they’d vacationed for years. Strasser’s house, which had passed to new owners and was a fixture of the VRBO circuit by the time the current owners saw it, was certainly quirky, beyond even that familiar beach rental aesthetic of wood-paneling, shapeless armchairs, surfboards as décor.
The new owners and their interiors firm, Portland-based Bright Designlab, confronted a unusual built-in, sunken living room couch, a 15-foot-tall half-moon-shaped bookshelf that ran from the basement straight through the main floor with shelves out of reach for even Jordan’s wingspan, a dumbwaiter oddly positioned in the main living space, a bathroom skylight lined with dated vanity lights, oodles of beige carpet, and a “theater” room with space for a single armchair, separated from the kitchen by an auditorium-style curtain.
“It had a bit of an ’80s flair,” says Alissa Pulcrano, CEO and principal designer at Bright Designlab.
The new owners wanted to keep the home’s footprint but weren’t looking for an ’80s fest. They wanted a retreat, a place where family and friends could gather and exhale. Renovations began in 2019, but it wasn’t until the following summer that they could spend a night in the house.
All that wood-paneling? Gone, in favor of freshly painted walls. The carpet came up, too. The kitchen and bath cabinetry is new, designed by the Bright Designlab team and built by Portland-based woodworker Maple Key. The kitchen island—a true centerpiece, seamed together and carved into curves by Portland-based Conrad Stonecutter from a 400-pound slab of marble of a hue that calls to mind the salt harvested from the Pacific Ocean’s brine—was a leap of faith that paid off, but took ages to finish.
There were structural changes made, too. Pulcrano and team lead Candace Cohu decided to leave the wooden beams in place in the main living area, in part to echo the hardwood floors. The formerly lofted second floor became a private guestroom, and the roof was bumped out to create an enclosed widow’s watch that now boasts the home’s best ocean view, atop a new, peaceful home workspace.
The single-seater home theater is gone, replaced by a built-in dining banquette and playfully perforated credenza designed to hold the homeowners’ extensive record collection. (Should you ever be invited for a visit, a record is the host gift of choice.)
Those built-ins are a recurring theme in the home, some brand new and some reimagined. Take that sunken sofa, which the owners now call the “conversation pit,” its cushions now a seafoam green. The former dumbwaiter is still in service, now repurposed as a firewood holder and tucked neatly behind custom swinging screens made by Portland-based Boy Boy.
In the primary bedroom, a built-in window seat with a view out over the dunes was left in place, with custom throw pillows added. A cozy bunkroom goes even further with two queen-size built-in bunk beds, the room painted a dramatic dark blue to suggest a ship’s cabin, down to the circular porthole between the beds, just the right size for visiting kiddos to wriggle through. A Kat & Maouche rug on the floor gives a little pop of color in the snug space. In the kitchen, there’s a Bright Designlab signature—a built-in bar cabinet that sits flush on the counter with an easy-pull drawer for storage.
The new owners kept the giant bookcase, now slowly filling up with books, games, and puzzles, with a new custom ladder to reach the higher shelves. In the primary bathroom, opposite a gloriously rounded mirror designed by Bright Designlab, they also kept a built-in sunken tub, now retiled via Pratt & Larsen in the same minty green as the conversation pit sofa, but used most often as a cold plunge after a spell in the adjoining sauna (the one place in the house where the wood paneling still lives) or the steam shower. The effect is like the most Zen of Japanese spas.
Another theme that jumps out the closer you look: curves, everywhere, like the angles of a ship, a nautical nod that’s far more subtle than the usual coast tactic of sticking an anchor on the mantelpiece and hanging a sea star–festooned shower curtain. (OK, there is a painting of a glowering, pipe-clenching ship’s captain in the bunkroom, a find by the homeowner in a vintage store in nearby Nehalem, but something about him just fits the space.)
Once you see all those luscious curves, you can’t unsee them: they’re in the living room’s boucle swivel chairs from The Future Perfect, with a custom ball pillow designed by the Bright team; in the vintage swivel chairs that perch on the edge of the island (from Amsterdam Modern); in the birdcage-shaped light that anchors a seating area designed to be a place for peaceful reading; in the rounded black basin in a guest bath.
Don’t be fooled by all those generous curves, though, Pulcrano says—you can still find ever-so-gently askew lines for balance, in the shiplap on the dining room walls and the ribbed leather on the backs of the dining room chairs, and the precisely slatted light fixtures that dot the home.
“It’s deliberate, the reiteration,” Pulcrano says. “We’re looking for layering—of patterns, of textures.”
The house was complete in time to be used as a pandemic-era refuge—even when the world narrowed, the beach was still wide. The owners say they often walk over to a hidden graveyard where Strasser is buried, to pay their respects as the new stewards of his old house. They suspect that as a design aficionado who spotted the potential in a gangly young Jordan all those years ago, he’d approve of the update.
GET THE LOOK!
We can’t all live in the house that Rob Strasser built, unfortunately.
But we can re-create some of the vibes at home.
The bunkroom’s cozy floor rug comes from Old Town’s Kat & Maouche, which sources handmade Berber rugs directly from Morocco. (The owners lived there for years.) Rugs this size start at about $2,100. katandmaouche.com
Statement mirrors can be found throughout the home. The one in the living room comes from Brooklyn-based contemporary furniture and product design house Bower Studios. bower-studios.com
The Brutalist-inspired living room coffee table was made by Yucca Stuff, in Austin, Texas. It’s the Lavaca model, and can have customized finishes and materials. yuccastuff.com
That pop-of-color glass statement light over the dining room banquette comes from New York–based Trueing, which recently notched a write-up in Architectural Digest.
Some of the throw pillows around the house were commissioned from a local Portland outlet, the women-owned Madre, which also makes bedding and kitchen goods. madrelinen.com