As I returned to fine-art painting, restoring an old schoolhouse was an aid to creativity.

Greetings! My mid-century house in Portland, Oregon, was featured in the August 2010 issue of Old-House Interiors. Two years ago, I moved and took on a new project: a one-room schoolhouse built in 1875 in Canby, a small town south of Portland. Bordering a large farm, it sits on a quarter-acre—and needed major restoration.

The door was replaced with a more appropriate one of the Victorian period, with reproduction hardware.

The door was replaced with a more appropriate one of the Victorian period, with reproduction hardware.

Since childhood, I’d wanted to make a living creating art. I’d been successful as a graphic designer, but my first love was always painting. What started as a hobby, surprisingly, became my new career at mid-life. It seems people were willing to pay money for my paintings! So, in 2016, I became a full-time painter. I incorporate my graphic-design experience into my work—you could call it “collage painting.”

It was time for me to find a new home of my own, with space to let creativity flow. The schoolhouse listing was intriguing, but then it was pulled off the market; when it came back on, I went to look. The minute I walked in, I knew it was the right place.

 The “one-room” open plan suited the owner, who uses the space as both home and studio.

The “one-room” open plan suited the owner, who uses the space as both home and studio.

The building had been used for storage and was full of antiques and “stuff.” In fact, there was only a narrow walking path inside. My agent was skeptical; he kept asking me, “Are you sure you want to do this?” But I closed on the house and started the renovation. 

Layout and design came easy—it was already all in my head. I quickly put it down on paper: kitchen, bath, laundry room, bedroom. Generally, the one-room open plan suited me. I kept as many original details as possible. For the rest, I bought vintage doors and found hardware to match the period. I used historic typography drawer handles on kitchen cabinets. For the bath vanity, I converted an old dresser and married it to a marble top from another piece.

Wood, painted shiplap boards, and tile add texture in the farmhouse kitchen.

Wood, painted shiplap boards, and tile add texture in the farmhouse kitchen.

Actual construction wasn’t so easy to figure out. I thought I would be my own contractor, but, as my agent had warned, a lot needed to be done—and, apparently, there is an order one must follow. Lucky for me, a collector of my art happened to run a salvage business: Lovett Deconstruction in Portland. His team came in and gutted the interior, saving all of the vintage trim, wainscoting, chair rails—anything that could be reused.

With a converted antique dresser and old-fashioned tub complementing industrial touches, the new bath is retro-chic.

With a converted antique dresser and old-fashioned tub complementing industrial touches, the new bath is retro-chic.

I hired Viridian Window Restoration to fully restore the old windows. By now I’d hired Rupp Family Builders to be my general contractor. They put in a new foundation, garage, electrical, plumbing, roofing, and insulation. Rupp was open to reusing the vintage materials; the firm’s great carpenters built trim to match.

Once I had a working bathroom and electricity, I moved in. A month later, the house was pretty much done, except for exterior painting and landscaping. In August, I hired a wonderful painter whose wife gave birth to premature twins who spent months in the hospital. My painter ran between his day job, my painting contract, and the hospital; he finished up in October. Happily, the rains held off.

This view from the kitchen end looks past the private bedroom toward the open living space.

This view from the kitchen end looks past the private bedroom toward the open living space.

I love the schoolhouse. Having this new creative space, with so much natural light, actually changed the way I paint. I love the town of Canby, too. When I’m working in the yard, someone will stop by to thank me for saving the schoolhouse. Neighbors have brought me flowers, kerchiefs for my dog, bird feeders, and fresh food from their gardens.

Vintage furnishings and the owner’s art fill the rooms.

Vintage furnishings and the owner’s art fill the rooms.

Last December, my place was on the Canby Tour of Homes to raise money for the library. So many people wanted to see what had become of the old schoolhouse, ticket sales were doubled! A line stretched out my door. How very gratifying!

Tell us about your project:

Submit your successful project, large or small, to ppoore@aimmedia.com.

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