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The Morris Marks Diaries: Structural Development

An update from project manager, Joe McAlester


Perhaps while stuck in traffic, you’ve noticed the old house sitting at the intersection of Southwest Broadway Drive and Grant Street—you know that busy intersection to get on or off I-405 near SW 6th? It’s an area you might not have given much notice before, other than that cool retro motel sign. Now you find yourself gazing at what looks like a very old home. You may ask yourself, “Just how old is that home? Was it always there?”


In fact, it’s 138 years old. It was cut in half a few months ago and moved from its shady home near PSU with towering new buildings on each side. You probably hadn’t noticed it before, but now it’s come out of the shade and into the light. It might look a little run-down, but don’t worry, it will be a shining part of our city soon. And a shining part of history as well.

The house was built in 1880 by architect Warren H. Williams for Morris Marks, a successful shoe merchant, at what was then #254 Twelfth Street. This is the first of two homes Marks had built. Apparently, he was he was a man who appreciated architecture, as this is perhaps one of the best examples of Italianate architecture our city has to offer.

Arciform founder Richard De Wolf gave me an update on the home a few weeks ago:

“Now that the house has been set on a new foundation and structurally ‘tied back together,’ the historic review portion of the project can happen. Lots of decisions are made during this process. Our history with the city puts us at an advantage with historical restoration projects. We know what to expect and how to make it as efficient as possible.

The use of the building dictates how we move forward. An office building requires different codes than if it were used as a home. Things like ornamentation, rot, siding, etcetera, will be addressed in either scenario, so we can move forward on those common items. Seismic retrofitting is also a concern when deciding which code we apply to the building envelope. Once those are finalized, we can remove the addition on the roofline and restore the beautiful shape that has long since been gone. With a dried-in roof—watch out—we can go crazy on interior finishes and exterior restoration.”


The process is like a large puzzle in which Arciform’s Project Manager puts together the pieces. Today, photographer Christopher Dibble and I get to explore the inside of the house and find out what’s going on, straight from the Project Manager, Joe McAlester.

We feel pretty lucky to get the inside scoop on this home. With an average of 5-6 projects going on at a time, Joe McAlester isn’t usually free to sit and chat about his work, although he seems quite relaxed and happy to do so for us today.

“We’ve never had any top-down, house-lift projects quite like this. There’s a lot of structural stuff to be done. At this stage, we’re finishing structural repairs in the basement. Then we’ll remove the out-of-context dormer that was added on in the 70’s and restore the home to its original style, updated for today’s world,” says Joe.


The home has been a boarding house for many years with numerous children, adults and families as tenants.

”We’ve had several people walking by stop and inquire about the house; they share memories of living in the house and take photos.”

As we walk through the home, I notice layer upon layer of plaster and wallpaper on the walls. Large sliding dining room doors, a beautiful old marble fireplace, high ceilings in every room.

Things like bathrooms weren’t a thought in the 1880s—indoor plumbing didn’t exist yet! Which might be why we find a toilet underneath the stairwell (where Harry Potter would have lived if this were a J.K. Rowling novel).

Joe tells me the house will be done in about 9 months. As we look around and he lists everything that needs to be done, he says, “…maybe a year? Let’s say 9-12 months.”

Heading down to the basement, site lead Jack Ouska and his team are working inside the structural build.


Original beams are being replaced. New, larger beams allow for a more open floor plan with fewer posts.

They are also changing the way the beams are installed to improve headroom. The original beam was installed under the floor joists.  



“To install the new beam, we cut a channel in the floor joists. The new beam will be installed in that channel, and the floor joists will be attached to the side of the beam. This will create roughly 5 inches more of headroom from the basement floor to the bottom of the beam. In addition to fewer posts, this will really help open up the space,” Joe explains to me as I try to grasp how in the world they’re making this old home stand strong again.

Written by Snow Blackwood

Photos by Christopher Dibble

A Kitchen for Cooking, Cats and Comfort


Clockwise from left: Linda’s baking supplies as she prepares her Chewy Ginger-Molasses Chocolate-Chunk cookies (recipe here!), Denali loves the camera and the kitchen; Simple ingredients and natural light are a recipe for the heart.

“I believe cats to be spirits come to earth. A cat, I am sure, could walk on a cloud without coming through.” – Jules Verne

Linda Schmidt loves cats. This is the first thing I noticed about the 1929 Tudor home. The cat shaped topiary as I walk through the front door, the bengal cat, Denali with it’s striking fur coat, cat paintings on the walls by Jonathan Blum.

Linda gives new meaning to the term: “cat lady”. This cat lady, is not one with loud wallpaper and leaky roofs. This cat lady has a restrained color palette and refined taste for antiques mixed with a traditional-modern style.
“Sometimes you get lucky and land a client with optimal taste and personality.” Anne De Wolf, owner of Arciform, has been working with Linda for over 9 years on the remodel of her 2,300 square foot home in Portland’s beautiful Southwest Hills overlooking a green yard brightened by magnificent yellow and orange fall leaves today.
Over the years, to say the two have developed a friendship would be putting it lightly. It’s obvious to see they have a uniquely close relationship. One that perhaps can only be obtained through the process of working on a project so close to your soul as one’s home.



“This is really Linda’s masterpiece. I didn’t do much.” De Wolf is humble. As the restoration-designer of historic homes, Anne turns others’ dreams into realities. And as a designer myself (though not of homes) I recognize the skill in taking one’s perspective and being able to turn this into something that’s expressive of them without projecting your own ego onto it.
“It comes down to a love for your work and having fun.” Anne doesn’t take herself too seriously and she believes creating and design should be fun. “You can see the difference when the process was fun.”

During our photoshoot, Anne and Linda’s contagious laughter fills the house. They playfully make jokes about “Sue” the imaginary neighbor who’s been causing upheaval with her loose ways. Never has it been so easy to get people to laugh and smile for photos.

As we walk around the dining table I admire the rustic-modern chairs—all from Restoration Hardware.


Framed photos of Linda’s family tree.

“Everything had to be perfect. Symmetry and perfection is important to Linda. I mean look at this!” Anne says as she shows me the intricately placed collage of photos which frame ALL of Linda’s history. She has black and white photos from the 1800’s of her German ancestors. Framed immigration papers from her “Papi”—the term both Linda and Anne use for their fathers. Both are of German descent.


Balancing a rustic, antiquey style with perfection and symmetry is not always easy. However, the way it’s done here works amazingly well. That—I can only guess—is in large part because of the relationship that Linda and Anne have developed over the years.
The dining room table is on wheels flanked with wide old boards that display a warm patina.
“We left it large even though the dining room is small, it creates intimacy.” says De Wolf.
The beautiful aged-wood balances the cool color palette and symmetrical precision of the arched entrances to the stairwell and front door. Every arched entrance was widened and changed so they matched in size creating a Escher-esque view from room to room.
The kitchen was the most recent part of the remodel. Having already completed the other parts of the home, only the basement remodel remains.

Linda loves to bake. So elements like the slide-and-pull shelving unit that go way back into the cabinetry were important. The kitchen is small, but the use of space makes it efficient.
The black cabinetry, mixed with gray and white is matched to a black range make the space feel incredibly elegant. And as Denali dances into the room lured by Linda baking ginger-chocolate cookies, the view is picture-perfect.

Written by Snow Blackwood  Photos by Christopher Dibble

Linda’s Chewy Ginger-Molasses Chocolate Chunk cookies


Recipe modified from Martha Stewart’s December/January 1997 issue

INGREDIENTS (makes 8 dozen – you’ll need alot for the Holidays!)

64 TJ pieces (4 bags Trader Joe’s semi-sweet chocolate chunks)

6 cups plus 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour

5 teaspoons ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

4 tablespoons cocoa powder

4 sticks of butter

4 tablespoons freshly grated ginger (ginger from the tube in the produce section works great!)

2 cups dark-brown sugar, packed

2 cups unsulfured molasses

4 teaspoons baking soda

1 cup granulated sugar

4 teaspoons ground cinnamon


  1. Sift together flour, ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and cocoa
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and grated ginger until whitened, about 4 minutes. Add brown sugar; beat until combined. Add molasses; beat until combined
  3. In a small bowl, dissolve baking soda in 5 teaspoons boiling water. Beat half of flour mixture into butter mixture. Mix in chocolate; turn out onto a piece of plastic wrap. Pat dough out to about 1 inch thick; seal with plastic wrap; refigerate until firm, at least 2 hours.
  4. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or nonstick baking mats. Roll dough into 2-inch balls; piece 2 1/2 inches apart on baking sheets. Refrigerate 20 minutes. Roll dough balls in granulated sugar and return to baking sheets. Transfer to oven and bake until surfaces crack slightly, about 13 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes; transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.