The Shaw House, Reconstructed

Cornerstone Construction Services believes there is a right way to do everything.

So when the locally renowned Shaw House was slated for demolition we questioned the decision to destroy the symbolic home and instead proposed a different approach: a significant remodel to save the Shaw House.

“We wanted to take this on,” Brian said. “We had a vision for it.”

Built by Oregon architect John Yeon in 1950, the mid-century modern home was ahead of its time. The house showcased design elements that were rarely seen before: 2x6 walls, tall ceilings, plywood panel systems on the outside of the house, and an inset gutter system that drained through interior walls of the house. Understanding the history Yeon’s design represented and the importance of his work to the Northwest, we aimed to save the architectural details. “At the time, we didn’t really know what it was going to look like,” Jeff recalled, “but we knew it was a historically significant house and we needed to preserve some of those details.”

Examining the Design

With a team spending nearly three weeks hand-tearing the house apart (using equipment for a project like this would have been too drastic), we quickly discovered that while the design was extraordinary, the construction was in desperate need of repair. There was extensive dry rot, mold, and flaws in the original construction—flaws that are understandably common in something so ahead of its time. The inset gutters were leaking and rotting the house from the inside. The windows were single-paned glass, not tempered, and there was no thermal performance. Even more, the fascia boards had no ventilation and the roof structure was not insulated properly.

We were there every step of the way—watching the drywall come off, watching installation come out, looking at the pipes—and the scope of the project began to take shape. “Some things we thought we might be able to save or that we wanted to save, definitely couldn’t be,” Jeff concluded. With a background in extensive remodeling, we knew the biggest mistake we could make was to not do enough. “Regardless of what people may say about the preservation of a home like this,” Brian said, “we knew we weren’t going to save one element at the detriment of ten others that desperately needed to be fixed.” 

The Reinvention

Knowing that a well built home requires thoughtful preconstruction, we spent hundreds of hours in shop drawings. “In a business of ‘doers,’ it’s vital that we are also thinkers, and we have to be a thinker first. And that takes a great deal of discipline for a builder,” said Brian. Before starting any construction, we took the original pieces and created mock-ups. We created a sample window with a sample frame; we put a sample of the trim up and mocked up the roof. Because we were operating well outside of the industry standard, examples of these designs did not exist, so we spent a great deal of time and effort recreating the construction scenario to limit the possibility of any catastrophic mistakes. 

As the most expensive and comprehensive item of the house, the windows were our greatest challenge. Contrary to a typical house design, John Yeon had one 2x6 running full height from the floor to the ceiling in between each window. “To align windows with architecture that is aged and therefore a little out of square or a quarter inch different, to make sure everything was level with different floor heights throughout the house, to figure out how the paneling was going to finish, took a great deal of time,” Jeff described.

The fascia detail and the roof were also extensive projects. We kept the inset gutter, true to John Yeon, instead of replacing it with a standard detail in front of the house. In order to keep the original fascia profiles, we took an original profile and built it out of five separate pieces. “We used custom knives in our wood factory to grind solid fir framing beams and build the pieces,” Brian explained. “We made knives, templates, whatever we needed to do to mold the special fascia details and keep specific lines and redo interior design details.” Investing a million and a half dollars to the design of this house, we wanted to ensure these details—how the fascia profiles wrapped around the roof, where the details started and stopped, how it sat on top of the windows—were all executed correctly. “We wanted to stretch our skills and our design. We wanted to stretch our abilities and see what the possibilities were,” Jeff said.

The New Shaw House

Many design features of the original Shaw House remain: the fascia profiles, the light fixtures, the fireplace, and even the stone patio exterior detailing and original handrail design that graced the cover of House Beautiful magazine in 1953. By adding high-efficiency windows, heating/cooling systems, new electrical and plumbing systems and new state-of-the-art European appliances, we created a new home that tastefully blends Oregon’s original character with Cornerstone’s modern vision. Perhaps in today’s world, a John Yeon house might have looked like this.

In the end, we believe our attention to detail and dedication to the integrity of the home paid off. “No matter what materials you’re installing, no matter what the style of the house is, I think if you can walk away from it knowing that the quality of what you did is the best it can be, that’s the most important thing,” Brian reflected.

 

“We’re proud of this house. The quality, the design, the transformation. We did it right.”