Midcentury Modern Meets Rustic Charm: The Cain Wong Residence

Cain Wong Renovation

The story of this midcentury renovation takes us back to 2009, when homeowner Aaron Cain purchased the charming residence situated on a hillside forest in Portland, Oregon. Following the advice of his father and architect friend Paul McKean, Aaron purchased the cottage-like home without having viewed the place in person.

His original plans of returning to Oregon to reside in the newly bought house suddenly changed, and it wouldn’t be until renovations by renovations by Paul McKean Architecture as well as Vic Cain and Harding Construction were fully completed in 2019 that Aaron would finally move in, a decade after his initial purchase. Today, Paul shares the story of his friend’s one-of-a-kind home.

Cain Wong Renovation

Which part/s of a new project excite(s) you the most?

I really enjoy working with talented people, whether that is the client, contractor, specialty sub or an intern in my office. Durable, beautiful details are very important to how we work, and most of those details have come into being through the input of various team members that have come into our orbit.

What are the emerging trends in residential architecture that will shape our way of living in the next ten years? 

I think there are many, especially concerning materials and systems. However, I think (hope) we will see a real change in the reduction of home sizes and an increase in energy performance. 

Cain Wong Renovation
Cain Wong Renovation
Cain Wong Renovation

Can you tell us a bit about the story of this house/project and its owners? 

The owner, Aaron Cain, who is a good friend of mine, purchased the home in 2009. He was working for Nike and living abroad and looking for a home to move into when he returned to Portland. His father, who is a talented general contractor, and I visited the home and sent Aaron a few quick cellphone photographs.

We suggested he buy the house immediately and he agreed. Instead of moving back to Portland Aaron and then his wife Annie were shuffled around to a few different locations around the world. We used that 10 year time period to do several phases of renovation between house renters that had been carefully selected to look over the home.

What did your clients ask for in their brief? 

At first the brief largely focused on repairing the existing home and making it safe for Aaron and his family. There were several leaks and non-code compliant railings and stairways. The roof under the deck was dead flat and leaking. Those types of repairs can actually be quite challenging considering we are using new and better products, but are trying to keep the original material palette.  

The next step was to address the largest design challenge which was updating the main living area to be more open and light filled. To do that, we lowered the kitchen and created an island, and added a custom fit window in the center of the home, which matches windows of the existing site. The last phase of work took place six years later and involved updating the lower floor – the master suite as well as the guest bathroom

Cain Wong Renovation
Cain Wong Renovation
Cain Wong Renovation

What was your approach for the project? 

Our approach was to protect the original design intent and materials of the home while simultaneously updating finishes and fixtures and increase the usability of the space.

Which is your favourite/most important feature of this house and why? 

My favorite detail of the house is definitely the structural framing system for the house. The cedar roof rests on beautiful fir purlins which rest on repeated concrete bent columns.

What materials have you used and why?

The material selections were largely based on matching the existing Western red cedar ceiling and siding, the red oak flooring, the fir cabinets and the concrete structure.

Cain Wong Renovation
Cain Wong Renovation

What was the first question you asked yourself when you got the assignment? 

What did the original architect intend with the design? Being that it was built for himself, it was very personal, meant specifically for his family. The questions of what elements were sacred, or perhaps what pieces were worth abandoning also came up.

How important was the contribution of your clients, if there was any? 

By far the most important contribution of the clients was that they had an absolute respect for the home and doing what needed to be done to restore it properly, to a high degree of quality. Since they were abroad for the majority of the project, they trusted us to make good design decisions and run with the project.

Have you found any inspiration in the mid-century period while designing the house? 

There are so many great things to learn when working on these quality mid century homes. If you look close, I believe the greatest details rest in the glazing systems, the door and window trim details and cabinet design. The quality of the materials that were available in that time period also leave you searching for those same high-quality materials, which are much harder to find.

Cain Wong Renovation
Photos via Cain Wong