about the renovation of our new north Portland Church into our future home!

Welcome to the Church of Tam!

with one comment

And so begins the crazy, insane adventure of the reinvention of my new home.  First things first: I’m so incredibly lucky and blessed with the amazing people in my life who are helping make this dream become a reality. Thank you, friends, family, cohorts and coworkers for all your support and advice. I am starting this blog so that all of you can not only see the creative evolution of this beast of a project, but also witness the slow progression of my insanity, and hopefully cut me some slack as I slowly lose my mind 🙂

First, a little backstory.

For years I’ve wanted to buy a unique building and renovate it as my home.  I’ve collected books on conversions, scoured websites of similar projects, watched the extreme homes stories on HGTV, and awaited with eager anticipation the monthly arrival of my Dwell magazine.

While vacationing with friends and on a hike along the Napali coast in Hawaii last spring, My friend Eli said out of the blue: “Tam, lets buy a warehouse!”  as if it made perfect sense, as if it weren’t wrought with difficulty… I think my response was an incredulous… “um, OK!”  Though it seemed like a pipe-dream at the time, I don’t think either of us doubted the sincerity or the capabilities of the other to actually make it happen.  We continued discussing the possibility that day and agreed to get started on the hunt for buildings as soon as we returned back to Portland.  We started off by checking out warehouses, commercial properties and other mixed use types, pre-existing with non-residential purposes.  These visits were generally discouraging explorations, though fun and very educational. We learned a ton during this process;  about the difficulties of getting around zoning (and the extremely high costs involved with both the purchase and the conversion of such commercial/industrial buildings) and gradually we started to realize we needed to narrow our focus a bit to unusual buildings that were already zoned residential.

Williams front NW

Eli happened to be riding his bike up Williams avenue in North Portland one day, and spotted a FOR SALE sign out front.  We went to see it as soon as we could schedule it.  It was a small Baptist church in the heart of a community already rich with history and was so filled with promise.  It is a long white, wood and concrete rectangle, about 3,000 SF, with a pitched roof, a long driveway up the side and a small yard in the back. The meeting hall portion at the front of the church has wonderful high ceilings, and a natural concrete floor under the carpet.  The back half (added 20 years after it’s original creation in 1958) unfortunately sits 4 feet higher than the front, and it’s lower ceilings conceal a truss structure (that we recently learned is impossible to modify without removing entirely and costing a bundle).  It also unfortunately has a linoleum floor glued directly onto the concrete, which would be a daunting task to remove, so Eli plans to figure out some other alternative flooring option. There are kitchen cupboards, a countertop and a steel sink, (which I may remove and re-install in my jewelry work-studio down the road). This back room also has a wood-burning stove, (which Eli is excited to upgrade and use as his primary heat source in the winter).

williams front SW

Otherwise, it was a relatively empty shell, and will require minimal demolition. There are three bathrooms, (one with a shower) and plenty of natural light, the reinforced concrete throughout is not only a safely and structural thing of beauty but also makes it easy to keep it comfortably temperate indoors.

It sits right on a major bicycle superhighway and serves as an artery between the inner east side/downtown and North Portland neighborhoods.  There are a lot of adorable new developments and revitalization projects popping up nearby, including several projects coordinated by the design/build company that Eli works for, Sakura Urban Concepts.



In fact, a six-plex of loft-townhomes recently done by Sakura happens to be two doors down from the church, on the corner of Williams and Wygant.  Taka Nakagawa is the chief designer and owner, and agreed to help us with our project.  He is underway with ideas for the design and construction, and Eli is a whiz on this CAD program called “sketchup” which gives a detailed analysis in three dimensions.  It’s a great way to convey an idea visually and a sketch can be continually changed and refined down to the most minute of details.4828 N Williams_front

We agreed on some of the more important aspects of this project including existence within a central location, growth among a vital community, and the creation of a unique, versatile space that utilizes redevelopment methods which support a sustainable lifestyle.   Our goal in essentially repurposing the building with an intelligent re-design, utilizing a less wasteful use of resources and cost-effective methods in having a minimal impact on it’s community and the environment.  Frequent trips to the Rebuilding center, a local resource for houseparts and fixtures, are a must.  Considerations including water collection tanks for our toilet flushing, solar panels and  eco-friendly and recycled materials would be made.  Non toxic, low VOC or metro recycled paints are preferred.  Additional insulation would be added wherever possible to cut down on heat loss.  Eli and Rachael planned to build a greenhouse off of the backyard and an ADU (accessory dwelling unit) for additional work-space off of their back unit. They want to irrigate and enjoy the fruits of gardening.  I’d had dreams of using my front unit for a variety of creative uses, ranging from yoga to film screenings to craft nights.  In this way I hope to invigorate our home with a sense of community and plan to invite artists, performers, teachers and thinkers to interact and utilize it as a flexible and creative space.

Here are some early “before” images of when it was in use as a Church:

IMG_1578 IMG_1577 IMG_1579 IMG_1573 IMG_1581 IMG_1571 IMG_1575 IMG_1574 IMG_1592

SO, closing on the property was August 4th, and we plan to have the land legally divided into two different properties with construction completed for basic liveability within 9 months.  By March of 2010, we hope to be ready to throw the housewarming party!!!  In the meantime.. does anybody need a church pew? We have lots!!!


Written by lilylivered

August 17, 2009 at 5:17 am

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. Wahoo for you, wahine. This looks fun…and should keep you out of trouble for awhile.

    Susan wants to know “what are the core beliefs of the Church of Tam?” xo, Mum

    mum and Susan Bradford

    August 20, 2009 at 6:22 am

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