As one of the oldest and most well-known communities in Portland, Irvington features stunning mansions built throughout the early 20th century. While it may be fun to walk along the sidewalks and admire the homes, those who live there know that maintenance, repairs, and remodeling in the Irvington district can be a harrowing ordeal.
Here at Lamont Bros., our team of remodeling experts has worked with several Irvington residents to help them successfully renovate their historic homes. While remodeling in a district like Irvington certainly comes with its challenges, it can also be immensely rewarding when done correctly.
In this article, we’re going to share with you the quirks and challenges of remodeling a home in Portland’s Irvington district. With this information, you’ll be able to put together a remodeling plan that helps you achieve your dream remodel with as little unnecessary hassle as possible. Here, you can expect to read about the following:
- An introduction to Irvington and its history
- Some common remodel projects for Irvington homes
- What challenges you might face when remodeling in Irvington
Why is Irvington a local landmark in Portland?
To fully understand what has made Irvington such an impressive neighborhood in the modern era, it helps to look back on how it came to be. Known for its visually stunning mansions in the heart of Portland’s east side, Irvington boasts a trove of historic value spanning several centuries.
History of Irvington
Irvington’s history began in 1851 when riverboat captain William Irving and his wife Elizabeth staked a land claim of 288 acres east of the Willamette River. After Irving’s death in 1872, Elizabeth began selling off portions of her land to real estate developers. By 1887, Irvington’s completed plat map included 129 rectangular land lots.
For the first several years of its existence, the Irvington district grew very slowly. Despite an ambitious vision for the community, developers only built about 50 homes between 1887 and 1900. Then, two major historical events changed the course of Irvington. The first was the advent of streetcars, which drastically cut the commute time from Irvington to downtown Portland. The second was the 1905 Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition, which caused a major population boom for Portland from 1905 to 1915.
Most of the development in Irvington took place during the years between 1900 to 1930. During this time, speculative land developers built the bulk of homes in the neighborhood. Victorian, craftsman, and prairie school architectural styles are all represented among the developer-built homes in Irvington. A handful of the estates, however, were custom-designed by leading architects of the age for Portland’s elite, including the famous Robert F. Lytle House, designed by David L. Williams.
After the demolition of handful of Irvington homes in the mid-20th century to make room for more modern developments, residents of the community mobilized to protect the historic value of the neighborhood. In 1992, Irvington gained status as a local historic district, which provides some protection and regulation against demolition and major construction in the district.
Today, Irvington remains one of the oldest and most historically preserved districts in Portland. As of 2022, the average age of a home in Irvington is 117 years, putting the average year built at 1905. The median home price in Irvington is $860,000 with an average home size of 2,500 square feet.
What are some common remodel projects in Irvington?
Due to the age of the homes in Irvington, many have been remodeled several times throughout the years. Because older homes tend to require more maintenance and upkeep, owning an Irvington home can be a challenge. By staying informed and educated on the types of remodeling projects you may need, you can plan and budget any extra expenses for your Irvington home.
As previously mentioned, many homes in Irvington have been remodeled a few times since they were built. While some of these remodels still hold up, some aren’t so great. When our team at Lamont Bros. remodels a home in Irvington, it’s often to undo the problems caused by a previous remodel.
Homes built in the early 20th century often just need a fresh start. After a hodge-podge of remodels from the 50s, 70s, and 90s, the interior can start to look a little haphazard. For whole-home remodels like this, it’s best to identify a single uniform stylistic vision and apply it to the entire home.
For example, many homeowners today want to remodel their historic Irvington homes back to a more historically accurate interior without sacrificing the comfort of modern amenities. This would involve assessing which elements of the home were altered due to previous remodels and identifying how to change them back to a more period-appropriate design.
Primary Bathroom Additions
During the early 20th century, homes generally only had one bathroom, and they were typically very small. Primary bathrooms weren’t a standard of the modern American home until the 1960s.
As a result, bathroom additions are common remodeling projects in the Irvington district. They require extensive design and planning beforehand but are a great way to add modern luxury to the charm of early 20th-century homes.
Kitchen Remodels and Expansions
Another common feature among historic homes in the Irvington district is an outdated kitchen design. When many of these homes were built, many homeowners of the era had servants. Because of this, kitchens of the era weren’t designed for comfort or usability. Rather, they were designed to be small, efficient, and out of the way.
Today, the kitchen plays a much more integral part in the home and is much more likely to be used by the homeowner rather than a servant. Many homeowners in Irvington are choosing to do kitchen expansions to accommodate the needs of the modern home cook.
This typically involves making the kitchen much larger — sometimes 2-3 times as large as the previous design. Updated appliances, custom cabinetry, and more efficient layouts are also common kitchen remodeling features for Irvington homes.
A large portion of homes built between 1900 and 1930 used either cedar or stucco siding. Unfortunately, both these types of siding materials require constant maintenance and repair.
Cedar is a fantastic siding material for the Pacific Northwest. Its anti-fungal and water-resistant properties make it especially suitable for our wet climate. The issue is that it is an organic material, and as a result, can rot. To prevent premature deterioration, homeowners should power wash their cedar siding yearly and re-sealed it every 3-5 years.
Stucco, on the other hand, is a terrible siding material for the Pacific Northwest climate. It is especially susceptible to water damage, and as a result, degrades over time due to water exposure. If your Irvington home already has stucco, there’s no escaping it at this point. The best you can do is be vigilant and make sure to take care of repairs early.
Windows are some of the most challenging design elements when remodeling in Irvington. This is an especially difficult task for historic homes due to regulations on exterior window styles. In Portland, historic preservation districts require that the windows match the original style and specifications, which in most cases means custom wood-framed windows.
The challenge is that wood windows are among the most expensive type of windows out there. And like wood siding, the material requires more maintenance to prevent rot. Furthermore, city regulations prevent homeowners from removing the original windows from a home if they are still intact. If the original windows are rotten or damaged, that’s when you’re allowed to replace them. Or, if you’re doing an addition, all of the new windows must match the style of the windows on the main structure.
It was normal for homes of this age to feature boiler heating systems rather than the furnace and duct HVAC systems popular in most modern homes. These boilers work by heating water in pipes that run through the house, which heat the home through radiators in each room.
Many Irvington homes still run on their original boiler system. If this is the case for your home, you may want to consider upgrading your boiler system to a more modern option. Most of the time, it makes sense to keep the pipes and purchase a more efficient boiler unit.
What are some common challenges of remodeling in Irvington?
Remodeling any historic home comes with its ups and downs. Since all the homes in Irvington were built within 30 years of each other, many of them face some of the same issues. Here are a few to think about before starting your remodel.
Portland Historic District Regulations
One of the biggest hurdles you’ll have to face when remodeling in Irvington is the Portland Historic District review. While these rules do create some additional headaches for homeowners, they’re also the reason Irvington has maintained much of its historical significance.
The basic goal of these strict regulations is to preserve the original design of historically significant homes in Portland. These rules apply primarily to the street-facing exterior of the home and govern what structural designs can be changed, what paint colors you can use, and what siding materials and window designs are allowed.
When working under these regulations, it’s best to have someone on your team who is familiar with the ins and outs of remodeling in historic districts. A skilled remodel designer should be able to help you achieve this goal.
Another consideration when remodeling in Irvington is whether or not the home contains lead paint. Chances are if it was built before 1978, it does. Lead paint is known to cause serious neurological damage to young children if ingested or inhaled.
If you’re not sure if your home has lead paint, treat it like it does until you can hire a professional hazardous material specialist to assess the property and tell you for sure. In the meantime, the best policy for potential lead contamination is to not disturb the affected area. Lead paint is only dangerous if it peels or flakes off, so the less you mess with it, the better.
High Labor and Material Costs
You should also expect your material and labor costs to be higher when remodeling a historic home in Irvington. Due to the regulations on remodeling historic homes, you’ll likely end up spending much more money on high-quality materials that match the original style and vision of the home’s design.
It’s also possible that some of the work on the home may require the expertise of skilled tradesmen whose work is either in high demand or extremely niche. Stone masonry and high-end finish carpentry techniques are both expensive trades you may have to work with, depending on the style of the home you’re remodeling.
How do I find the best remodeling contractor for my Irvington remodel?
Finding the right remodeler for your project is an important step toward a successful remodel. To find the contractor who is the best fit for your specific project, here are a few things to consider:
- Ask for referrals from people in your neighborhood who have recently remodeled their Irvington homes.
- Find a contractor who is honest with you about the costs from the start and keeps you in control of your budget.
- Look up contractors on the Oregon Construction Contractors Board to make sure they are licensed and insured.
- Don’t just consider the contractor’s cost — consider their process, quality of work, and value they bring to the remodeling process.
Our team at Lamont Bros. knows that the remodeling process can be a challenging one to face alone. That’s why we’re committed to making our clients’ remodeling journey just as much about the process and experience as it is about a high-quality, custom-designed remodel.
Lamont Bros.’ design-build process combines our award-winning design team with a staff of top-quality craftsmen and carpenters. We’re dedicated to providing Oregon homeowners with the expertise and help they need to turn their current homes into their dream homes.
Want to speak with a professional designer about your remodeling plans? Click the button below to schedule a free appointment with a member of our team. When you remodel with Lamont Bros, we’re with you from the first drawings to the final nail in your remodel.
Featured Image Source: Sanfranman59, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons