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In Portland, a midcentury ranch shines anew after debonair revamp

For this creative director, mundane isn’t a fit

Every week, our House Calls feature takes you into homes with great style, big personality, and ineffable soul. Today, we look at the Portland, Oregon, home of Jesse Leyva. As a creative director in the skateboarding world, Leyva’s job involves designing on the cultural cutting edge.

However, the home he purchased fell squarely in the pedestrian territory. Even his real estate agent cautioned him that the late 1970s ranch house was "so not you." He looked past the dated finishes and saw potential for something more.

The house sits on a winding road and is surrounded by trees. It’s an idyllic site, but Leyva says that before it was remodeled, the house’s exterior walls and deck were a "pukey brown" hue and the interior walls featured odd color combinations ranging from brown and purple to orange and green. "The crazy colors appeared to go back to the 1970s," he speculates.

A white living room with a tiled fireplace and a large support beam clad in rustic pine wood.
Top: In the living room, large windows give Jesse Leyva the illusion of living in a treehouse; inside the feeling is enhanced by a rustic wood clad beam. The fireplace surround is made from Dimensional tile by Heath and topped by a slender piece of walnut wood. Bottom: A Mag table by Eric Pfeiffer holds some of Leyva’s collections.

The agent may have been skeptical, but Leyva wasn’t. "I thought the bones were really good," he says. "I liked the ceilings and beams."

To achieve his vision, he hired Leela Brightenburg and Alissa Pulcrano of bright designlab, and they quickly determined that client and dwelling needed to be brought into harmony.

"Jesse is a creative, interesting guy who spends his time in a highly creative environment," Brightenburg says. "A run-of-the-mill home wasn’t going to cut it."

What did work was the layout: The bedrooms are on the lower level, and the public spaces are on the upper floor. Because of the sloped site, you enter on the topmost level. "The areas where you spend most of the day have the most natural light," Brightenburg says. "Plus, every window looks out on a beautiful, forested setting."

The black exterior of a ranch house.
By painting the house black, designers at bright designlab gave it a modern look and cause it to "disappear" into the trees.

Before the designers were hired, Levya had improved the flow and let the natural light into every space by removing interior walls that divided the upper story, combining the living, dining, and kitchen area into an open floorplan.

The pitched ceiling plane, something that attracted Leyva from the beginning, remains, and its form allowed the designers to create the space’s defining trait: a dramatic floor-to-ceiling plywood shelf system.

A wallpaper with black-and-white figures decorates a powder room.
Designer Leela Brightenburg says brass fixtures warm and brighten the mostly black-and-white interior. The faucet is from Newport Brass. The wallpaper is by Levya’s friend, Geoff McFetridge. "I’ve worked with Geoff for more than 15 years," says Levya.

"We loved the idea of making a great storage wall along one end of the space," says Pulcrano. "Jessie has an amazing collection of books and objects, so the shelves are perfect for holding a lot of it. But the shelves ended up being about more than storage. They are like a 3D piece of art, like a sculpture. They also add texture and depth to the space."

The shelves are arranged in a grid of squares, with some being double height. "This way, he can easily curate and rearrange his books and art, and he does that a lot," says Pulcrano.

A dining room with floor-to-ceiling plywood shelves and a portrait of homeowner Jesse Levya.
Left: Interior designer Alissa Pulcrano says the floor-to-ceiling shelves are like a sculptural element with storage. The table is from West Elm, the chairs are vintage Eames molded plastic chairs. Right: Levya, seen here, says that the house is so personal, it’s like an autobiography.

One of the most interesting things about the shelves is that they are made of plywood, one of construction’s most humble materials. "Plywood references skateboards, of course. But we love the beauty as well as the roughness and imperfection of it," says Brightenburg. "We sometimes like to leave the utilitarian materials we work with in their natural form, because they can be beautiful."

Plywood makes another appearance in the kitchen, on the sides of the metal-and-wood kitchen island. "This is like a stand-alone furniture piece, and Jessie uses it all the time," says Brightenburg. "It divides the kitchen from the rest of the space, it’s a prep area, and it’s also a place where Jesse and his friends just hang out."

Top: The designers use plywood throughout the home, citing its warmth, texture, and relationship to skateboards. The range and the hood are from Bertazzoni. The brass brackets are from Rejuvenation. Countertops are made of Pentalquartz. Bottom: The custom kitchen island was made to look like a piece of furniture. Bertoia barstools sit in front of it. The long light fixture is made by wrapping pendant lights from Ylighting around a custom-made metal bar.
Photo by David Papazian

The wood, including the walnut countertop on the island, offers a warm organic touch in the kitchen. It’s backed up with brass hardware that has a "live" finish. Meaning, it’s unsealed which allows it to patina and change with age. "We like to add elements like this to modern interiors," says Brightenburg. "It adds warmth and balance and, in 20 years time, this hardware will have aged in a beautiful way."

In the kitchen and dining room, windows are enlarged and simplified, and read as large, simple sheets of glass. "I call the house the Treehouse," says Leyva. "Because the second story is high off the ground and surrounded by trees, you get that feeling of being up in the branches. Because of the height and the trees, we don’t need window coverings."

A small sunroom in a modern ranch house.
A small, sunroom-like niche makes the perfect place for plants. Planters are from Modernica, Hella Jongerius, and TW Workshop. The Molded Plastic rockers are by Charles and Ray Eames for Herman Miller.

Leyva says the unadorned look comes from his "obsession" with Japan. "I like the Zen feeling the house now has." he says.

That mindset of simplicity echoes in the living room, where plants seemingly outnumber furniture pieces. The focal point in this area is the mantelpiece, designed in collaboration with The Good Mod. Prior to the remodel, it was all oak and all 1980s in its style. "We took down that mantel and fireplace surround and replaced it with white Heath tile and a thin, simple Oregon walnut mantel," Levya says.

Colorful, skateboard-influenced artwork in Leyva’s home.
Levya’s art collection has been strongly influenced by his work as a creative director. "A lot of my friends’ artwork is featured in the house," he says.

That mix of simple and style is prevalent throughout the house. "I’ve worn the same brand of white t-shirts for 20 years," Leyva says. "And I love clashing and juxtaposing the shirts with new things. I might on put a cheap t-shirt with a pair of vintage jeans and a more expensive tote, and it works really well together. It’s the same way you can put together plywood, walnut, and brass."

It’s that reflection of his style that makes the home that once caused his realtor to raise her eyebrows a perfect fit for Leyva today. "The house defines my map. It’s a little bit like an autobiography, and my friends who know me well remark on how ‘me’ it is," he says. "By remodeling it, I was able to creatively redefine it, and now it’s a place where I love to live and call home."

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