Casa Nera was my first opportunity to design and build a house in Portland, following my experience returning to residential construction and working extensively in the hills in Portland where I came to clearly understand the complexities of hillside construction. I wanted to make a bold house, almost intimidating but warm, even sensual on the inside, and very much not woodsy and Portlandy!
The design of Casa Nera was driven by the challenge of building in a heavily forested site that had an “environmental” zoning overlay which placed strict restrictions on what portions of the site could be used for building. The remarkable flip side was the concessions granted by the code in exchange for the hardship: specifically allowing for a zero front setback, thereby allowing me to place the house right out to the street where I wanted it to create a privacy wall to shield the idyllic forest setting on the other side.
An additional requirement was to provide an elaborate garage, suitable to storing and maintaining a fleet of race cars, with a wide door that could be left open during the day while someone worked there. The best solution was to use the existing topography to place the garage under the house, one level below the street, thus removing the big garage from the house elevation as well as giving it privacy and a privileged relationship to the landscape. The driveway is an engineering feat in itself, as much a pleasure to use as it is a wonder to contemplate!
The vision I shared with my clients was of a house that, inside, could be in Paris or on Central Park, not one fettered with the conventional trappings of “northwest” design and materials. Inside the house, one is presented with spectacular framed vistas of the lush forest outside but at the same time, comfortably nested in the house without the disturbing chill of expanses of glass or undefined boundaries.