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Spring Home Design 2003: Glass Houses
Piece By Piece

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Cover Story
WRITTEN BY LORI TOBIAS
PHOTOGRAPHED BY BENJAMIN BENSCHNEIDER

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PIECE BY PIECE
Design followed the desire to display in a house made for art
 
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Architect Rick Potestio created a new fireplace with built-in niches to display art, such as the orange basket by Dale Chihuly on the second shelf to the left. The blue vase on the coffee table is by artist Susan Longini, who is, says home owner Ivan Gold, "Not only the executive director of the Bay Area Glass Institute and an accomplished studio-glass artist, but the kid sister of my childhood best friend and next-door neighbor." The head in the foreground is Steve McCarroll's "School of Thought."
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Portland Architect Rick Potestio doesn't mince words when recalling his first visit to Ivan Gold and Mary Meyer's Portland Heights home. "It was a builder's Sheetrock box," he says. "One of those hopeless environments."

Or so it seemed, until Potestio looked around and found he was in the midst of a formidable collection of glass art.

In the moments that followed, the home owners and Potestio discovered a common passion for art, and the partnership to revitalize an old and unremarkable house — albeit one with sweeping views — was forged.

"The biggest limitation to the house was that it was very, very poorly constructed," says Potestio. "It was a two-story house with 8-foot ceilings. I didn't see how we could rectify the situation without tearing the whole place down, but his budget didn't allow that. I saw in him a real interest in doing something exceptional, and that was the attractive part."

By extending the west and north walls into the former back yard, Potestio gained living-room space and the opportunity to create new height. Ceilings on the new portion were raised to 10 feet and the new walls finished in floor-to-ceiling glass.
 
Of the massive custom-crafted front door, Gold says, "We knew that space would be a glass door. We didn't know how it would go, where it would go, what it would look like. Then we saw William Carlson's work in glass and we looked at each other and said, 'I'll bet he could make the door.' While Gold won't talk about the cost, he says, "If you say to someone I have a 6-by-8-foot glass sculpture and I spent X dollars, that's not such a big deal. It weighs 1,000 pounds. There were 10 guys here mounting it. You can open it with a finger. It gives us such pleasure to see it, and it changed the whole perception of the house." Photo spacer
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Now, instead of feeling cramped and dark, the living room took on an intimate air, as though the original low ceiling had been dropped expressly for that purpose. Next, Potestio designed niches and shelves to display Meyer and Gold's collection.

"I wanted it to seem as though the room was just innately perfect for the display of glass, but it wasn't specifically designed to facilitate each piece. We wanted it to feel really natural."

Working with Portland lighting engineer Veronika Batho-Demelius, Potestio took each piece of glass to a warehouse, where workers built scaffolding to determine at what height the glass would be displayed, where the lighting would be positioned and at what angle it would strike the piece. "I went back and adjusted the plan accordingly based on what was determined in the warehouse. It was really an extensive process," he says.

But, says Gold, well worth the time. "We have been completely delighted with the fact that he built a home for us that is more beautiful than any other place we can go. Everywhere we look in the house, we see beautiful things we love."

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The "blue head" by Swedish artist Bertil Vallien, one of Gold and Meyer's favorite pieces, is visible in the house from 360 degrees. Viewed here from the stairway, the glass sculpture is said to have been inspired by the story of a woman who, after falling and hitting her head on the ice, awoke from a coma 42 years later. When asked what had occurred during all those years of sleep, Gold says, "The woman responded, 'All I remember are the blue faces.' Bertil Vallien read that story and began making blue heads."
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In the hall by the kitchen, a glass piece in steel frame by Bertil Vallien (right) displays two surfaces: on one side, rough and multi-dimensional; on the other, smooth, with abstract shapes. "Vallien calls them 'maps' and they are richly and symbolically decorated. One side looks like a view of the cosmos and the other side is a miniature allegorical painting with tons of detail," Gold says.


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Vases on the dining-room wall are by Seattle artist Dante Marioni. Says Gold, "During the first year, the shelf wasn't quite square and they'd float down to the edge. Every month or so you'd have to move them back."
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In the master bathroom, glass artist George Batho fused sticks of colored glass onto squares of clear glass tile. The squares, numbering several hundred, were grouted onto the floor, color side down. In the shower, glass block replaced a standard casement window, permitting both privacy and light, and a cast slab of glass mounted on stainless-steel supports provides seating.

Lori Tobias is a free-lance writer based on the Oregon coast. Her e-mail address is loritobias@harborside.com. Benjamin Benschneider is a Seattle Times staff photographer. NEXT »


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