Dayna McErlean’s seven-year remodeling project changed a debilitated Portland, Oregon, building to a lively multiuse project. Drawing on her childhood and inspired by her hands on, inventive family, McErlean made four lively spaces — the Yakuza Lounge (a food enthusiast’s Japanese bar), a upstairs living room, a stunning backyard and deck space, and a cabin for rent. Working with a carefully selected team of building consultants, McErlean also integrated a green roof and a water reclamation system. Now, almost a decade later, her converted home in town’s Alberta Arts District, is at the core of a thriving community.
at a Glance
Who lives here: Dayna McErlean and son Bishop
Location: Portland, Oregon
Size: 1,200-square-foot inside and 1,500-square-foot outside deck; two bedrooms, 1 bath
That’s intriguing: McErlean lives over a restaurant she owns, and lifts out a cabin at the gardens below.
The Yakuza Lounge occupies the whole first floor of the contemporary multiuse building. Upstairs is McErlean’s and Bishop’s house, which can be obtained by a metal side terrace. The building is located in Galvalum, along with the street scene is welcoming to pedestrians, with inviting boutique storefronts, trees, bike parking and potted plants.
McErlean worked with a team of consultants — such as an engineer, a contractor, an excavator and a sculptor — to make her dream house. Implementing them individually allowed her the freedom to provide her own suppliers and investigate alternate building strategies.
Metallic gate: made by David Hurley, fabricated by Rob Roy, Recychedelic
The kitchen island is set on wheels. The countertops are black granite, along with the kitchen cabinets are made of Plyboo which McErlean scored at a reduction as a result of minor defects. The corner post was salvaged in the first building, and the cupboard pulls are custom. The stove backsplash and surround are steel panels fabricated and set up by David Bertman. McErlean’s clay mug and teapot collection is set from the steel board.
Casters: John W. Negus
Louise Lakier: What or who inspires your own personality?
Dayna McErlean: My late mother and father and also the way they led their lives. I grew up at a huge 15,000-square-feet open house built by my father and brothers. I watched them build the nine-bedroom, nine-bathroom house from the age of 3 and remember running around on long, steep boards of wood until the stairs were built. My father built it so all his seven children can each have their own bed and toilet. My mother decorated the whole home herself and that I remember she used fabric as background.
A 30-foot bridge split the boys’ rooms in the girls’ rooms, along with my parents’ room situated at the head of the bridge like a toll house. My father moved to Staten Island from Brooklyn in the early ’60s when they building the bridge, therefore I always wondered if the Verrazano Narrows Bridge inspired the bridge in our property. It was just an amazing, magical place to grow up, and that I believe my parents would be pleased to see what I have created today.
Living furniture: Era Classic
The curved metal walls attract you in on top of the entry stairs. A coat closet is supporting the chalkboard-painted plywood panels. The cove lighting system at the back part of the house was conceived by Andee Hess of Osmose Design and installed by “Sandy” Alexander Mills along the ceiling truss joists to make a beautiful amber glow.
LL: What was your biggest splurge?
DM: The carpets. I have a passion of fibers and weaving, and also to me the carpets were a huge functional indulgence of art which would create comfort that surrounds both of us.
Works Architecture made the shelving and custom built desk in the living room, and Rob Roy of Recychedelic made and installed it. The lamp is out of Mexico and belonged to McErlean’s parents.
The furniture is also an eclectic mixture of contemporary pieces and family heirlooms from her childhood home in Staten Island. She recently splurged on reupholstering the couch.
LL: Inform me about the art onto the fireplace.
DM: The publish onto the fireplace is a lifetime drawing/collagraph publish that I created when I was studying at the Glasgow School of Art in Scotland in 1991. The printing plate is made of cardboard, coated with flooring tile glue and drawn into with a chopstick as it was drying. I covered it with matte medium to seal it up it, then handed it through the press.
LL: What is your decorating philosophy?
DM: Clean lines, soft tones and beautiful textures. Warm indirect lighting in addition to plenty of natural plants and light.
LL: Is there a story behind the bedspread you created for Bishop?
DM: My childhood friend Alex Bush had these duvet covers in her homemade by her “big grandma” in Hungary when we were growing up. The duvets had a big opening at the center to match the comforter in, and that I remembered them fondly. I looked around but couldn’t find them so I asked Sara at Whipstitch to custom make you. She made all my draperies.
Light fixtures: Frank Gehry, from Era Classic
In the master bath, a freestanding bathtub sits on a custom made base constructed from glulam beams and metal.
The shoji panels were a collaborative project. McErlean sourced the paper from neighborhood lamp manufacturer Lam Quang, along with the metalwork was custom made by Kenneth Wright of Rocketworks Design. The French doors open wide for indoor-outdoor dressing table.
LL: Do you have a favourite designer?
DM: I have two — R.M. Schindler and Shigeru Ban. I love Schindler’s inventiveness of lifestyle and space — his furniture, bed baskets, fireplaces, sliding panel doors which open up whole rooms to backyard living rooms. His tilt-up concrete construction and the simplicity of design, scale of chambers and notion of studio living where married couples live communally but have their own creative living area is brilliant!
I have a fantastic love for fibers and paper, therefore Ban’s work fascinates me. The vast openness and resourcefulness of the temporary housing he creates out of his paper tubs is amazing.
The flat lateral support ribs of the curved metal wall serve a double purpose as shelving. Containers, artwork and jewelry are saved and hang out of the wall on magnets.
LL: What can’t you live without?
DM: My bathtub. My favourite thing to do in the home is dance with Bishop and take bathrooms.
McErlean’s closet was what is now Bishop’s room. When Bishop was born, she built her closet to her bedroom. She lined the walls of the bedroom with built-ins, additional closet rods and shelving, and covered the walls with fairly damask fabric curtains. The chandeliers were salvaged from a nearby pub. “It feels like I’m sleeping in a boat’s berth,” she says.
LL: What would you call your own style?
DM: My style is “it-is-ness” — it’s the finessing of space. I get really inspired by what is there and how it can be improved. I’m affected by the project at hand, space and what resources I have to work with. It is what I make it.
I consider my house my sculpture, and I have pushed and pulled it into its current form and will keep doing so. So long as I own it, it will always be a work in progress.
The deck railing is custom made out of frosted glass panels closed out of shower doors.
The outside decks provide an additional 1,500 square feet of space. McErlean made outdoor play areas for Bishop by covering segments with turf grass.
Granite implanted in stainless steel containers provides privacy from the street. The containers are from Coastal Farm.
A synopsis of the cabin along with also the gardens from the top deck.
LL: Do you have any nicknames for the building/garden compound, like “The Bishop Building”?
DM: I always called it “The Lynch” through evolution. I’ve noticed that the staff calls it “The Kuz,” and it is sort of stuck.
Outdoor seating in the backyard on a bed of oyster shells. The slanted roof over is a green roof.
LL: What advice would you offer to other homeowners?
DM: Construct your dreams and don’t listen to the naysayers. People thought I was mad. They couldn’t see my vision until it was eventually implemented, and then they were inspired. But till then they said things like, “I don’t envy you” and “Why are you building this here on the 72 bus line the moment it goes on the California coastline?”
Ann Baker has been the the original landscape architect, also Anne Cullerton provides ongoing maintenance and layout.
LL: What do you want to do with your house next?
DM: Build cantilevered plant holders off the structural steel columns in the living room. David Bertman is designing them and they will stretch out, sort of like trees.
LL: What are you currently working on today?
DM: A small commissary kitchen for hire named Dash. It is about 12 blocks away on Northeast 42nd.
McErlean received two separate grants in the city of Portland to construct her green roof and water reclamation system. The rain reclamation tank resides beneath the bamboo forest at the conclusion of the entrance walkway and holds up to 2,500 gallons of water. Overflow runs into a giant trench drain along the bottom of the restaurant chairs, concealed with river stone. The toilets, hose bibs and sprinkler system all function with graywater.
The outside bathing area includes an outside shower, a spa and a chilly soaking bathtub. Both tubs are produced with embedded river stone which provides a pure foot massage and mixes well into the backyard.
The Kuza Garden Cabin blends beautifully into its surroundings with an ivy-covered exterior. Available for short distance remains, the cabin was initially a drop. The walls, roof, concrete flooring and carriage doors are first to the 1920s construction.
McErlean along with her son Bishop up onto a roof. What started as a remodeling project in 1999 has contributed to the community with its vibrant restaurants and restaurant, where McErlean hosts a myriad of events, like children’ happy hours and neighborhood dinners benefiting homeless youths at de:ear.
LL: What was your proudest homeowner second?
DM: The day that I brought my newborn son Bishop Valentine, home from the hospital and walked around our property. Talking to him and showing him around, I realized I’d built this house for both of us just like my father had done for me and all my siblings. It was a magical moment when I could see my dream had come true. I wish my parents could have been there to talk about it with me.
Can you reside in a multiuse building? Share it with us!