Form, function and the house of your dreams.
On a warm summer evening, we visited Stephen Proctor at his Rivendell project in the hills above the Columbia River. Stephen is a visual artist and has quite the eye for design. His house is a harmonious blend of natural materials and modern comfort. We talked about building a custom dream house, art, Japanese philosophy, and much more.
Taking a tour of Stephen's 450 square foot home was like taking a tour through his life. Lots of people like to adorn their walls and shelves with personal photos, but Stephen’s home felt a bit different. At each corner we turned, Stephen showed us another beautiful trinket that was tied to a memory. Rivendell is a deeply personal reflection of his life and experiences, and meticulously thought out.
Setting the Scene
Rivendell is in a thicket of Douglas Firs, located in close proximity to the Columbia River. Just a 45 minute drive from downtown Portland, the house is located in Skamania County. He knew that he wanted a custom home, something away from the suburbs, someplace without an HOA. The plans for the house came from Den Outdoors. Stephen worked with his builder to include custom details and personal touches to make it a bespoke design. Stephen used the plans for the Modern Alpine Cabin as his base, and got creative from there.
The exterior of the home is clad in Gendai™ in Linseed Black with Douglas Fir accents. This color palette is no accident. Stephen’s love of black and natural wood comes from a mug purchased while on a trip in Northern Ireland. “It’s this perfect harmony of Scandinavian design accented with Japanese tea culture…I run around with a few Japanese-American artists and tea masters so that’s a part of my life.”
Living small is a deliberate choice, and one that has to be made thoughtfully. The space has limitations but Stephen has made clever design choices to maximize the square footage without making it feel cramped. There is, however, a bit of a learning curve when you're downsizing. Stephen pointed out the edge of a bookcase on which he’d just recently banged his head. “You just need spatial awareness…and muscle memory.”
When his friends ask him if he ever gets claustrophobic, his reply is to point to the outdoors; “I walk out and everything is very expansive. This is a pretty large room right here,” gesturing to the trees. The indoor spaces flow effortlessly and naturally into the outdoors, where a picnic table and circle of Adirondack chairs sit under a cathedral of trees.
An Artist's Perspective
Stephen’s work in landscape cinematography is closely connected to the concept of wabi sabi and patina. He brought up his work from years prior, shooting glacial rivers in New Zealand:
“There was a patina to the landscape, where the glacier had been. That helped me to learn the concept of patina. To know that I can either apply more oil to preserve that strong, bold black [color on the Gendai™ shou sugi ban], or I can also leave it completely alone and in 80 years, it’s going to take on its own character, and that’s really interesting to me to wait and see. There’s a generative quality, it’s going to continue to give you something new to see over time and that seals the deal for me.”
Stephen described himself as an aesthetic perfectionist, but by following an interest in Japanese tea culture, he’s learning to loosen the reins on what he believes to be beautiful. “The Japanese art of kintsugi is the process of repairing a broken dish with golden glue - making the final product even more valuable and beautiful than its original form. It’s not hiding the fact that it was broken, therein lies the concept of wabi sabi.” Most people might not be comfortable with the concept of keeping something after it’s old and worn, but to Stephen, that’s when it starts to get interesting.
Rivendell is exceptionally intentional. Some of the rocks that line Stephen's bathroom came from a trip to Iceland, the rest are from the Oregon coast. The books on his bookshelf? A collection of decades-old Lord of the Rings books handed down from a family member, which eventually inspired the name of this project. The art on his wall is actually from an NFT which comes from a close artist friend. Stephen took notes from friends in warmer climates and even added an outdoor shower to the exterior or the house. The heated towel rack in the bathroom was inspired by his travels through Europe where he saw them everywhere. Everything in Stephen’s home comes from a personal experience, and is there for a specific reason.
Stephen knew what he wanted when he began the process of building a house. After our shoot had wrapped, we sat and talked under the evening sky, drinking in the serenity of his home. What Stephen ended up with is a home that reflects who he is and what he values. Sitting out there in the darkness, we could tell that this was a person who had succeeded in realizing their dream home. Rivendell is a successful marriage of form and function. It's personal, it's intentional, and it's beautiful.