The River House Renovation Is Done!! FOUR YEARS LATER + Questions From You And How It’s All Going To Roll Out…

Four years ago my brother found a tiny kit house on a river that was vintage in all the bad ways, but the property was an absolute gem and he, like me, had dreams of living near a river where I plan on plunging every summer morning. So today, I wanted to reintroduce the project, give you a couple more “empty” sneak peeks (YAY!), and answer all the burning questions people seem to have about how this whole collaboration is working.

Wait, Why Did It Take Four Years? Is That Normal?

CALM DOWN!!! They found the property in late 2020, which was quite the year as you know. Planning a new build can be fast if it’s in a development with a basic plan for a house that is easy to replicate. Therefore, permits are mostly signed off on (or so I’ve heard) but this house is near a river on a flood plain which means that a lot more engineering and permitting needed to happen to ensure that it is solid and can be flood-resistant. Not to mention all the pylons that were drilled into what felt like miles underground to find our firm foundation (sorry, neighbors – that was LOUD). So the planning took a year, at least. But honestly, the supply chain situation, the cost of wood for framing, and the lack of subcontractors or sky-high quotes kept my brother from wanting to move super fast. And without a rush to move in they intentionally waited for costs to come down and the supply chain to normalize (which wasn’t til 2023). I was not really involved in any of this – Annie Usher, the architect and an engineer, and JP Macy of Sierra Custom Construction are to be credited for all this planning. It was 2 years from foundation pouring to move-in and frankly, that sounds super fast when you think of all the work that goes into a house of this scale and quality.

What Was The Initial Inspiration And Vibe?

We wanted this to be a contemporary and yet cozy river house, similar to the mountain house, with more PNW vibes. Ken and his wife (and me, duh) love the mountain house because of its simplicity and ease to just exist there. So a lot of the choices were modeled after that (tons of wood, focus on nature, warm minimalism, views), with the hopes that the decor and styling will be more PNW-inspired. I’m excited to bring in cozy colors into the decor but we have a great neutral foundation to get going.

Does My Brother Pay Me? (Kinda)

I’ve mentioned it before but it’s such a common question so here goes: I essentially struck a deal with my brother four years ago that I’d donate my time in exchange for the rights to document the design process here. This meant that they wouldn’t get full creative control (and neither might I, btw), but that I’d be able to help them land deals to bring down the cost of some materials, fixtures, and finishes. Meanwhile, my time is paid for by our brand partners, ad traffic on the blog, and more (read below). It can slow things down (some contracts take 2-3 months to solidify) but is worth it in the end to get the best of the best. This takes a huge amount of bravery and trust on my brother’s part because this project was still expensive, despite the (literal) material contributions of EHD, and so much of the process is out of his control. It’s 100% not normal.

How Does The Pitching Work?

At this point, we’ve built incredible relationships with all kinds of partners (whom I love – it’s great when the people are as awesome as the product), and after years of collaboration, they’ve seen firsthand that EHD can create world-class photo and video assets. You often see these on the blog or on our stories, but partners often use these shots or clips on their own sites and in their own paid marketing. These partnerships often gain a second life through print media, like our Soake Pool partnership in this month’s Better Homes & Gardens.  I could never have swung this 10 years ago – we have a solid proven record thanks to my incredible team.

So this time, I pitched certain projects and areas in the River House to a handful of our tried-and-true partners. Those spaces became my focus, but it also means that I wasn’t involved with some of the more granular renovation work like the electrical plan, window/door plan, HVAC, etc. Obviously, I want the entire house to be stunning from top to bottom so I was emotionally invested in all decisions, but there’s only so much you can do in a day:) Moving forward, my job is threefold. I’m going to make Ken and Katie happy (because it’s their house, and they are still paying for the labor – it’s not totally free for them), I’m going to put my own spin on the home (you’ll see it here on the blog), and eventually, the team and I will work with our partners to create whatever type of assets they need.  Does this complicate things? IT SURE DOES. Does it save them loads of money? YEP, well I hope. I’m so used to the process that it doesn’t really phase me, but I know it frustrated others and this type of exchange definitely set us back time-wise.

WAIT… I Also Charge A Percentage Of Traded Materials

As my team became more and more involved, we had to find a way to cover their time (and not just mine). So Ken and I decided that if they loved and approved of the tile/sconce/flooring we’d suggested, they’d pay EHD 30% of the retail cost (thus saving them 70%, while helping to cover the cost of pitching, negotiating deal terms, etc.). I’m hoping this fee eventually evens out to what I spend for my team’s time but there are no guarantees (which is fine, it’s my risk to take). This is a nuanced process though and we’re constantly finding ourselves negotiating and renegotiating to make it feel fair and even. It felt weird to charge 30% when I was the one who pitched this incredible Blueprint Lighting chandelier, for example, or when I was the one pushing for certain design elements. Would they have splurged on some Ann Sacks tile? Yes, but maybe not for every single room (or even as much square footage in a room – wait until you see what we did, though!). I truly don’t think this is a model that can be replicated easily – my brother and I have a very good relationship with awesome communication and we both feel like this has been a huge win so far – THANK GOD. For the most part, it came together so beautifully. But balancing these brand relationships and building a home that I’ll be proud to share here while making sure that each of Ken and Katie’s needs are met has been our biggest job.

Do They Like Their Home Being Documented So Publicly?

I’ve never asked them but I doubt they LOVE this part of it. I know they are grateful for the benefits of this blog, just like I am and they weighed the pros and cons thoroughly before entering into this deal. I’ve already coached them not to read comments (not here, but on social – that shit is dangerous). My brother is famously hard to offend (same) but I’m not sure the whole family shares that thick pale skin. So again, they are taking a personal and emotional risk just being involved with me and this blog/social media. Neither of them have public social accounts if that tells you anything. While Ken is about as private as I am (lol not very at all), I try to be as respectful as possible. This is also why his wife isn’t in as many photos/videos – it’s just not her thing.

What’s The Overall Budget?

It’s not mine to share and I learned a few years ago that sharing these types of numbers benefits very few and rather harms many. High-end design renovations are insanely expensive and understandably can make many people feel bad because the comparison game is just so hard to avoid.

When Will It Be Decorated/Styled And Shot?

ahh so pretty!

Well, we are working on most of the rooms now, and I’ve been iterating design plans for a few rooms in hopes of pitching a cohesive vision to our furniture and decor partners. I love this house so much and I’m excited to get my hands on every single space but I don’t have the bandwidth outside of running my company and writing this blog to do it all at once (without staffing up which I don’t want to do – I like to do it myself with my lean and mighty team!). So we’re designing slowly but surely, using each room for a purpose – the living room and family room will showcase something exciting we have been working on(!!!!), the bedrooms each have their own partner that I’ve already pitched and scheduled. And if you are wondering if I have an agent that pitches these deals the answer is “nope”. I pitch myself with the extreme support of Caitlin who handles the contracts, deliverables, and execution. We’d love to see the River House published in a magazine which means that we may need to hold a few rooms to make them exclusive to a print issue, while also revealing some to honor the deals and timelines we established with our brand partners. Does this complicate things further? IT SURE DOES. I love it, TBH. I love making a fully partnered room look interesting, personal, and unique (not like a catalog). So in one way, it’s easier to choose the major pieces that work within the style and function, but then my real creativity starts.

Are You And Max Decorating The House?

While I was living in Arrowhead I knew that I needed a real pro on the ground to help design this house. Max and I were very close colleagues and I trusted him more than anyone else in Portland, and still do! He’s designed multiple of my best friends’ properties. He’s not family but he’s family adjacent. This collab made so much sense for a long time and his strengths were often my weaknesses. When it came to design choices we often agreed, sometimes disagreed, and then there were times when we were both so confounded with each other’s thought process or design choices that we both went home wondering how we got here. Ultimately, having his expertise was so beneficial on this project and I would hire him any day on a project. And yet with such differing opinions, we were designing two different houses and we both felt it. So I took over the furniture and decor because Ken is, well, my brother. Turns out that two professional designers on the same project at the peak of their careers made for some really hilariously awkward on-site decision-making. I can’t say that he approves of everything I did but I can say that we retained a great friendly relationship full of respect which is all that matters.

When Can We See The First Reveal?

Well, we are shooting the bathrooms in July, the kitchen as soon as we get stools and style it out (I’m also reconsidering some design elements), the mudroom, and a patio space or two. Living, family, and dining rooms are closer to fall (with our next rug and secret project launch!!), and bedrooms will be slower to reveal. So barring a magazine exclusivity embargo the next 6 months to a year will be full of river house reveals. I’m VERY EXCITED.

I honestly get so jealous every time I’m here (and I LOVE our home so much). This sense of space and warmth, and the light – I walk in and I’m like “HOW IS THIS NOT MY HOUSE?”. I obviously have a huge emotional connection to it as well. Two very very lucky and grateful siblings, for sure 🙂 More to come ASAP. xx

Unless Otherwise Noted: Photos by Kaitlin Green

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