The New York Times The New York Times Real Estate January 3, 2003  



Tear-Downs: Old Houses Waiting to Make Way for New

W HO John Benson, 39, television and film visual-effects supervisor.

WHAT 5-bedroom house.

WHERE Portland, Ore.

Sally, my wife, found the property on the Internet and called the Realtor and the Realtor said, "You'll hate it." That was sort of our introduction to the house.

The house itself was pretty ugly. But here in the Pacific Northwest it's great to have sun, and we've got the combination of trees and an open south-facing lot. It was really hard to pass up.

We thought we'd be able to do this very simply: "Oh, we'll just add a floor and change the roofline a little bit, take out the interior walls." We basically had no idea what we were getting into. It wasn't until we had sold our house in Berkeley, moved to Portland — we were living in my wife's father's basement — and started knocking out walls that we realized how big the project would actually be. By the time we started framing, only two walls remained, and even they had to be modified.

I rode the construction pretty much from start to finish. It's really abhorrent to me to be wasteful, so we used a local nonprofit that recycles building materials.

Before, the house was very claustrophobic. Now, there's an incredible amount of light and it's really quite beautiful at all times of the day. It's a very open house, great for entertaining and communicating. We started in August 2001 and finally moved in about two months ago.

Was it all worth it? Yes, I think it's worth it. It was a great experience to have done it ourselves and to have worked with all the different people in the industry. I'm not sure I'd want to do it again, though.
Interview by Seth Kugel

John Gress for The New York Times