ABOVE: The new house was sited down the embankment to avoid spoiling a neighbor’s view. Rocks (451 of them) stabilize the bank.All photos by Blackstone Edge Studios
Along the rugged Oregon coast, a house grows out of the boulders: new work in the Arts & Crafts spirit, led by a woodworker turned builder.
The house might have been here for a hundred years, perched above the windswept shore near Astoria, Oregon. Its unique Arts & Crafts features include a prominent masonry chimney that seems to have morphed from the rocks below, and a furniture-quality entry door. The house is new, however, and owes many of its artful details to builder Edward Overbay.
Overbay had been pursuing a degree in architecture when he took a left turn into woodworking and construction, after doing remodeling jobs with a friend.
“That’s when I realized I had a real aptitude for furniture-making,” he says. Overbay buried himself in research, poring over tomes by or about such masters as George Nakashima, the Japanese–American woodworker, furniture-maker, and architect. In the 40 years since, Overbay has become known for his masterful staircases, mantelpieces, entry doors, furniture—and whole-house construction.
Homeowners Russ and Sue Farmer hired an architect when they decided to build a home. Jeffrey Miller of Portland was highly recommended by a friend of the Farmers. Overbay was the contractor of choice.
The Farmers told Miller they wanted a rustic, cabin-like house in the trees. “Miller’s original views featured cedar shingles,” Russ remembers.
But, “we bumped the shingles up to 18" Alaskan yellow cedar,” says Overbay, “a real stout material with triple coverage to withstand the 135-mph hurricane-strength winds that pushed water uphill during construction.” This site gets some weather.
Slip-resistant natural slate leads to Overbay’s handcrafted entry doors of African sapele. A regional artist handcrafted the door handle, which depicts a Chinook salmon—the pectoral fin actuates the thumb latch. To create a transition from the round rocks at the base of the chimney to its more regular engineered stone, mason Mark Brause recommended the flare that echoes the hipped roof, which architect Miller designed to deflect rainwater away from windows below.
Overbay and Russ Farmer, who is himself experienced in construction, collaborated on interior details. Overbay added a continuous head band, common in Arts & Crafts houses, which travels across the window and door heads for a unifying trim effect. Overbay’s hand-cut finger joints on the mantel are a nod to Greene & Greene woodwork. (“I had a talented crew working on this house,” Overbay explains, “but I like to do the fussier, more challenging aspects myself.”)
The cabinets of African sapele feature Cambodian Maidu panels made from burl wood, cut in sequence. At first, “Sue was determined to use Douglas fir,” recalls her husband, Russ. “But Ed Overbay thought fir was too casual for this house.” Sapele, he said, is understated but very elegant.
“I was doing a series of tansu chests,” Overbay recalls, “and I wanted to incorporate burl into them.” When he stumbled upon an extraordinarily rare stash of burl at Gilmer Wood in Portland, Overbay returned and bought up the whole lot, which he continues to use as accent wood.
A striking feature of the kitchen is the Van Gogh (a.k.a. Blue Luise) granite used as a backsplash behind the stove. The Farmers’ then-8-year-old granddaughter Mackensie chose it. At the stone yard, Russ says she shouted to Sue: “Grammy, look, there’s a bird!” And sure enough, a bird shape appears in the orange portion of stone, which also has teal, aqua, white, and burgundy veins. Sue bought the piece on the spot.
The kitchen has little space for an island, so Overbay crafted a round, easy-to-navigate chopping block with three legs instead of four. The woodworker told Russ he could accept it or reject it, and Russ answered: “It’s never leaving this house!”
Architect Jeffrey L. Miller Architect, PC, Portland, OR: (503) 222-2234, jlmarchitect.com
Construction / details Overbay Houseworks, Warrenton, OR: (503) 861-1379, overbayhouseworks.com
Excavator Aba Company, Astoria, OR: (503) 325-7801
Masonry Mark H. Brause, Astoria, OR: (503) 325-2365
Windows Bergerson Cedar Windows, Hammond, OR: (800) 240-4365, bergersonwindow.com
Granite EleMar Oregon, Tualatin, OR: (503) 692-8020, elemaroregon.com
Maidu wood Gilmer Wood, Portland, OR: (503) 274-1271, gilmerwood.com
Vintage lighting Lumen Essence Lighting, Portland, OR: (503) 721-0939