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Yeon's Swan House Is Just That


Last week I was invited by realtor Bob Zaikoski of Portland Modern to tour a home off Skyline Boulevard in the West Hills designed by John Yeon.

As many readers know, Yeon, Pietro Belluschi Van Evra Bailey are the primary designers (Yeon was not a registered architect) behind the regional 'Northwest Modern' style that emerged in the 1930s and consisted of simple forms constructed in wood and allowing lots of natural light. Yeon and Belluschi both came up through the office of A.E. Doyle together, and also influenced other top local architects like John Storrs.

This Yeon design, the Swan House, was built in 1950 for a Dr. Kenneth Swan and his family. Fifty-seven years ago, now that Dr. Swan has passed away, the swan of a house is for sale for the first time.  (Not that most of us could afford it.)

Related to that, I wanted to touch upon my writing a blog post involving a sponsor (Bob is the Realtor selling the house on behalf of the Swan family). If this were a piece of journalism, this would probably be a no-no, at least if there weren't full disclosure. And I still try to follow the principle while blogging that editorial content is not influenced by sponsorship. However, I would be interested in this John Yeon house no matter who brought it to my attention, or if Bob brought it to my attention but wasn't a sponsor. So I am writing about this house in spite of the sponsor connection. Does that make sense? Is everyone OK with that? If not, please feel free to email your concerns.

Anyway, the Swan House is beautiful. It's not stunning in a way that calls attention to itself, however. That would be against the whole concept. The house is nestled into its hilly site with extended property comprising four acres of wilderness that are essentially part of the much larger Forest Park. And with its simple wood and glass palette, it's almost as if the house becomes a part of its landscape.

Inside one also gets a sense of Yeon's design (he was not a registered architect, by the way) existing upon an axis. Levels go up and down in interesting ways, such as the bedroom that's about two feet above the living room, or the basement with massive windows overlooking the forest. But everything seems to exist along the same basic horizontal plane. There is a carport to the right that leads along a long walkway to the front door. Inside, the carpet, fixtures, linoleum and other details seem a little dated, but the house is in wonderful shape. I also love the built-in sofa and fireplace in the living room. This house should have long ago obliterated the notion that modernism was cold.

In many details you can tell this is the work of a master. There are vents that pull out of the wall, aiding natural ventilation. Windows are everywhere, too. I visited on a rainy day last week and despite it being dark, no lights on and none were needed. Still, Yeon added lots some very interesting lights set into upper wall panels. Like a Frank Lloyd Wright house, you get the sense here that someone was designing every aspect of the experience, and not just the house but much of what would go inside it.

by Brian Libby, 2007

Published with permission of Portland Architecture

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