Function first: a Portland housewares store owner

By Jess Chamberlain / New York Times News Service

Published Aug 5, 2014 at 12:02AM

If Brian and Jill Faherty’s home looks a little like a catalog, there’s a good reason: Faherty is the owner of Schoolhouse Electric & Supply Co., the lighting and housewares company based in Portland, and his ranch-style house is where most of the catalogs are shot.

But it’s also where he tests products in development, and where he and his wife are raising three children (J.P., 12; Greta, 11; and Audrey, 6). So while it may look as if everything is arranged just so, in fact the opposite is true. Things are constantly in flux, and function is more important than appearance.

The main piece of furniture in the family room, for instance, is an Ikea sofa.

“We added brass-walnut accented legs for a sleeker look,” said Brian Faherty, 50. “We like to invest in some things for enduring quality, but a sectional couch with three kids — how long is that going to last before it has to be reupholstered?”

He added: “We don’t want to be worried about our couch. We live here.”

Even the house was chosen for its utility and for the ways in which it differed from their previous home, a Colonial-style house with great bones but very small rooms.

As Jill Faherty, 44, a product developer for Schoolhouse Electric, said: “We had a 4,700-square-foot house, but we’d end up in the 150-square-foot TV room to be together.”

Like many of the couple’s products, their new 3,200-square-foot house has a midcentury foundation, but the design has been reimagined for modern life. In this case, that involved reconfiguring the layout of the 1958 house, which they bought in 2012 for $785,00, but retaining its footprint and the three brick fireplaces.

Ben Waechter, a local architect, created a family-friendly floor plan for them, with wide hallways, large windows and a central living space that combined the dining room, kitchen, home office and family room.

“They wanted a single-story house made of forms and materials that would transcend any idea of time or style,” Waechter said. “Images of Swedish courtyard farmhouses came to mind.”

The renovation, which was completed in five months, cost about $500,000.

Although (or perhaps because) the new house has less space, Brian Faherty said, it functions better than the large house they gave up.

“We live in every square inch of this house,” he said. “There’s no wasted space at all.”

And considering that “it’s going by so fast with our kids,” he said, what’s even better is that “it’s like the family lodge here: We get to see so much more of them.”

With all that open space and an outdoor dining area framed by the house, you would think this would be a good place for parties, too. But the Fahertys, it seems, rarely entertain.

“As much as we think we’d love to,” Jill Faherty said, “we really don’t.”

Brian Faherty objected: “We do entertain three kids every night, and often their friends.”

Even so, the custom white-oak butcher block on the kitchen island is already showing signs of wear.

“It’s not perfect, and we like it like that,” Brian Faherty said. “We wanted a house that’s durable, not fussy.”

He added: “Don’t look in the garage.”