A Place Where They Can All Be Together
“This is my empty-nester,” says Kandi Backman of her charming white South Hill home, with inviting gables and welcoming front porch. The Craftsman-meets-farmhouse exterior hearkens back to an earlier period of design, but this home was built just a few years ago. Backman took care to design a home that would look seamless in its well-established Manito neighborhood—but that doesn’t mean she compromised her own design leanings. Once the front door opens, you’re ushered into a gorgeous modern-meets-classic space, with 17-foot ceilings, radiant heat concrete floors, and an open floor plan. “That’s probably the best thing about this house, is that it’s unexpected,” Backman says.
The home is beautiful, but practical concerns took priority. “Everything is about function for me,” says Backman. She learned a lot through three prior home builds. When it was time to move from a larger home on the north side to this 2,200 square foot space, she planned everything down to the last inch, drawing out designs on graph paper and working with her daughter, Makrai Crecelius, a Portland-based interior designer, to translate her main floor plans into CAD (she later worked with a draftsman from Uptic Studios on the second story).
The home is designed to bring people together. With six grown children, young grandchildren, and a love for entertaining, Backman wanted a house that’s a utility player: just right for everyday life, but accommodating for a crowd. “I wanted to have the space for kids to come home,” she says, but nothing extraneous. A guiding question of the design process was “How much do I have to have?” she says.
The main floor has a floor plan that’s accommodating for groups, with a spacious kitchen, dining area, and living space. Also on the main floor is the master suite, with a bedroom decorated in comforting neutral tones, and a master bathroom with a vessel tub and a walk-in shower lined floor to ceiling in subway tile. Backman is a master at clever, functional choices—like outlets installed inside the medicine cabinet “so you can keep your Sonicare in there instead of on the counter,” she explains.
The starting point for each home Backman has built is the Mid-Century Brown and Saltman dining table, made of 200-year-old wormwood, which can seat 20. When it’s time to host an even larger group, she can pull in another table, cover the whole thing with tablecloths, and more than double the seating. The home is full of features that do double duty or artfully conceal storage. “Everything has a purpose,” Backman says. An antique chest near the front door houses her subwoofer; custom drawers in the kitchen keep tea supplies close at hand but out of sight; an appliance garage hides the coffee maker. At first glance, the main floor powder room is a standard size, but turn the corner and you’ll find a shower, handy for when there is a houseful of guests. Another space-saving choice is the combination laundry and pantry room off the kitchen, tucked behind a wood door that rolls along a metal track. The living space’s cushioned window seat is the perfect nook to curl up in with coffee on a weekend morning, but when a large group is in the house, it transforms into spare dining space with a table pulled in front.
Backman incorporated a beautiful and durable mix of materials. One case in point: the heated concrete floors, for which the home was structurally engineered. “I love them,” she says; she reseals hers about once a year. For cabinet hardware, she chose sleek metal finger pulls that keep a low profile. Concrete fiberboard surrounds the fireplace and is used on the home’s exterior, and pig wire was used for rail panels. The kitchen countertops are quartz, and wood beams warm up the soaring ceilings.
The color palette is full of textured neutrals that create a sense of coziness. “Any time I build a house, I want everyone to come in and kick your shoes off and cuddle up on the couch,” Backman says. Though it’s a neutral design, there is plenty of personality thanks to sentimental and collected items. In the living room is a coffee table made from a round of wood salvaged from Priest Lake, to which Backman added hairpin legs. Cowboy boots her children wore when they were young are displayed on the floating bookshelves flanking the gas fireplace, as is a set of antique law books, a family heirloom. Dried hydrangeas from the home’s gardens serve as a centerpiece on the dining table. Backman likes “gentlemen’s fabrics” like houndstooth and herringbone, patterns that contribute to the pulled together yet approachable vibe. “I wanted quiet and soothing,” she says. The neutral backdrop pairs well with any color scheme she might want to work with. Thanks to pillows, blankets, and pictures, the option is always there to mix things up. “I can pop it with color any way that I want,” she says.
Repurposing and collecting come naturally to Backman, who moved in with many beloved pieces she’s had for years. The stand-alone bar works as well in this kitchen as it did in her previous one, with a few simple updates. Staining the wood helped tie it visually with the home’s woodwork; adding the same cabinet pulls also contributes to a cohesive look. The Brown and Saltman buffet, part of a set with the dining table, adds function and character just off the kitchen. A wood rocker, a gift from her father, is another beloved piece.
Repurposing was one way to lower costs. An even bigger one was changing the home’s floor plan to meet the budget. Seeing that costs were coming in too high, Backman cut 700 square feet from the second story, and opted for a two-car garage rather than three. There’s still plenty of space in the loft, which offers a bird’s-eye view of both the downstairs and the surrounding treetops. Two upstairs guest bedrooms and a guest bath round out the second floor.
One area Backman knew was worth the investment was lighting; a lot of thought was given to creating “layers of light,” with a mix of wall-mount fixtures, pendants, recessed lighting, chandeliers, and lamps, many of them dimmable to set the mood for any occasion. She also spent a little more on the kitchen’s backsplash, purchasing special beveled subway tile. Since the backsplash isn’t huge, that choice paid off without an extravagant cost. Laying the tile in the unexpected vertical direction adds an element of surprise. (A practical tip: “I love gray grout because you can’t scrub the color out of it,” Backman advises.)
Outside, there’s a covered backyard eating area, a custom-built shed—Backman and her landscaper hand-picked each stone on the exterior—and the gardens she can’t wait to get back to this spring. The front porch is strung with café lights, and Backman added a porch swing because “The South Hill is really all about community,” she says. Prior to this home, Backman was a lifelong Northsider. She’s now appreciating all the South Hill has to offer—walking to restaurants, having neighbors closer by, a short commute to downtown.
It’s that attention to detail that makes the home so welcome in the neighborhood—and so welcoming for the family she loves to have back home. “It’s important that we have a place where we can all be together,” she says. “I don’t want to miss anything.”
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