Fine Homebuilding Best Small Home 2013

Best Small Home
Featuring: River Road Mini Home

FineHomebuilding awards a handful of homes their Houses Awards each year that illustrate exceptional residences that balance cost, efficiency, style. Their “award for the best small home this year goes to Nir Pearlson for this 800-sq.-ft secondary dwelling in Eugene, Ore. Set among existing gardens, the third-party certified green house relies on shared spaces and connections to the outdoors to seem larger than its physical boundaries.” We’re pleased to share this honor with the homeowners, Julie Hulme and Rob Handy; the general contractor, Six Degrees Construction; and the consultants and subcontractors. Below is the text of the article published in the FineHomebuilding 2013 Awards Issue.

A Garden Cottage for Low-Impact Living

This 800 sq. ft. infill home was design for its site and its owners lifestyle

By Nir Pearlson

When I first met my clients, Julie, a veteran elementary school teacher, and Rob, a county commissioner, they had been living in a 600-sq.-ft. remodeled chicken coop on a 2.1-acre property for 28 years. Committed to a low-impact and highly self-sufficient lifestyle, they were on a quest to replace the chicken coop with a simple and sustainable home. Their house would need to be durable, low maintenance, and energy efficient, and it would need to complement their sprawling garden. Most of all, they hoped, their home would inspire them with beauty every day.

Julie and Rob’s vision echoed my firm’s mission to design sustainable small-scale homes and to promote urban infill. In addition, I immediately fell in love with their garden, an oasis of tranquility and sustenance minutes from Eugene’s downtown. My firm’s challenge was to design a compact house that would support a modest lifestyle yet foster a sense of abundance.

A verdant site near an urban core
Julie and Rob’s lot is a remnant of the farmland that surrounded Eugene in its early days, most of which has since been subdivided into small residential lots. Oriented east-west, the 700-ft.-long lot provides a generous solar exposure that combines with rich floodplain soil to make this property ideal for gardening. During the summer, the vegetable garden provides most of Julie and Rob’s food, as well as a surplus that they store for the winter. The lot extends between a major traffic arterial on the west and a bike path along the Willamette River to the east. Immediate access to
transportation, city amenities, and the river’s ecosystem translates into urban living at its very best.

In addition to its vegetable and ornamental gardens, the property hosted a weathered barn, a storage shed, Julie and Rob’s chicken coop, and a bungalow from the 1920s that faces the street and is leased by long-term tenants. With no desire for large interiors, Julie and Rob had chosen to live in the smaller accessory house, and they wanted their new home to occupy the same location
among the vegetable beds and fruit trees. Because they spend much of their time tending the land, maintaining visual and physical access to the outdoors was a top priority, so the design of the new house centered on the garden.

Julie and Rob wanted more space than they had in the old coop, but they were content to limit the area and height of their new home to comply with local regulations for secondary dwelling units. To accommodate future growth through greater housing density, Eugene’s zoning code allows construction of accessory dwellings alongside existing homes on single-home residential properties. (For more on this concept, see “Rise of the ADU,” pp. 80-85). Although the zoning code limits the interior of an accessory dwelling to 800 sq. ft. of living space, it allows this living space to be augmented with covered outdoor areas and storage or utility rooms with exterior access.

We took advantage of this allowance to add a mechanical room and multiple covered porches, and because areas with low headroom are not legally considered habitable rooms, we included a bonus space. This area, accessed by a ladder, includes a concealed mechanical-equipment attic and an open, daylit meditation loft.

Designed for the Pacific Northwest
The Pacific Northwest is known for its long, rainy winters, prompting a “shed the water and bring in the light” strategy. Summers can be hot, however, so solar protection is necessary. Generous overhangs on the house’s low-sloped shed roofs address all these issues. The south-sloping roof extends the full width of the house and shelters the great-room windows from winter storms and summer heat. It also points two solar arrays toward the sun and allows for north-facing clerestories to illuminate the guest room and loft. The north-facing roof opens the main bedroom to garden views and to mini-clerestories. A small roof on the west shelters the entry. To the south, a roof over the patio springs up and away from the house to frame expansive views and to allow low-angle winter sun to penetrate the indoors. The windows, clerestories, skylights, and three exterior glazed doors provide an ongoing connection with the outdoors and bring in ample daylight.

Julie and Rob wanted their home to represent the Pacific Northwest aesthetically as well. Combining modern forms with traditional craftsmanship, this hybrid timberframe house includes exposed, load-bearing heavy-timber construction as well as standard joists and studs. Posts, beams, rafters, and roof decking were milled from regional Douglas-fir or hemlock timber. The woodwork is clear-coated, which highlights the mineral-tinted Imperial Plaster wall finish (

Sightlines and views make a small house feel spacious
Julie and Rob wanted their home to be at what they called a “human scale.” Julie defines that as “not so big as to feel dwarfed and diminished, but not so small as to feel confined and limited.” With Julie and Rob’s human scale in mind, we designed the roof—with its rafters exposed—to define the scale, orientation, and character of each interior space. With no option for vast rooms,
we mixed and overlapped the entry, living, dining, kitchen, and circulation spaces into a great room. Long vistas through spaces, windows, and doors foster a sense of expansion, while coves such as a window seat off the great room allow for repose.

To prevent monotony, spaces are delineated by changes in flooring or with cabinets or built-ins. For example, the slate flooring transitions from the entry into a simple hearth, where a woodstove visually anchors the great room.

Third-party certification confirms the home’s quality construction
Julie and Rob’s commitment to sustainable living allowed us to select strategies to reduce their carbon footprint significantly. This earned their home an Earth Advantage Platinum Certification, the highest level offered by Earth Advantage New Homes, an Oregon-based third-party certification program. Earth Advantage weighs energy efficiency, indoor-air quality, resource efficiency, environmental responsibility, and water conservation.

The roof and walls were sheathed with a continuous layer of rigid foam, 1 in. on the walls and 2 in. on the roof. This foam prevents thermal bridging and insulates well beyond code levels. Daylight from the windows minimizes the need for electric lighting, and a minisplit heat pump couples with a heat-recovery ventilator to heat and ventilate the home efficiently. A woodstove provides backup heat and ambiance.

A grid-tied solar photovoltaic array offsets summertime electricity use; domestic hot water is provided by a solar hot-water collector. In the future, a gray-water diversion system and rainwater catchment cisterns will supply irrigation water to the gardens.

Julie and Rob are satisfied with their new home. Julie says, “Our home is the intimate interplay of inside cozy places of sanctuary and outside gardens splashing light and life through windows. The eye and heart dance from one angle of beauty to another as the intersections create a peaceful harmony.”

2012 People’s Choice Award (Residential)

1st Place – Residential
Featuring: River Road Mini Home

In this competition which takes place annually during the Eugene Celebration weekend, local architects and landscape architects present their featured projects in various categories, and the citizens of Eugene cast their vote for the best project in each category.



River Road Mini-Home
River Road, Eugene

Julie Hulme and Rob Handy

Nir Pearlson Architect, Inc.:
Nir Pearlson, Rachel Auerbach

Pioneer Engineering

Six Degrees Construction

Solar Assist


• Design a sustainable Mini-Home.
• Combine expansive, connected spaces with cozy nooks.
• Weave the interiors into the surrounding garden to celebrate the cycle of seasons.


• Transition between the front porch and the interiors via a slate-tiled entryway.
• Combine and overlap living, dining, and cooking areas within an open central space.
• Expand the great room into the study/guest room and onto the partly-sheltered deck overlooking the garden.
• Anchor the great room with the centrally located wood stove.
• Delineate the passage into the private realm, a master bedroom and a light-fi lled bathroom, with a peaceful altar.
• Expose the hybrid timber-frame structure and the trimwork to frame the naturally-dyed earthen plaster walls and the serene garden vistas.

Footprint: The 800 SF home includes a bonus loft for meditation and storage.
Envelope: Double-insulated walls and roof far exceed code minimums.
Daylighting: Windows, doors, transoms, clerestories, and skylights provide abundant daylight.
Energy Conservation: A super-efficient mini-split heat pump combines with a heat recovery ventilator (HRV) to heat and ventilate the home.
Energy Harvest: The south-facing roof carries a solar photovoltaic (PV) array and a solar hot water collector.
Water Reclamation: The pre-plumbed future graywater system and rainwater cisterns will supply water to the landscape.

“Our home is the intimate interplay of inside cozy places of sanctuary, and outside gardens splashing light and life through windows. The eye and heart dance from one angle of beauty to another as the intersections create a peaceful sense of harmony.”

2012 People’s Choice Award (Commercial)

1st place, commercial category
Featuring: Hummingbird Wholesale

In this competition which takes place annually during the Eugene Celebration weekend, local architects and landscape architects present their featured projects in various categories, and the citizens of Eugene cast their vote for the best project in each category.



Hummingbird in the Stellaria Building
150 Shelton-McMurphey Blvd, Eugene

Lichen Yew, LLC

Nir Pearlson Architect, Inc.:
Nir Pearlson, Rachel Auerbach, Ryan Rojas

Goebel Engineering & Surveying, Inc.

Landcurrent Landscape Architecture

Pioneer Engineering and JKN Engineering

Paradigm Engineering

Paddock Masonry, Inc.

Innovative Air, Inc.

Hawks Plumbing, Inc.

JND Fire Sprinklers, Inc.

Energy Design with Sunstone Solar

Day One Design


• Transform a 24,000 SF, 1950’s warehouse into a 38,000 SF, multi-tenant, mixed-use building.
• Create a model of resource reuse and stewardship.


• Reveal the building’s barn-spirit by removing layers of industrialization from the site.
• Create an iconic, utilitarian structure where food-crops are processed and distributed to sustain human life.
• Replace existing paving with gardens around the building.
• Peel and lift the industrial metal skin to form sheltering canopies marking the building openings.
• Soften the entry walls to echo the earthen warmth of fields.
• Add a partial second floor to create space for offices, manufacturing, warehouses, food production, and retail.
• Support a diverse family of tenants providing services, specialty products, and organic food.


Reclamation: Inserting the second floor below the existing timber trusses allowed the building structure to remain in place. Old metal siding panels, wood boards, and concrete sections found new purposes and uses on-site.

Envelope: New high-density insulation in the thickened walls and roof far exceed code minimums. A strawbale wall finished with earthen plaster and rough wood elements fronts Hummingbird’s lobby.

Daylighting: Abundant daylight pours deep into offices and warehouses via new windows, transoms, clerestories, and skylights – some of which reach the first floor via reflective light-shafts.

Energy Conservation: High-efficiency zoned mechanical systems utilize ground and air-source heat pumps, and upgraded lighting controls include zoning, dimming, and occupancy sensors. Electricity, natural gas, and hot and cold water are all metered in-house, allowing tenants to track usage via a digital network and optimize their energy-use trends.

Energy Harvest: Roof and canopy-mounted solar PV arrays offset electrical loads. A thermal solar array pre-heats the central hot water loop and the radiant slab under Hummingbird’s Honey Warmer. Excess heat from food dryers supplements winter heating in production areas.

Storm Water Management: A planted bio-swale for storm run-off infiltrates water on-site and irrigates the landscape.


Elements Acupuncture and Wellness
Eliel Fionn’s Felties & Consultations
Healthy Democracy Fund
Healing Scapes Ayurveda
Hummingbird Wholesale
Incubator Kitchen
Inner Sight
Lane County Farmer’s Market
Mark Donahue Rolfing
Momentum Therapies
Not Your Mom’s Sandwich Shop
Rolf Prima
Rural Development Initiatives
Well Balanced Acupuncture
Willamette Farm and Food Coalition

2009 People’s Choice Award (Residential)

1st Place – Residential
Featuring: West Fourth Residence

In this competition which takes place annually during the Eugene Celebration weekend, local architects and landscape architects present their featured projects in various categories, and the citizens of Eugene cast their vote for the best project in each category.


Reinhart-Gray Residence
West 4th Avenue, Eugene

Catherine Reinhart & Scott Gray

Nir Pearlson Architect, Inc.

John Norrena

Gray Brothers Construction

Replace the former residence with a new 2-story residence and a garden guest-cottage. Link interior spaces and provide ample indoor-outdoor access and views.

The double-height living room serves as a spatial hub, linking all interior and exterior spaces: entry, dining and kitchen; the loft above; and the front and back gardens. A trellised deck parallels the glazed master wing hall, linking the interiors to the south-facing courtyard and the intensively cultivated food and flower garden. The stairway and loft, both constructed with Douglas-fir planks reclaimed from an old lumber warehouse, lead to two home offices, an airy dance and yoga room, and to the covered ‘Romeo & Juliet’ balconies perched over the gardens. Despite the property size limit, the open-plan design results in spacious, airy and daylit interiors, with multiple links to the outdoors.

Compact Footprint: The small urban lot is efficiently in-filled with the main house, a family guest cottage, and a small intensive, food producing garden.
Reclaimed Wood: The mezzanine deck and stairs were constructed of massive reclaimed Douglas fir warehouse shelves. High-school gym bleachers were milled into window and door trim.
Daylighting: Maximized via multiple windows and skylights.
Envelope & Energy: Low-infiltration ‘Spider’ insulation is sprayed into all wall cavities, and a centrally-located gas fireplace coupled with ceiling fans, provide efficient heat boosting to back up the central heating.

2009 People’s Choice Award (Commercial)

1st place, commercial category Featuring: Duvall Law Offices

In this competition which takes place annually during the Eugene Celebration weekend, local architects and landscape architects present their featured projects in various categories, and the citizens of Eugene cast their vote for the best project in each category.




Duvall Building Law Offices
856 Olive Street, Eugene


Nir Pearlson Architect, Inc.


Artisan Engineering


Schar Construction


Transform a 100-year-old downtown commerce building into law office suites and common areas.


A tall arched portal is centered on a new stucco, brick and glass façade and opens onto a lobby, reception area and conference room. Six law offices along the north alley wall are daylit with large glazed apertures. Individual secretarial workstations line the open hallway, separated from the lobby by a delicately-composed screen of steel, translucent glass and wood panels. The interior’s organizing element is a wood-and-steel ‘archive gallery’ serving storage compartments over the workstations and visible from all areas. Support spaces at the back of the building include a break room, upgraded restrooms and storage.


The building was formerly home to multiple businesses, including an auto shop, the Eugene Farmers Creamery, and most recently The Bookmark bookstore.


Roof Insulation: New R-30 insulation added below existing roof framing.
Upgraded Mechanical and Electrical Equipment: Heating / Cooling units upgraded and zoned for efficiency; Rooftop distribution ducts removed and relocated within the building envelope; New light fixtures controlled with daylight zoning and motion-sensors.
Reclaimed Wood: Old high-school Douglas-fir bleacher benches milled into finish trim boards.
Daylighting: Maximized via oversized façade windows, ample north-facing glass block apertures at offices and large skylights at open office area.

2008 People’s Choice Award (Residential)

1st Place – Residential
Featuring: McKenzie River Residence

In this competition which takes place annually during the Eugene Celebration weekend, local architects and landscape architects present their featured projects in various categories, and the citizens of Eugene cast their vote for the best project in each category.



McKenzie River Residence


Watson Family


Nir Pearlson Architect, Inc.

Landscape Architect:

LandCurrent Landscape Architecture

Structural Engineer:

K & A Engineering

General Contractor:

Greg Morrow & Sons, Inc.



Design a compact modern home on a wooded slope fronting the McKenzie River. Integrate the structure into its natural setting. Reduce impact & energy consumption. Maximize daylighting and indoor-outdoor connections.


  • Living and master wings occupy two separate square, tall volumes joined by a low-profile entry hall
  • Second floor slab is set on concrete piles, suspended over the sloping ground
  • Minimalist modern design couples industrial elements with traditional post & beam construction
  • Simple yet expressive material palette includes concrete, stucco, wood & steel
  • Shed roofs lifting in opposite directions afford tall panoramic views to nature’s drama of basalt, forest & river

Sustainable Strategies

  • Small footprint: Compact design & raised floor allows regeneration of the forest floor
  • Radiant mass heat: Hydronic tubes circulate super-efficiently heated water in concrete floor slab
  • Daylighing: Oversized windows & transoms
  • Reclaimed materials: Rigid insulation boards & finish woodwork
  • Increased insulation: R-40 insulated roof & super-deep wall cavities

2008 People’s Choice Award (Commercial)

1st place, commercial category
Featuring: La Perla Pizzeria Napoletana

In this competition which takes place annually during the Eugene Celebration weekend, local architects and landscape architects present their featured projects in various categories, and the citizens of Eugene cast their vote for the best project in each category.



La Perla Pizzeria Napoletana
1313 Pearl Street, Eugene 97401
(formerly Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor)


Nir Pearlson Architect, Inc.

Structural Engineer:

K & A Engineering

Electrical Engineer:

Jim Krumsick & Synergy Engineering

Lighting Design:

Balzheiser & Hubbard Engineers

Food Service Design / Equipment:

Curtis Restaurant Equipment

General Contractor:

The Industrial Company

Solar Panels Design / Build:

Energy Design & Solar Assist



Transform a familiar ice-cream parlor into a modern, enduring landmark


  • Tall windows wrap the building corner, opening onto the celebratory energy within
  • A modern-day steel colonnade announces the entrance and shelters outdoor seating
  • An entry atrium leads to expansive seating, a wine & espresso bar, and the main event: the pizza prep area fronting a massive wood-fired oven
  • Old Italy is infused into this contemporary Northwest building via subtle interpretive gestures: an ordered indoor-outdoor grid of columns, a sky-lit atrium, decorative steel arches, and a rich palette of textures and earthy colors
  • Construction materials are revealed in a modern composition of concrete, stone, wood, steel, plaster, and the sparkle of colored glass

Sustainable Strategies:

  • Daylighing: Oversized windows & sky-lit atrium
  • Shading: Awnings, blinds & specialty glazing
  • Solar energy: Photovoltaic panels mounted on roof & awning
  • Sustainably-harvested wood:
  • Glue-laminated timbers & ceiling finish boards
  • Manufactured ‘off-the-shelf’ components:
  • Structural members: steel & glue-lam; Wainscoting panels: corrugated steel & fiber-cement
  • R-40 insulated roof:
  • Encloses ceiling cavity with updated heating/cooling ducts
  • Upgraded electrical equipment:
  • Heating/cooling units; programmable lighting controls with zoning, dimming & sensors

2006 People’s Choice Award (Commercial)

2nd Place – Commercial

Featuring: Imagine Graphics

In this competition which takes place annually during the Eugene Celebration weekend, local architects and landscape architects present their featured projects in various categories, and the citizens of Eugene cast their vote for the best project in each category.



Imagine Graphics Headquarters Remodel
990 Garfield, Eugene Oregon 97402
(Formerly the Miller Paint Building)


Nir Pearlson Architect, Inc.

Landscape Architect:

Kate McGee Landscape Architect

Structural Engineer:

Hohbach-Lewin, Inc.

Marketing, Displays, Finishes:

Funk/Levis & Associates


Schar Construction


Client’s Vision

A new home for Imagine Graphics: a building that reflects and supports the company’s commitment to vibrant creativity and open communication

Architect’s Charge

To transform a non-descript warehouse into an inspiring work environment: an attractive domain of creativity and commerce

Design Concept

To reveal and enhance the original modernist structure of the 1960’s building through a series of de-construction moves:
Removal of a section of the low ceiling so the volume reaches upwards to the tall roof
Replacement of the 2nd floor corridor wall with a transparent railing, spatially joining the two floors via the new double-height volume

Removal and replacement of a massive 1980’s canopy with a slender structural steel colonnade

Opening of new clerestories and windows to fill the interiors with abundant daylight

Minimalist Design Strategy

  • Fabricate canopies, stairs, railings and partitions with off-the-shelf components: structural steel, dimensional lumber, particle board, and stainless-steel cable
  • Expose and treat architectural materials such as wood, steel, concrete block, and aluminum to reflect their distinct nature in form, texture, and color
  • Landscape planting areas with a select inventory of elegant plants set amongst rough stones in a range of sizes

Sustainability Measures

  • Re-claimed boards, sustainably-harvested lumber and straw-board sheets compose the casework, trim, trellises, railings and paneling
  • Natural linoleum and replaceable carpet tiles cover floor surfaces
  • Low-VOC paints used throughout
  • Increased insulation and double-glazed windows substantially reduce heating and cooling needs
  • Added windows minimize the need for artificial lighting
  • High-efficiency HVAC and electrical systems replace aging equipment

Imagine Graphics’ Philosophy of Openness and Transparency Expressed in the Work Place

  • All departments – management, sales, graphic design and production – are directly linked, supporting interactions and a creative flow of ideas
  • The exterior and interior realms communicate, reflect, and inform each other
  • The porous boundaries between the showroom and the production area offer clients and employees the opportunity to witness, and participate, in the transformation of imagination into graphics