Witherspoon & Sons Building

  • LOCATED: Portland, OR
  • COMPLETED: 2014


The Witherspoon and Sons building is a four-story building located in downtown Portland. Built in the 1890s, it has seen a variety of uses, the most recent being a bar. The project included a major remodel of the entire structure to create unique spaces for events, collaborative work areas, and offices.

Phase One of the project revolved around basic infrastructure upgrades. The first floor was renovated to create open office space for the owner to use through Phase Two. Additionally, restrooms, a new elevator, and an egress stair were added to make the upper floors usable. The finishes were chosen for their simplicity and future usability, resulting in plywood floors that would later become the subfloor for reclaimed wood planks.

The second phase saw significant infrastructure upgrades including seismic reinforcing that affected every wall and floor of the building from the basement to the roof. Outdated building systems were replaced with efficient mechanical, plumbing, electrical and fire sprinkler systems. The rest of the renovation focused on creating a first floor event space, second floor collaborative work areas, and office spaces for the owner on the third floor.

The character of the 1890’s building was enhanced by exposing the existing brick walls and wood framed ceilings. Reclaimed wood plank flooring is used throughout, and daylighting penetrates deep into the building through the combination of frameless glass and open stud walls. Concrete floor tiles are used in the restrooms and porcelain tiles are used on the restroom and kitchenette walls. Custom casework provides for storage and layout space—wood countertops for the casework islands were milled from wood joists demolished in seismic modifications made to the first floor. Tile mosaics at the new entries greet visitors and encourage them to “Be Brave”. A black and white color scheme was used to highlight the natural materials. The building is LEED™ Certified.

Enhancing the Character

The renovation of the Witherspoon transformed a building that was 2/3 vacant and in incredible disrepair into an inspiring, creative, and flexible workspace.  All design decisions were made through the lens of enhancing the existing character of the 1890s building:

  • A new storefront façade responds to the era of the building, providing transparency to those on the street and a point of entry for the entire building
  • Existing windows received new trim
  • Interior brick was cleaned and left exposed
  • Exterior was cleaned and repainted
  • Daylighting, electric lighting, and transparency were used throughout to highlight unique features
  • Texture contrasts provide interest: frameless glass walls contrast the dark and raw brick texture and smooth white walls contrast reclaimed wood flooring
  • Some finishes were left as-is so as not to compromise structural integrity, such as open stud walls bearing walls on the third floor. Others were painted or covered according to programmatic needs.

Improving Access, Safety, Comfort

Access: Changes were made throughout the building to provide universal access to all areas.  This included leveling out floors that sometimes varied by more than 7-inches in elevation and completely restructuring the front 1/3 of the building to provide access from sidewalk to the front door and to all floors via ramps and an elevator.

Safety: Most of the project budget was geared toward life safety improvements.  As part of a complete seismic retrofit, huge footings and piers were installed around the perimeter to stabilize the unreinforced masonry building.  Also included were extensive fire separations, a new fire sprinkler system, and a new exit stair for upper levels.

Comfort: New electrical, lighting, plumbing and HVAC systems were installed to improve human comfort.  Shower rooms on two levels coupled with bike storage facilities provide flexibility for users.