John Storrs was, by accounts, a larger than life person.
Passionate, outspoken and stubborn, his process of listening to the landscape and using materials simply, created some of the most sincere and eloquent examples of the Northwest Regional architectural style.
Originally from Bridgeport, Connecticut’ Storrs was a graduate student at Yale when he heard a lecture by famed architect Pietro Belluschi. In 1950, Storrs moved to Portland inspired by Belluschi’s regional approach to modernism, and a desire to be part of this emerging style. After a few years and while working for local firm Scott & Payne, Storrs received the commission for the Portland Garden Club headquarters which launched his independent career.
While Storrs is most well-known for the Portland Garden Club, Salishan Lodge, the Western Forestry Center, and other acclaimed commercial projects, he was remarkably prolific and renowned for his residential buildings. He designed roughly 80 houses over three decades as an architect, with characteristic site sensitivity. He spent considerable time devoted to understanding the site’s natural features before beginning design and then would use job site visits to flush out details as needed, often on building materials. His construction drawings were not as thorough as many of his contemporaries, preferring a more hands on and responsive approach to his projects.
His designs embraced tenets of the International Style, namely lack of ornamentation and color, open plans emphasizing volume, and a repetitive modular organization of wall planes and windows. Storrs’ designs however reject the style’s mechanistic leanings, and embrace the use of wood as finish material to make residences meaningful and humane spaces for people. Windows and walls are placed optimally for the human experience, to create a sense of human proportion and to frame the environment beyond.
Storrs was confident and outspoken in his opinions, winning both supporters and detractors, but almost uniformly respect. His gregarious nature fostered a creative and interactive working relationship with clients and collaborators alike, including noted Oregonian landscape architect Barbara Fealy. Their designs for the Oregon College of Art and Craft and Salishan show the cohesion developed between disciplines engaged in a free expression of thoughts and opinions.
By the end of the 1970s, Storrs’ interest in architecture waned and he devoted time to his other passion of cooking. He trained professionally, and spent the rest of his life entertaining and cooking for the ones he loved.
Save the Date: 2018 Mid-Century Modern Home Tour Featuring the Design Work of John Storrs
On May 11 and 12th, Restore Oregon will celebrate the unique perspective Storrs brought to our region’s architectural heritage at its annual Mid-Century Modern Home Tour.
Through education initiatives like the Mid-Century Modern Tour, Restore Oregon raises awareness for preservation and fosters greater appreciation for the historic structures and cultural heritage that contribute to the beauty of Oregon. Now in its 8th year, the 2018 Mid-Century Modern Home Tour has grown into a two-day, three-part design event:
- Part I—An Architecture & Design Lecture: Participants will learn about Pacific Northwest Modernism, John Storrs unique design perspective, and may take a self-guided tour of the Oregon College of Art and Craft, one of Storrs well-known commercial designs. Friday, May 11, 7pm at Oregon College of Art and Craft. $10 for general admission.
- Part II—Self-Guided Home Tour: This self-guided, driving tour allows participants to explore five of Storrs-designed residential homes at their own pace. Participants discover unique interiors, explore imaginatively designed outdoor living areas, and have a rare chance to gain an intimate view of Mid-Century Modern living as envisioned by a master. Saturday, May 12, 10am–4pm. Tickets: $40 for Restore Oregon member/donors, $50 for non-members.
- Part III—Exclusive free MIX:MOD After Party at Rejuvenation: Participants are invited to join the party and enjoy vintage cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, DJ, and dancing at Rejuvenation’s Flagship store in Southeast Portland. Mid-century attire encouraged. Prizes for best dressed. Saturday, May 12, 6pm at Rejuvenation. Free to lecture and/or tickets holders.
Tickets for the 2018 Mid-Century Modern Home Tour go on sale March 15, 2018.
The cost is $40 for Restore Oregon member/donors, $50 for non-members, the tour of five homes, a commemorative booklet, and entry to MIX:MOD After-Tour Party. The cost for the Architecture & Design Lecture is $10 and includes entry to MIX:MOD After-Tour Party.
Tour information and ticketing: restoreoregon.org or (503) 243-1923
Images courtesy of Fran Storrs and the Architectural Heritage Center