John Yeon designed the Watzek House in 1934/1935 for his friend and fellow Mazama, Portland lumber magnate Aubrey Watzek. After comparing Yeon’s design to a later concept by Pietro Belluschi, Watzek chose Yeon’s plan and construction was completed in 1937, when Yeon was just 26. Yeon had no formal architecture training, and the Watzek House become his first built architectural project, setting the tone and standard for modern design in the Northwest.
The Watzek House is an orchestrated environment that soothes and delights human senses in a careful and meticulously crafted way. Yeon designed even the smallest details, including light fixtures and hardware, along with furniture and storage spaces hidden throughout the home. Built for Watzek and his mother, the home provides private spaces for each and gracious yet controlled public living spaces. The entryway is a compressed height, paneled completely in wood, including the floors and ceilings. To the right is the main living space, also wood-paneled, with vaulted ceiling and hidden storage for wood (a wood lift next to the recessed travertine fireplace), sheet music (next to an area sized to accommodate a grand piano), and more. Accessed directly from the entrance hall is the library, with custom cabinetry and built-in furniture (also with access to the wood lift). To the left of the entry are the dining room, kitchen, and servant’s quarters, along with a guest bedroom and bath thoughtfully placed away from the home’s private quarters. These are accessed through the main living space, and include a large room and bath for Watzek’s mother, along with a smaller bedroom and attached sleeping porch for Watzek himself. A hall from Watsek’s room leads to his private bath and to the courtyard. Although small, the room and hall contain well-orchestrated storage. Both the sleeping porch and the access to the outdoors from the bedroom typify Yeon’s commitment to fuse the natural world into the living experience.
The home itself is situated almost completely around a courtyard paved with reclaimed stone, a fountain, and several ornamental trees and plantings. True to Yeon’s meticulous and ingenious design sense, gutters are built into the roof overhangs and drain into the fountain. An interior planter drains out to the courtyard if over-watered. A passive ventilation system well-ahead of its time is cleverly built into hidden panels throughout the home, allowing circulation and yet another connection to the natural world.
Flow between through interior and exterior spaces are crafted to create smooth yet emotionally resonant experiences, while the meticulous craftsmanship and attention to detail creates a sense of order and care. Over its 70+ year history, the home has been primarily occupied by just two owners, which is a testament to Yeon’s ability to design human-centered environments with timeless, functional (rather than ostentatious) appeal.
Yeon was an iconic self-taught Portland architect who developed the Northwest modern style of architecture typified in his designs for the Watzek House and Cottrell House. Both homes are situated on Skyline Drive in Northwest Portland, and both are owned and cared for by the University of Oregon. During his lifetime, Yeon advocated for the Oregon landscape; he owned and protected Chapman Point on the Oregon coast (now part of Ecola State Park) and The Shire, a private park Yeon landscaped to frame the view the site offers of Multnomah Falls in the Columbia River Gorge. The Shire is also owned and maintained by the University of Oregon.
View documentation of my visit to John Yeon’s Watzek House at
View documentation of my visit to John Yeon’s Cottrell House at