The phrase “E pluribus unum,” which translates to, “Out of many, one,” is on the seal of the United States.
It is also an apt description of one Washougal man’s unique house, which was constructed using salvaged pieces of Douglas fir, cedar, maple and walnut.
Since he was a boy, Brian Skinner has been saving different pieces of wood, storing them at his family’s property in Beaverton.
“My dad taught me the art of salvage,” he said. “He was a carpenter and I would work with him from the time I was 7 or 8 years old. In time, I started salvaging houses on my own.”
Porches are his greatest love, especially those from houses built before 1900. His own porch was created using logs from a cabin in Oregon. He stored the wood for years, knowing he would have a use for it someday. He also salvaged wood from barns and abandoned properties.
In 2002, Skinner purchased a 7,500 square foot lot in a neighborhood in the hills above Washougal. After his building permit was approved in 2003, he spent the next 12 years creating a true labor of love, building the house himself from the ground up, using the various pieces of wood he had salvaged.
Even the stones in his front yard are ones he collected, cut and polished.
During the first three years of the project, Skinner was employed full-time as a carpenter for Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, so the work on his home was limited to nights and weekends.
“I had someone take care of the foundation, electrical and plumbing, and had assistance with the framing,” Skinner said. “The rest I did on my own.”
His 2,040 square foot, two bedroom home didn’t have a floor plan, either.
“I created it as I went along,” he said.
Even though Skinner is moving in a few days, he is still crafting. The last addition is a 41 inch handrail at the staircase landing, created from 31 pieces of wood. The redwood medallions came from the Marcus Whitman Hotel.
“For me, the real treasure here is the wood,” he said, pointing to the floor, fireplace and walls. Douglas fir is the predominant wood used in the home, and the entire floor, as well as the wainscoting and molding, is created using pieces of it.
“I am glad I did this when I could,” he said. “I wanted to do something that showed my skill, and the beauty of the wood. This house cannot be replicated.”
When he was building the home, Skinner recalls that his late brother Tom, expressed a similar sentiment.
“He told me I created the house as much as I built it,” he said. “I never tried anything like this before.
“Every nail in this house I drove. I am friends with all of this wood. It has been my companion for a long time.”
His father, Einar, had a phrase he used frequently. It stuck with Skinner.
“He would say, ‘What the hell good is it being a carpenter if you can’t build your own house?'”, Skinner said. “He was grumpy but very capable, and I really learned how to work from him.”
Some of the more gentle touches in his home have been inspired by longtime friend and companion Min Guo, as well as his late mother, Rose-Marie.
One night while he and Guo were on a walk, Skinner spied a bed frame that had been thrown out. To most people, it was junk. To him, it was something that could be made beautiful.
“I made shelves in the kitchen to hold her knickknacks, so that she could see that something valuable could be made from what someone had thrown away,” Skinner recalled.
Rose-Marie inspired the sitting area in the front of his home, as it was her favorite room. The cushions are made from fabric purchased at the Pendleton Woolen Mills.
“My mom was a great woman,” he said. “She is the one who told me I needed to tell the story of this house.”
As he stands in his nearly empty home, Skinner has the posture of a man who knows his task is complete. He hopes it will be occupied next by someone meant to be there.
But for now, the ocean is calling.
“I want less people, and more quiet and serenity,” he said.