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Recycling experts prove invaluable in affordable makeover

When 12-year-old John Tyler took wood shop instead of sports to avoid the freezing New England winter, he didn't realize he'd be laying the groundwork for a lifetime avocation.

The elements all fell into place years later, after Tyler moved from New Haven, Conn., to Portland and started looking for an old house that he could afford. He wanted the fundamental integrity he'd witnessed growing up around homes that are typically 100 years older than those found around these parts.

'I must have looked at 200 houses,' the 39-year-old Tyler recalls.

He was lying despondently on the sofa when he decided: 'I'll have one more look.'

Attracted to the 5000 block of Northeast Cleveland Avenue by the huge trees, Tyler found his dream home in the shape of a 1,450-square-foot 1908 edifice. Next door is a 90-foot oak, and there's a sweet chestnut almost as big across the street.

The area originally was known as Walnut Park, he says. When members of the Killingsworth family subdivided their filbert farm with the advent of a new trolley line, they required owners to spend at least $2,000 to build a house a significant sum in those days.

Though Tyler's new home was handsome, it needed a lot of work.

'It was a case study in deferred maintenance an endless list of projects,' he says.

Undeterred, the environmental policy analyst for Clark County, Wash. he specializes in salmon recovery issues dived in.

Near his new home, he found a business sympathetic to his desire to restore the house to its current spotless state. The ReBuilding Center, 3625 N. Mississippi Ave., specializes in material salvaged from homes such as Tyler's and provided the raw material for his projects.

'A house is the biggest thing you can recycle,' he says. 'The ReBuilding Center is invaluable, a real treasure trove. The people there have been very insightful to help create solutions.'

One of the first things that one notices about Tyler's airy dining room is the 8-foot dining table made of old-growth fir bereft of knots. Tyler, who has a workshop in the basement, made it from a huge rafter cut into several pieces and spliced together. It came out of an old home and cost him just $37, he says with delight.

Tyler refinished the oak floor in the living room but found the kitchen linoleum worn through to sticky black adhesive. His solution was to buy part of a gymnasium maple floor from the ReBuilding Center and cut it to fit. Fake brickwork behind the stove was replaced by reused white tile, and 3-foot-high reused bead wainscoting lines the dining room and kitchen.

Tyler re-laid bathroom floors upstairs and down and disposed of 'a really hideous '70s vanity in the upstairs bathroom.'

Appalling bedroom wallpaper in the home was painted over, and he replaced all 18 windows with double-glazed sliders in the same space, which makes the three-bedroom house quieter.

'It's still rather cold, though,' Tyler says. 'I've got to get insulation into the walls.'

A soapstone wood stove that was a Christmas present from girlfriend Crofton Diack compensates for now.

Tyler repainted the exterior last summer and has turned his attention to the garden. He replaced the back door with a period one, demolished a 12-by-20-foot deck that he says made the rest of the back yard useless, and added a brick patio that runs the width of the house. He was going to use old bricks but was advised they might not hold up too well.

A 1920s garage was repaired by the use of a come-a-long to winch it back to square from its parallelogram sag, then Tyler braced it internally with diagonal boards on the walls. 'It was just cattywampus,' he says.

This spring, along with flowers he's planted some recycled from building sites Tyler has cut 'windows' in his fences, which let sunlight into the garden.

They 'also bring your neighbors closer,' he says, as one hands him three tomato frames that were about to be thrown away.

Contact Paul Duchene at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Do you have an interesting home? Contact Portland Life Editor Dave Kern at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .