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A woman's touch

Street of Dreams builders Natalie Long and Jamie Harris fought sexism en route to success


REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Natalie Long (from left) Nancy Allen and Jamie Harris pose on the glass floor over the wine cellar at the luxury home they're building for the 2016 Street of Dreams in West Linn. Ten years ago, when Jamie Harris and Natalie Long were first breaking into the homebuilding industry, they could feel the suspicious gazes from their male counterparts.

More than even other industries marred by gender inequality, the construction world is particularly well known for its blue collar, testosterone-infused mindset. Some workers — their heads as hard as their hats — simply couldn’t accept taking orders from two women who were barely over five feet tall.

Hard work and proven results over the years have shifted that sexist undercurrent to a large degree for Harris and Long — who own and operate Elite Development Northwest — and now they find themselves in charge of a 7,600-square-foot luxury home that will be shown as part of the 2016 NW Natural Street of Dreams in West Linn — the third such home they’ve designed in partnership with Street of Dreams.

“I think we had to prove ourselves — that we knew what we were doing, that we could actually do it,” Harris said. “I think we’ve gained respect from a lot of our peers, and they don’t worry about us as much. Even if we’re behind (on a project), they think we’re going to do it.”

The 41st annual NW Natural Street of Dreams event is set to run from July 30 to Aug. 28 this summer, and a visit to the 63-acre property reveals a set of massive luxury homes — each priced between $3 million and $5 million — taking shape. Open to the public, Street of Dreams allows attendees to visit the property and tour what is thought to be the “cream of the crop” in home design.

The property, which is at the corner of Petes Mountain Road and Schaeffer Road, was selected two years ago, when Street of Dreams identified Lake Oswego as the home for the 2015 event.

Harris and Long’s project is described as a “northwest urban house” with industrial finishes and “a lot of brick and a lot of metal.” A waterway not unlike a moat will surround the home, and other touches include a glass floor in one area that looks down into a wine cellar.

“The lot is spectacular, too — we’re so glad we ended up on this lot,” Harris said. “We’ve got unobstructed views forever, and there’s still some room to expand.”

Harris and Long just recently celebrated their 10th anniversary working together — a significant milestone in a partnership that began somewhat on a whim, shortly after they graduated from Portland State University.

“I don’t know what happened, but all of a sudden we decided, ‘I think we’ll start a company,’” Harris said. “We bought some houses first and remodeled them to see if we liked it, and we did. And so then we sold those and started our company.”

Along the way they met designer Nancy Allen, who would become a collaborator on three projects — including this latest Street of Dreams home, on which she is considered a partner and has taken more of an active role in the building process.

“My husband and I built seven houses before we met (Harris and Long), and they were all male builders,” Allen said. “We fell in love with a house before learning who the builders were, and we researched it and found out they were two female builders. The attention to detail, from start to finish — I won’t go back to a male.”

They key difference, in Allen’s eyes, was Harris and Long’s ability to listen.

“They listen to what I want from start to finish, in terms of not just making the house beautiful, but what’s going to help you in terms of usage, all of that,” Allen said. “They listen from a woman’s perspective.”

When Harris and Long ran into problems being taken seriously in the industry in the past, it usually had to do with the subcontractors hired for projects, and not the clients themselves.

“It was more a subcontractor issue than a client issue,” Long said. “The subcontractors may have felt that we were playing at this job, instead of that this was going to be our career moving forward. They also, in some regards, had an issue listening to a 5-foot-2-inch and 5-foot-nothing female. They really did; they had an issue with our authority.”

But that changed as Long and Harris’ reputations continued to grow.

“If you have an issue working for a female, then we’re just not going to hire you again,” Long said. “We’ve had some subcontractors who have been mentors, too, so it’s been great.”

“We’re always learning from our subcontractors,” Harris added. “We’re not afraid to learn.”

Patrick Malee can be reached at 503-636-1281 Ext. 106 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

IF YOU GO

What: 41st Annual NW Natural Street of Dreams

When: Saturday, July 30 to Sunday, Aug. 28

Where: Tumwater at Petes Mountain, located at the intersection of Petes Mountain Road and Schaeffer Road in West Linn

Hours: 10 a.m.-9 p.m.

Tickets: $17, available online at streetofdreamspdx.com or until 7:30 p.m. daily at the show site; kids 10 and younger get in free.

Details: Tumwater at Petes Mountain features five luxury homes, each between 5,000 and 8,000 square feet and priced between $3 million and $4 million. The 63-acre property includes a vineyard, barrel house and views of Mount Hood, Mount Adams and Mount St. Helens.

More info: http://www.streetofdreamspdx.com