Propel ADU Project featured on the Oregonian

A recent article in the Oregonian showcases one of our ADU projects as part of a discussion on the rise of ADUs across Portland. Check out the full article by following the link below:

Rentable Second Home Tops New Garage: Accessory Dwellings On The Rise, by Janet Eastman

Designed by Propel Studio Architecture, this ADU consists of a 2-bedroom apartment of around 650 sf, over a 2-car garage on the ground level, and was beautifully built by Durham Construction.


Custom House Construction Update!

We just wanted to share a few photos of our Courtyard House design which is progressing well through construction. The Courtyard House is a single story, 2,200 sf, 3 bedroom & 3 bath custom designed home. The house includes a guest suite and also has a 525 sf detached carport.

Just recently the floor to ceiling windows were installed which is wonderful to see after all of the planning and details. Thanks to iBuildPDX who is building our design. #letsdothis

More on this project here.

Nomcraft Brewing, Aridagawa, Japan

Over the past 5 years we have been working with the small rural town of Aridagawa, Japan to help develop ideas to revitalize the town. Our work began with a series of community engagement workshops and led to the renovation of an old nursery school building into a new commercial and community hub. Over the past couple of years this work has started bearing fruit, with new businesses moving into the renovated school building, and new young people moving to the town. This all came together in July for the first Nom Nom Beer garden event, celebrating all of the new businesses.

One of these businesses, NomCraft Brewing, was a direct result of the community work we did. A couple of Americans heard about the efforts in Aridagawa to revitalize the town and contacted us about moving there to start a NW style craft beer brewery. They partnered with some of the local town residents and local business owners and after a year or so of work, they finally got the brewery up and running!

We returned to Aridagawa in the heat and humidity of early August to check in on the progress and attend the opening event for the Nomcraft Brewery. It was an amazing event and it was an incredible feeling to reconnect with all of our friends there, and see the community gather around this new business and the Living Room project as a new social hub for the town. The slideshow above gives a glimpse into the first event that will now be a monthly occurrence. We encourage everyone to travel to Aridagawa to check it out and taste all the beers!

Two upcoming Portland Modern Home and ADU Tours in June!

There are two upcoming Portland Home Tours during the month of June with our Wedge ADU featured.

  • 2019 Portland Modern Home Tour

The first tour is the 2019 Portland Modern Home Tour on Saturday, June 1st from 11:00 AM - 05:00 PM. There is a total of 8 homes to see on this day!! More details here:

Meet the architects, see the homes, get great ideas, GET INSPIRED!

Come meet Propel designer Nick Mira who will be on site during this time to share some project background and inspiration for this design. Use the link below to purchase a $5 discounted ticket:

  • June 2019 ADU Tour

The second tour is the 6th Annual ADU Tour on Saturday, June 22nd from 11:00 AM - 04:00 PM. There is a total of 17 ADUs on this tour!!! More details here:

Tickets can be purchased here:

The Wedge ADU

The Wedge ADU

Why We Build Luxury Custom Homes in Portland, Oregon

Propel Studio’s goal is to deliver inspiring and beautiful homes for our clients. As local custom home architects, we are inspired by the beauty of the context in which we design, respond to the unique lifestyles and needs of our clients, and pride ourselves on creating luxurious spaces to live in that are timeless in their beauty and enhance the experience of their inhabitants.


For us, the beauty of each of our projects lives in the materials and the details. We always strive to celebrate the inherent beauty in high quality materials. Quality, durability, and high-performance is what we consider when designing and selecting finishes, fixtures and other materials for each project. We look to the life-cycle costs as we design, balancing the upfront budget with the ongoing cost of energy, water use and maintenance. This is how we define a true luxury home.

Propel Studio starts each design by understanding the context in which the house will be built. Our goal is to make each project unique to the landscape and the environment it lives in. Being in the Pacific Northwest means we are constantly designing to address the unique aspects of our climate and weather patterns.


This includes addressing the winter rains, the moderate springs and falls, the beautiful (although sometimes hot) summers, and of course the beautiful light that changes with each season. We design the envelope (exterior walls and roof) of each project to be high-performance, addressing the need for insulation, shedding water, shading the summer sun, and standing up to the elements all while creating a comfortable and efficient indoor environment.

We also look for ways to connect home interiors to their surroundings through window placement, outdoor living areas like balconies, outdoor kitchens, decks and patios, and operable door systems that can make interior rooms transform into feeling like extensions of the outdoors.

The importance of this indoor/outdoor connection mirrors our belief that true luxury is sustainable. We are committed to making architecture that has a minimal impact on our environment through our holistic approach to sustainability.


A luxury custom home in Portland doesn’t have a set design style and neither do we. Instead of imposing a particular style on a project, we start by understanding the site, the landscape, and the unique needs of our clients. This forms the foundation of our design work and we then develop a project that responds specifically to those influences.

This approach sets Propel Studio apart from other custom home architects. Each of our projects are unique. We experiment with forms, materials, and technology to ensure each project responds to the client’s needs while creating inspiring and beautiful architecture.

Are you ready to start your luxury custom home design? Contact us or schedule a consultation.

Why ADUs Are A Great Benefit To Portland Neighborhoods

This article was first published in “Hey Neighbor!” the neighborhood newspaper published by NECN.

Accessory Dwelling Units, or ADUs, are secondary residences that can be built on any residential property in Portland and many of the surrounding communities. As housing costs continue to rise, many neighbors search for affordable housing for themselves or loved ones and ADUs can provide wonderful places to live while being much cheaper than buying a house in today’s market. They are also great ways to earn rental income for homeowners, potentially allowing people to stay on their property even if the neighborhood gets more expensive. In short, ADUs are great investments that help build wealth and provide much needed housing. They can be an important part of creating diverse and thriving communities.

The Wedge - Interior.jpg

At Propel Studio we have been working in neighborhoods throughout Portland over the past six years to help people navigate the design, permitting and construction process for ADUs. We find ADUs to be great ways to address our housing shortage, while preserving the neighborhood character that we all enjoy.

Here are a few reasons we think ADUs are a great fit for Portland and something that everyone should consider adding to their property:

  • ADUs create opportunities to provide housing while preserving neighborhood character.

  • ADUs are sustainable, by doubling down on residential areas with existing infrastructure and services (preventing urban sprawl).

  • ADUs give homeowners an opportunity to capitalize on their current investment (their property) to build wealth, provide passive income, and help people plan for retirement.

  • ADUs allow for multi-generational living and aging-in-place

  • ADUs are a popular way to downsize while remaining in the community you’ve grown to love.

  • ADUs can be designed to be low-maintenance.

  • ADUs can be designed to be net-zero energy use - meaning your energy bills could be close to $0.

  • ADUs can be cheaper to build than buying a new house to live in.


Most of the time ADUs are detached buildings (like a backyard cottage), but an ADU can also be created within a renovated basement, attic, or garage. Each property and family is unique, so we work with our clients to talk through all of the options available and find the best solution to their situation - based on budget, existing conditions of the property, and what their goal is for the new structure.

Like any investment, there are costs associated with these. ADUs are not cheap - we find they cost between $170,000 to $275,000 depending on the size, complexity, quality of finishes, etc. This cost is relatively similar regardless of whether you are building new or renovating an existing space. Renovating basement or garages into an ADU is not necessarily cheaper than building a new as often it is more complex to work within an existing structure. In general, new, detached, ADUs are the simplest to build but we have worked on all sorts of ADUs over the past few years.

The Screen - Photo 1.jpg

We are passionate about ADUs as they can be economic, social, and environmentally sustainable housing opportunities. If you have any questions or are considering building an ADU, we offer a range of free resources on our ADU page, and free consultations at our office.

To help people financially plan for building an ADU, we have developed a simplified proforma spreadsheet that estimates the project costs that need to be considered. This worksheet allows you to play around with various costs and variables and see the impact on the total project cost.

How Our Experience with Yogurt and the Feds Will Help Us Create Your Perfect Commercial Office Design

Portland, Oregon is experiencing a renaissance of sorts. Construction of all types is progressing at unprecedented rates. Many neighborhoods are experiencing an explosion of residential opportunities (even though we’re still facing a missing middle housing crisis) and corporate headquarters seem to be flocking downtown.

After the recent unveiling of the new Under Armour offices in Portland, we decided to break down our own experiences in the commercial office design arena. As it turns out, we’ve learned a lot from our experience working for an organic yogurt company and the US General Services Administration.

If you know Nick Mira, it’s no surprise that his biggest takeaways from his work on the offices and shower facilities for Stonyfield Farms near Manchester, New Hampshire are mainly about high performance building systems. Completed in 2006, the building was designed to be very energy efficient. Since Manchester is a more extreme climate when it comes to summer high temperature and winter lows, a super insulated envelope was appropriate. Fast forward to 2019 and the same building envelope used on Stonyfield’s office headquarters then would contribute to a Passive House project in Portland today.

The office building is a three level, open office space that houses their corporate headquarters and it is located directly adjacent to the organic yogurt production facility. One of the unique accomplishments of the project is how it provides heat to its 30,000 square feet of space. Working closely with the mechanical engineering and energy modeling teams, we determined that there is enough waste heat from production process next door to provide the new building with “free” heat. This is one example of the many ways architects and engineers with sustainable design expertise can dig into an organization and cater a design and add a great long term value. The story of Stonyfield Farms is all about preserving the environment, farming and natural, healthy foods, so naturally their headquarters had reflect the same mission.

While similar in sustainable goals, the transformation of the Edith Green - Wendell Wyatt Federal Building in Portland started from a radically different place. As Nick and Tuan Vu recall, the Federal Building project became part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. It was designed to save both an inefficient old building and a struggling economy.

Ironically, with all the renovations and sustainable building systems designed into the project, leasable area of the 18 story Federal Building actually grew by 33,000 square feet. That’s 3,000 more than the entire area of the Stonyfield Farms project. This became one story of the federal building renovation which surprises many - not only did it transform from inefficient, underperforming, and an outdated office block to ultra-efficient - but it maximized their top tier office space.

Our collective experiences on these projects exemplify that not only must good commercial office design meet the functional needs of the business and the physical needs of the employees and protect the environmental sensitivities of its location, but it must also amplify the character and story of the organization it’s designed for.

Good commercial office design needs to reflect the DNA of its owner. It should express, even enhance the heart and soul of the company.

We love these kinds of conversations in our office because they get us fired up. We have a renewed passion for imagining great new spaces for our corporate clients.
Whether you want a brand new space or are interested in renovating and maximizing an existing space,schedule a consultation with us. We’re looking forward to helping you create a facility that’s the perfect reflection of you.

ADU Costs and a Proforma Worksheet

Although they are small in size, ADUs are still a large investment for most people that we work with. To make sure we understand priorities and how to best design within a budget, we start the design process by discussing the client’s wants and needs, and understanding the budget and goals for the project. Although the design process takes a significant amount of time, and it is difficult to know exactly what the construction costs will be when the design is permitted and ready to break ground, we try to design projects that are reasonably close to our client’s stated budgets.

At the same time, having clients that understand their financial goals and potential returns for these investments, makes these discussions easier. It is important that the people we work with have realistic expectations for the costs of ADU projects in today’s market, as well as understand what they should expect for potential rents and the revenue they can expect compared to the costs. Too often people come to us with expectations based on information that isn’t correct or that is out of date, which makes these early budget discussions difficult. Even just a few years ago it may have been possible to build an ADU for $125,00 to $150,000, while in today’s construction market it is difficult to get even a simple ADU built for less than $175,000.

To help you make a more informed decision, and have more realistic expectations, we have developed a tool to help calculate the costs and corresponding payback period and return on investment for ADU projects. This Proforma worksheet outlines the costs and ongoing expenses along with the revenue for an ADU rental unit. Although it doesn’t include fees and other costs for a loan product, it should give you a rough idea of what it takes to build an ADU and what revenue you can expect when it is complete. All you have to do is input some numbers based on your local market and the spreadsheet calculates the rest. It is a free download - just fill out the form below and a link to download the spreadsheet should appear:

Name *

Sneak Peak of Our Latest ADU Project

Our latest ADU in SE Portland was recently completed. Our whole firm met there last week to preview the project and do a final punch list walk through with the client and contractor to identify and final things that needs fixing or adjustments. The best part was to see how happy our client was and to see the results of over a year of hard work by everyone involved.

We were all really pleased with the result. It all came together beautifully and the contractors - Billy Spear and the entire Evergreen Craftsmen team - did an amazing job. Also, because it was a typical rainy Portland day we got to see the scupper and water fall in action!

Below are some sneak peak phone photos I snapped during the walk-through. We are currently scheduling a photo shoot with a professional photographer and will get those up on the website soon.

Top reasons NOT to do a Garage Conversion ADU

We continually get inquiries from prospective clients looking to convert their existing garages into Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs). The main reason people give for wanting to go this route is that they think it will save them money with lower construction costs by reusing a structure that already exists. Although, this is a great goal in theory, for almost every inquiry we recommend not going with a conversion but rather demo the garage and build the new ADU from the ground up. There are many reasons for this recommendation.

Working Within Existing Structures is More Work

Garages weren't designed and built for living in, and many are older and need extensive repairs and alterations to make them livable.

In our experience, renovating garages are often difficult and complex. Garages weren't designed and built for living in, and many are older and need extensive repairs and alterations to make them livable. Documenting the existing structure takes time and multiple trips to the site to verify dimensions over the course of the project. Often roofs are in poor condition and need repairs or replacements, there aren’t windows, or if there are they are small and in awkward locations. Existing walls are often not structurally sound and many garages don’t even have proper structural footings. There usually isn’t plumbing hookups and if there are, it still requires cutting through the concrete floor to get the plumbing the correct places for adding kitchens and bathrooms.

All of these, and other potential complications, means it is more work for the design team as we document the existing space and try to design a new dwelling unit within these limitations. It is more work for the contractors because they have to work around what is there and are limited in what equipment and construction methods they can use. There is more work that needs to be done by hand, and there is more unique measurements and one-off pieces that makes construction longer and more expensive.

As one example, we recently designed an ADU Garage Conversion for a home in the Irvington neighborhood here in Portland, Oregon. As we analyzed the existing structure we found that there wasn’t adequate footings under the exterior walls of the garage. The only way to add footings without compromising the structure, was to dig out 4-foot sections under the existing walls by hand, pouring a new concrete foundation, and then moving on to dig out the next 4-foot section. This is labor intensive work that takes a lot of time. This alone added around $12,000 in construction costs.

That is one example of the additional work and associated cost. On top of that, there is more design time needed for architectural and structural engineering, permit reviews can be more time consuming as they check the plans to ensure they meet today’s code and structural requirements, and construction can often take just as long and face lots of difficult conditions - all of which add cost and make these projects not as affordable as they first seem.

Garage Conversion ADU.jpg

Garage Conversions Don’t Save You Money

Based on recent projects, we find that the cost of renovating an existing garage is often around the same as demolishing the garage and building a new ADU, and the process is much more difficult.

We find that the construction cost of most ADUs in the Portland area come in between $175,000 and $250,000 (or higher if you want higher-end finishes and products). With the cost of labor in this tight market, import tariffs, and demand on material supply, costs have gone up significantly over the past couple of years. Those numbers don't include the design fees (estimate around 10% of construction costs) or permitting fees (between $6,000 and $12,000) depending on the design and existing conditions. Even garage conversions are within those ranges. There may be some savings if the existing structure is up to code and in great condition, but rarely is that the case. Typically garages have damaged roofs or siding, no windows or existing windows that need to be replaced, insufficient structure, and often the concrete slab and foundations are cracked, damaged, or non-existent. Often, it costs the same amount to upgrade and repair the existing structure, as there are savings by reusing the garage.

Once you are spending the same amount of money, why limit yourself to working within the garage rather than designing a custom ADU that can be more beautiful, responds specifically to your needs, and fits in better with your property?

New Construction can be Healthier, more Comfortable, and more Sustainable

Keeping our buildings cool in the summer and warm in the winter is one of the biggest uses of energy.

With all of our projects, we approach the design process by considering how to create beautiful spaces that are comfortable for occupants, have a healthy indoor environment, and are as sustainable as possible within our client’s budget. Achieving these goals is often more complex and difficult when renovating an older structure rather than building new. Most older garages are built out of 2x4s where contemporary homes often have 2x6 thick walls, and 2x12 roofs. This extra wall and roof cavity space allows us to better insulate our buildings, and insulation is the first step in creating comfortable and sustainable buildings.

Keeping our buildings cool in the summer and warm in the winter is one of the biggest uses of energy. Increasing the R-values of our walls and roof (a higher R-value means better insulation) is the cheapest and easiest way to reduce our energy use, make our interiors more comfortable, and reduce CO2 emissions.

To achieve similar insulation values in a garage conversion project, it involves sistering new deeper studs and rafters to the existing framing - basically re-framing the entire structure from the inside. The alternative, is to simply insulate the existing wall cavities, regardless of the thickness of the structure. This leads to lower R-values, more drafty homes, and more extreme temperature fluctuation based on changing weather and outdoor temperatures. This can make the ADU feel too cold, too warm, or rely on intensive energy use to heat and cool the space. And remember, higher energy use means higher energy bills for the entire life of the building. This increased life-cycle costs is worth considering as you budget for your project.

You Don’t Actually Get What You Want

Garages aren’t designed, built, or sized for people to live in, or for the rooms and spaces we need to make a great place to live.

Being restricted to the existing size, shape, proportions, and height of a garage can be extremely limiting. When we have worked on these projects in the past, often we start the design process with our clients by creating layouts within the existing garage footprint, and they end up being frustrated when the learn more about the restriction and limitations of the design. The spaces end up being smaller than they anticipated, and the complications of adding onto, or lifting the roof to add extra space, ends up being expensive and usually far beyond their budgets. Rather than limit the possibilities by sticking with the existing garage, we encourage our clients to build a new custom ADU that responds specifically to their wants and needs, and the unique aspects of their property.

Converting a garage into an ADU has a time and place. Sometimes it is the only option to create a second unit based on the property. Other times the garage is newer and in great shape and can be more easily converted within a tight budget. However, the vast majority of the time, in our experience, these projects are more trouble than they are worth and don’t actually save any money. It is for those reasons that we usually recommend designing and building a new ADU that is exactly what you want, rather than limiting yourselves to working within the existing confines of a garage structure.

If you have questions or want to discuss some particulars about your unique situation, don’t hesitate to contact us. If you are considering adding a new ADU to your property you can schedule a consultation here:

If you are looking for more information about ADUs and our design process, project costs, and services check out our ADU page:

What you need to know when beginning a custom home project in the Portland Area


Through our work on custom residential design projects, we have realized that there are some common misconceptions that people have about the custom home design process. Choosing to realize your dream of building your family a custom home is a huge decision in your life and we want to make sure you’re starting off on the right foot. To help you understand the process and all the things you don’t know you need to know, we’re kicking off a blog series on custom home design in Portland and the surrounding areas.

Over the articles in this blog series, we will cover topics such as:

  • What is Pre-Design and why it’s the most important step in designing your custom home?

  • How does the design progress from schematic ideas to a thoroughly developed design?

  • What happens once your construction documents are finalized and your permit is approved?

  • When do you engage a general contractor, and how will you, the contractor, and architect work together to realize your design and stay on budget?

  • How long will your project take to complete, and what are the steps along the way?

  • Questions your architect wishes you’d ask?

  • How to select an architect for project? (And why it shouldn’t be based on fees)

In this article, we’ll discuss the first step in the custom home design process: the Pre-Design phase and explain why its essential to a successful project.


When engaging with Propel Studio on a custom home project, the first step of our process is to undertake an in-depth analysis of the project and goals. The Pre-Design phase outlines the project schedule and identifies all of the milestones, it includes a site evaluation, outline of the project program (all the things you want and need us to include in the design), and documents the project budget. This information gathering process begin with the client interview.


Client Interview

The client interview is where we find out the basics of what is important to you – what you are looking for in a custom home, what your lifestyle needs are, what your future plans are for your new home, what styles appeal to you, and what you think your budget target is. Even if you don’t know all of the answers, this starts the conversation and we can help you develop the needed information as we do more research and assign some homework assignments. Our goal is learn more about you, your family, how you live, and how you want to live. This is where we get to know you better and build a strong foundation for future phases.

Site Evaluation

This is incredibly valuable and absolutely necessary because each property is unique and different localities have different requirements and regulations that can affect the design of the project (and these can change from year to year). If your site has specific characteristics such as a steep slope or a stream running through it, there will be local requirements that your custom home design must meet to get approval for construction.

Our side evaluation starts with us visiting the site with you. We walk the grounds and discuss things you like about the property, ideas you have on project location, identify any key features or aspects of the property you want to preserve, or special views you want to take advantage of. We document this with meeting notes and lots and lots of photos. We also take general measurements, and locate any existing structures or specific features that would affect the design - like large trees, retaining walls, landscape features, etc.

Once we have an understanding of the property itself we research what the local jurisdiction may require for the project. In some areas, you will be required to connect to the city utility system and in other more rural areas you may be able to connect to a well or septic system. It’s a good to know what this and other requirements from the start, as this will influence your home design and your budget. As part of the site evaluation part of the process, we’ll research the local zoning laws and building code restrictions, and help explain to you how they will impact the project.  

Tip: before you decide on a property for your new home, meet with the town development office to ask questions on rules they expect you to follow. At this point, you’re just getting a general picture of possible restrictions there are for your site. Typically, larger cities like Portland have a longer list of requirements than smaller towns. It is good to know what is needed before you put in an offer on the property or get too far into the design process. If you are unsure of where to start or what questions to ask, this would be a perfect time to engage an architect for your project.

Programming and Feasibility

Programming is the process of documenting a list of spaces, sizes, and your needs for your custom home. This is realized from our interviews with you. Think of it as a wish list of all the things you’d want in your new home, including the must-haves and the would-be-nice-to-haves. We try to list everything to start, and then go through the document to set priorities on what is most important and what might be nice to have only if the budget allows it. We take this list and develop it in relation to the unique qualities of your site, identifying any overlooked opportunities and any possible challenges. It’s common for your program to change over our various conversations with you. We work with you to figure out what program is best for your dream home.

Budgeting and Scheduling

By doing all of this initial work with site evaluation and programming, we can develop a realistic preliminary budget and also the project schedule. We discuss both the soft costs (design, permitting, and other fees) and hard costs (construction costs) involved in a project, so you can have a full understanding of what the custom home may cost and develop a budget accordingly.

The information from the Pre-Design phase sets the parameters from which we design your new home. The next phase is Schematic Design and this is where the fun begins! Our next article will delve into what happens and how we keep your project on budget through Schematic Design, Design Development, and the Construction Document phases.

If you are ready to start the process please contact us or schedule a consultation.

Sustainable ADU Challenge

Join us in pursuing the challenge of designing and building the most sustainable ADU in the world!

One thing that keeps us passionate about architecture and design, is that we are constantly undertaking new challenges and learning about new materials, technology and systems. We love using this knowledge to make our projects better places to live for our clients, and more sustainable for our environment.

As a firm that specializes in ADUs (accessory dwelling units) we are constantly trying to balance modest budgets with the desire to pursue innovative construction techniques and lofty sustainability goals. We try to incorporate passive strategies in all of our projects, and when the budget can afford it, we look for more active strategies, like adding geothermal heating, solar panels, heat exchangers, etc. We do what we can to lower energy costs, reduce water use, and minimize our carbon footprint.

However, we feel that we are just scratching the surface of what we can do with ADUs. We would love to find clients that are ready to challenge the status quo and set lofty sustainability goals for their projects. We are looking for clients that want to pursue Living Building challenge certification, Net Zero energy use, and Passive House certification, among others.

If you are someone looking for an ADU and would like to collaborate to create the most sustainable project possible, let us know. We are open to the challenge and currently looking for people who want to push the boundaries of sustainable ADU design.

How We Balance Design And Budget In A Custom Home Project

Every project, no matter how big or small, has a budget and it is our job as architects and designers to meet a client’s needs within their stated budget. This can be a challenge and is often the part of a project that is the most stressful - especially for our custom home clients.

One of the main reasons people hire architects to design a custom home, is that they want a space that is tailored to their specific needs, values, and responds to their family’s lifestyle. This often means that when we first meet with our clients, they already have a good idea of what they want and need in their new home. The challenge occurs when their list of wants doesn’t align with the budget for a project they can afford to build.

The Wood House - Interior.png

We start each project with a programming meeting with our clients. This includes a conversation where we discuss everything that will be going into the new house before we even put pencil to paper to start the design. Together we identify all of the spaces, unique features, specific wants, and the overall needs of the client. We discuss general style consideration, and document any specific things the client would like us to include in the project. Once that list is defined we can then go through it together to prioritize what is most important vs what would be nice to have, but if budget becomes a concern we could do without.

We use this programming document as a basis for the design work for the custom home. With the wants and needs in mind we start sketching ideas, and coming up with concepts for how the house could fit on the site, accommodate the programming list, and be within the budget range.

Once we have some design ideas documented, we recommend selecting a General Contractor to perform pre-construction services in order to get real cost feedback throughout the design process. Contractors are knowledgeable about cost fluctuation in material and labor costs, and have the ability to give some feedback on constructibility and offer ideas on how to make things more cost effective. With a contractor on board, we get a rough estimate when we are close to complete with the Schematic Design Phase. This allows us to get cost feedback and still have the opportunity to make changes or edits to the design to bring the project in line with the budget.

Often this is the moment where clients can get stressed - when the estimated cost of a project comes back above the stated budget. This is where our value as designers can really come to play. With the cost estimate in one hand, and the understanding of the project goals we discuss with our clients what the highest priorities are, what can be sacrificed, and where we can make edits to bring the cost down. We discuss overall design goals, and then offer suggestions on what changes can be made.

This process is common in almost every project and not something to worry about. It is a time where the client takes stock of what they want in their home and what they can afford to build. Sometimes this is a point where clients decide they want to raise their budget in order to get some of the things they really value. Other times, it involves working together to make some tough decisions on what the carve out of the project in order to keep the budget where it is.

Either way, we work closely with out clients to analyze the various options and make recommendations on how they can get as close to their vision as possible while still being a project they can afford. This isn’t always an easy process, but often can lead to a better design that is more efficient and cost effective.

At the end of the day, our priorities are to provide great service and make sure our clients can get as close to their vision as possible within their budget. We strive to make this happen in a seamless, stress-free way, and guide our clients through each hurdle to the best of our abilities. Cost can be a stressful part of each project and it is our goal to collaborate with our clients to make decisions that work for them.

Lucky8 House - Interior.jpg

If you have any questions about this post, the cost of building a custom home, or have other questions, don’t hesitate to contact us.


Exciting news! The Institute for Sustainable Solutions (ISS) at Portland State University conducted an ADU survey as part of their Small Backyard Homes Project. The survey is the first of its kind as it targeted not only ADU owners, but those who live in ADUs as well. 

The survey results are in and they are hosting a webinar to discuss its findings in more detail. We hope you join us in attending the webinar! 

The survey was conducted with with Matthew Gebhardt, assistant professor of Urban Studies and Planning, and Yael Kidron, Ph.D. candidate in Urban Studies and Planning. 

When: Tuesday, 7/31/18, 12pm Pacific time / 3pm Eastern time.

Format of the webinar:

After a brief introduction from Robert Liberty, the webinar content will be divided into three sections:

1. Background and context of the survey

2. Overview of survey results related to the construction and financing of ADUs

3. Overview of survey results related to the users and uses of ADUs

Each section is 10-15 minutes, followed by about 5 minutes for Q&A, plus time at the end. The entire webinar will run about an hour.

How to submit questions:

During the webinar, questions can be submitted via the Q&A function at the link. You will need to enter your name the first time you submit a question.

You can submit questions ahead of time (but not during the webinar) by responding to this e-mail.

AICP credit is available: the event number is #9154827.

The full ADU survey report is available below.


For more information about ADUs and our design process click here:

"See What’s Popping Up In Backyards" | ADU Article in Realtor Magazine

Propel co-founder Lucas Gray, was recently quoted in an article for Realtor magazine. The article, "See what’s popping up in backyards", speaks about the rise in Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) also known as Granny Flats or laneway suites, as a response to the scarcity of affordable housing. Lucas was pleased to lend his expertise to this article; Propel has years of experience with ADUs in the Portland area and appreciate the benefits they bring to our community. As a community focused design firm, it's important for us to design housing that addresses affordability, equity, diversity and creates thriving neighborhoods and wonderful places to call home. A healthy mix of single family residences, multifamily housing and ADUs as infill create vibrant communities and provides options for equitable housing solutions as costs continue to skyrocket.


Propel Studio Award for Design Excellence 2018 - Lisa Patterson

Each year Propel Studio sponsors an award for graduating Masters of Architecture students at Portland State University's School of Architecture. We are proud to announce that the winner of the 2018 Propel Studio Award for Design Excellence is Lisa Patterson. She was selected by PSU faculty for her "unique design sensibility and most exquisite hand drawings."

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From the Faculty:
"Throughout her Master's studies Lisa revealed herself to be a creative individual who consistently embodied a unique combination of sensitivity and rigor. She commands a graphic touch that deftly explores the intricacies of her architectural propositions, from clarifying parti to detail study. Her graphite and color wash hand-drawings exemplify, particularly in her thesis work, the subtle inscription of human occupation across the profoundly more powerful and encompassing orders of nature manifest in the dynamic interplay of landscape and river. Lisa's work is recognized with this award for offering clear evidence that ideas in architecture are deeply and generatively intertwined with the manner of their disclosure through drawing."


The "Propel Studio Award for Design Excellence" includes a $500 prize each year to a graduating student based on their body of work during their studies with an emphasis on design quality. The faculty of the School of Architecture selects the winner each year and the recipient comes into our office to share their work and design approach with our firm.

Our goal is to build a strong relationship between our firm and the university as well as support Emerging Professionals as they continue their career growth. 

For more information about the PSU School of Architecture, click here:

Last year's winner - William Chandler

Architects In Schools Round 6

This is the sixth consecutive year Propel team member Sam Sudy has been volunteering for the Architecture Foundation of Oregon program Architects in Schools. Not only has Sam found that Architects in Schools is extremely rewarding for the kids, that it helps children discover the world of architecture and creative problem solving in fun and exciting ways, but it is also a great break from the office and a chance to be inspired by the creativity in the children she teaches. Even if it can be hectic at times trying to keep everyone focused on the task at hand, and juggling work commitments while being out of the office, Architects In Schools is worth the effort as it lays the foundation for future generations of architects and designers. As a community-focused architecture firm, it is opportunities like this that we are passionate about, as ways to show the value that architects can provide to our built environment and the communities that live in it. 

It seems that every time Sam enters the classroom, work and life stresses slip away and she is completely focused on making sure the kids are having fun while learning something new about the power of design. It is one of the most rewarding volunteer experiences and ultimately is what keeps Sam coming back year after year.

This year, she teamed up with a friend and colleague Rachel Zanetti and two 3rd grade teachers from Marysville Elementary School, and began using lessons from previous years that they knew where crowd-pleasers (marshmallow geodesic domes, mask building exercise with the students taking on different roles between client, designer, constructor). 

The final culminating project, however, was a first this year. The teachers asked Sam and Rachel to aide in an engineering project in which the kids teamed up to build popsicle stick replicas of some of Portland's famous bridges. With hot glue and paper templates, the kids tackled the bridge building rather well - their work was super impressive!

On the final day, the kids got to put their bridges to the test by hanging a plastic bucket off of a portion of their bridge and slowly filling it with heavy textbooks to see how much weight their structure could support. At the beginning of this lesson, the teachers were very clear in directing the children to encourage one another, instead of verbally instigate competition. "If a bridge can hold only the bucket, that's okay."

Much to Sam's surprise, the bridges held more than just the bucket... 

Glenn Murcutt International Master Class

In 2008, Propel partner Lucas Gray participated in the Glenn Murcutt Master Class, a two-week intensive design studio. Participants included 30 architects from around the world who came to learn from the incredible tutors of Glenn Murcutt, Richard Leplastrier, Brit Andresen, Peter Stutchbury and Lindsay Johnson. The studio took place in Australia at the Arthur and Yvonne Boyd Education Center in Riversdale, and architecture studios a the University of Sydney. The above documentary followed the 2008 Master Class as they explored design ideas in small groups, under the guidance of the tutors. 

This experience has helped shape Lucas's approach to design and passion for sustainable architecture that responds to the natural surroundings.

For more information about the Glenn Murcutt International Master Class or to apply for one of their upcoming programs visit: 

2018 Forty Under 40 Awards


Propel co-founder Lucas Gray, was recently recognized by the Portland Business Journal in their annual Forty Under 40 Awards. Each year they recognize forty young professionals for outstanding leadership in their careers and compelling community involvement. 

Congratulations to Lucas, and thank you to everyone who supported his nomination.

Lessons From Colombia

The entire Propel Studio team is inspired by the world around us; and it inevitably influences our office’s design work. Both for pleasure and business, we spend a lot of our time traveling, exploring new places, and learning what we can in order to design and advocate for better cities back home. The following post is a continuation of our thoughts while experiencing new or far off destinations.

La Ciudad Perdida

Propel designer, Sam Sudy, spent a week in Santa Marta, Colombia, exploring la Ciudad Perdida (or “Lost City”). Older than its similar counterpart, Machu Picchu by some 650 years, Ciudad Perdida is an archaeological site of an ancient city in Colombia’s Sierra Nevada mountain range. The site consists of over 150 stone terraces carved into the mountainside and a network of tiled pathways that connect smaller grassy plazas. The hierarchy of the stone terraces is evident in that there are distinctly two larger rings among the rest. These foundation relics were where the men and women’s wooden huts once sat. The men’s hut faces the landscape and any pending attack from down the hill. The women’s hut faces the community where the rest of the terraces meander up the mountain. It was a spectacular view, either way.

… But to get there, you have to hike for a few days. There are no roads to la Ciudad Perdida, just a trail.

The Trek

The trail to la Ciudad Perdida can be considered slightly treacherous, requiring a good level of fitness. As a long distance runner, I thought it would be a breeze. But after just the first day, out of four, I was questioning every ounce of weight in my backpack that I had brought. The trek had it all. A stark contrast of obstacles are scattered along the trek: sketchy rope bridges, steep inclines and declines, river crossings sans shoes, boulder hopping, sun exposed dry stretches, jungle humidity, and a scourge of mosquitoes, just to name a few. To top it all off, the trek also equates to the distance of a marathon up and down a 4,000ft mountain.

Compression and Release

In architecture, we have a phrase called “compression and release.” It is the practice of creating smaller, compact spaces and hallways that then open up onto more expansive rooms or views. This architectural device has a profound impact on the psyche, evoking appreciation, awe, and sometimes spiritual illumination.

After trekking my butt off through the Sierra Nevada jungle, I realized upon reaching the precipice of la Ciudad Perdida that I had bared witness to the very device I utilize in my practice - and it felt amazing gazing over the open terraced hills after emerging from the compression of the jungle confines. All of the hard work it took to get there made the experience that much better. The claustrophobic, stuffy jungle had been preparing me for the contrasting grandiose, expansive views I was inundated with upon reaching the summit.


Too often, modern day architecture does not make use of compression and release. With technology at our fingertips, our society has adapted to become impatient, and that has translated to the design of our built environment as well. This “mundane architecture,” as I like to call it, has filled our public spaces with uninspiring banality, where the flow from space to space offers little, if any, variety.

One thing that was very evident in Colombia, was that society seemed more present. People still know how to take their time. Sometimes, there must be toil before reward. We forget it is this struggle that makes each accomplishment that much more gratifying. This is true in life as well as architecture, where the choreography of a building, and the flow of spaces can have a dramatic impact on our experience and enjoyment of the built environment.


Hiking through the Sierra Nevada jungle has reinvigorated me to bring the idea of contrast, compression/release, hierarchy of scale, back to my design efforts. Most days, I am working on the ADU designs that come through our office. But, just because projects are inherently small, does not mean they can’t have big moments.

¡Gracias Colombia!