The house has never before been on the market, having until now been kept in the family of the original owners (Mary Van Strong and Phillip Joss). The kitchen and bathrooms were remodelled in 2000, otherwise the home has been maintained in largely original state as designed by Belluschi.
Original plans show the house with a carport, noted as suitable for conversion to a future bedroom, and an upstairs room to be finished later as a bedroom with a bathroom. Both of those conversions were carried out early early on by the original owners. A detached garage was also added.
This house was designed around 1940 soon after the house Belluschi designed for Jennings Sutor and both houses are recognized as demonstrating the architect’s growing interest in Japanese architecture and how this interest influenced his evolving sense of a modernism suited for the pacific northwest. In addition, the Joss house shows the influence of the Wentz cottage which is widely considered to have been the prototype for, if not the beginning, of a northwest regional style.
Harry Wentz was a well known artist and teacher at Portland Museum Art School. Wentz had collaborated with architect A.E. Doyle on the design of a cottage which he built for himself in 1916 on Neahkanie Mountain on the Oregon coast. Belluschi, and also John Yeon, knew Wentz and visited the cottage multiple times as a young designers. The house had a profound impact on them both. John Yeon said it was the first truly beautiful piece of architecture he saw in Oregon. Belluschi said of the cottage:
“It has function, appropriateness, harmony, materials, setting, orientation; it is modern, emotional, beautiful.”
( see Jo Stubblebiner’s The Northwest Architecture of Pietro Belluschi and also Meredith Clausen’s Pietro Belluschi Modern American Architect for further discussion of the influence of the cottage).
Belluschi included all of these elements in the design of the Joss house. The Wentz cottage was simple in plan and simple in materials and finishes, mostly wood left to age naturally. It suited its site and used structure to frame views of the ocean and the mountain. It had high vaulted spaces, exposed structural elements, and a rusticity appropriate to its use. The Joss house is perhaps somewhat more complex in plan, based on an L shape with the public spaces in one axis and the bedrooms in the other. The living area has a high vaulted ceiling with exposed wood framing and features a striking fireplace of reinforced concrete. Wood left natural is the featured surface throughout the house. Generous areas of glass frame views to the beautiful gardens surrounding the house and provide an important connection to the site high in the west hills of Portland.