For Rainbow House owners, paint job transcends surface appeal

It’s hard to live in Lebanon without, at some point, noticing the rainbow-colored house on W. Rose and 2nd streets. And for some, it was hard not to notice when the multiple colors were recently painted over.

“People were super sad when we started painting over it,” said Kaire Downin, who with her husband Tim owns the house. “When they heard it was going back up, they were relieved.”

The house has some historical significance for Lebanon and a quirky reason for being colorful.

Despite its unconventional design, the owners of the Rose Street residence have received a lot of positive feedback over the years about their colorful choice. It showed them they were doing more than just brightening up a small plot of land. They were brightening the lives of people.

“When we first did it, people would come to a screeching halt in the street, put their cars in reverse and take pictures,” Downin said.

As people passed by the house, Downin realized the rainbow was making them smile.

“It was just wonderful,” she said. “Several people stopped by and knocked on the door and said ‘thank you.’ People engaged with me when I was outside. I started noticing the community more and they started noticing something that brought them a smile.”

There have also been negative remarks, but Downin said those come from people who have a hard time accepting that other people are different.

“The overwhelming majority of people have been excited and joyful and thankful,” she said.

The Downin family moved to Lebanon in 2008 and purchased the house with, as Downin put it, a simple “desire to have a new start in a beautiful place.”

She had lived in the city all her life and was looking forward to the change of pace and scenery, and a safe place to raise her children, she said.

When they acquired the house, the Downin family learned it was built in 1879 by Jeremiah Ralston’s daughter, Eliza Roland. Records of transactions regarding the house were  handed over to the Downins, showing them that Ralston left $500 to Eliza in his will so she could build a house in her name.

The Downins found the history very intriguing, but they knew the house would need a lot of repairs, Kaire Downin said. They didn’t want to interfere with the integrity of its history.

“The siding was all original, milled locally,” she said. “The whole house is made of old growth fir.”

When the weather began to get wet, they turned their attention to weatherproofing the walls.

Downin said one day she was in a bad mood when she returned home from Oregon State University, but that was the fateful moment when Tim asked her what color the house should be painted.

“I said something snarky back like, ‘paint a rainbow on it, for all I care,’ and he replied, ‘OK,’” Downin said. “I stopped in my tracks. ‘Really?’ With a huge grin on my face, I was not going to let him back out of this one.”

Though Downin says she loves historical houses and prefers to keep things in period, she saw this as an opportunity to have fun. They even included the kids in the decision on the color and design of the rainbow.

People often ask the family why they painted the house like a rainbow, but Downin likes to recall the story of Buddha and the flower.

One day, the Buddha was having a gathering and stood before the students and monks, and silently held a flower in his hands, she explained. It is said that one of his disciples looked at the flower that day and found enlightenment.

According to her, the meaning of the “silent sermon” is that sometimes the meaning of something is transmitted in its energy. In other words, the meaning of the rainbow house will be different for everybody.

“If it makes you smile and feel good, then why does it matter what it means to me?”

This summer, the Downins received a home repair loan through Willamette Neighborhood Housing Services, which allowed them to acquire a zero-interest home equity line of credit (HELOC) for home repair, she said. Residents who admired the house also donated funds to help repaint the house. In addition to roof and lead paint remediation projects, the Downins were able to use a better quality paint for a brighter and longer-lasting rainbow.

“It always looks best in the spring when everything is green and my garden is blooming!”