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Kevin Cavenaugh: designer, curator and bean counter in one

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Articles - February 2014
Tuesday, January 21, 2014
 Kevin Cavenaugh, owner of Guerrilla Development
// Photo by Jason Kaplan


Kevin Cavenaugh, owner of Guerrilla Development, graduated from architecture school but isn’t a licensed architect. He doesn’t like to call himself a developer, though, a profession often viewed as “just above krill on the food chain.” Specializing in boutique urban infill developments, Cavenaugh is known for his mixed-use projects on Portland’s East and West sides, including Box & One, Burnside Rocket and the Ocean. “For me, projects aren’t just an asset or commodity,” he says. “It has to be a design experiment for me to consider it successful, and I have to be a designer, curator and bean counter all at the same time.” He lives in Portland with his wife, Beth, and three children, Jack, 16, Grace, 14, and Lily Jane, 9.

Design dreams “Every project I do has to be different, and I have to keep learning. It would be easy for me to do the Rocket or Box again, maybe better and make a bit more money. But that would be formulaic, and there would be no professional growth. Right now I still bolt up at one or two in the morning and have to sketch something out in the pad beside my bed before I can fall back asleep.”

Starting over “On January 1, 2013, Beth rolled over in bed and said, ‘let’s move today!’ We left all our furniture except for our dining room table and favorite chair. Moving didn’t mean moving; it meant shopping. We went to the mattress store across the street, and I spent way too much money and time putting together IKEA furniture. We had an estate sale at the old house — weird when you’re still alive, but a fun way to take your accumulation and jettison it.”

Business lunch “Today I had the daunting task of trying shawarma at a restaurant that will probably be a tenant at my new project. We had to do a taste test to make sure we were happy with it. Lunch culminated in a handshake. When I go home and Beth asks how my day was, I can’t complain about my job. I get to go around, taste awesome food and do handshake deals with honest people.”

Living simply “I like to say we’re a ‘skill-free family’; none of us has sports or hobbies, really. We’re together a lot, and in winter we hibernate — we eat family dinner, maybe play a Scrabble game, do homework, roll into bed. It’s our first year of living in a loft in the back of my Ocean project on Sandy Boulevard. When I first moved to Portland 20 years ago, Sandy was hookers and cocaine. Now the cool factor is very high, which the kids like.”

Citizen investor “Crowdfunding is exciting as hell. I can go online and see another $20,000 pledged in my project from people all over the country that I don’t know. The whole democratization of real estate finance is just fascinating. The idea that someone like my wife, a hospice nurse, can invest $100 just as easily as someone of a much wealthier profile — that will change the market.”


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