It was around 3AM the first time I saw the candy-covered house on SE Milwaukie Ave. I was riding my bike and sleepy and drunkish and thought the next day that maybe I'd made it up. I started asking around - had anyone else ever seen that house covered in lollipops and candycanes down around Powell? Most people had no idea what I was talking about but finally a friend said, "Of course! Keana's Candy Kitchen!" The strange house has a name and, I discovered, even a website (which hearkens back to that era I mentioned when sparkly unicorns ruled the internet).
I rode all the way back down Milwaukie and found the place again. The candy decoration is more extensive than it appears from the road - even the windowsills are coated with frosting-like spackle and wooden hearts reading "friendship."
I stepped over hand-painted jellybeans leading up to the front door and went inside. All of a sudden, everything was a lot different than the wet, gray world outside. Before my brain could even adjust to an insanely colorful, candy-crammed front room, I was greeted by a woman named Tanea Storm. She grew up in the house back in the 70s and 80s when her grandma ran a catering business out of the downstairs. These days the kitchen makes good money from their nationally-sold line of gluten-free and sugar-free cookies. The "candyland conversion" - as Storm calls it - started in 1996. "We wanted to create a place where kids could dream and just be!" said Storm, excitedly launching into a house tour that began with pointing out the pies glued to the ceiling above us.
The house is a neighborhood project. The pies, the jellybeans, everything in the space was painted by Storm and Sellwood Middle School students and Storm says she wants the place to be a safe place for disadvantaged kids. The Candy Kitchen hosts birthday parties, Boy Scout pie eating contests and lots of Japanese tourists. On Christmas Eve, Storm hosts a big dinner for people she's knows will spend the holiday alone. "What I really want is for people to see the magic that's in my heart," she says, walking past a Kermit the Frog doll riding a carousel house. To accomplish this, Storm has spent 12 years sculpting every room in the two story house into being its own bizarre little world. The unicorns from the website have nothing on the ones dominating the stairwell.
And she has plans for expansion. Big plans. While I marvel at the bark of a giant fake tree constructed in the corner of a room where two middle schoolers are playing cards, Storm explains that someday the room will have a talking tree, fairy ballroom, thunderscape and working waterfall. I nod like I'm familiar with thunderscapes and that's when Storm reveals her grand plan: she's currently working with several teams of animators and puppeteers to redesign the quaint little house. In addition to "water features" in every room, there will be an arboretum out back and a 35 foot tall pirate ship in the front yard.
"Uh, what does a 35 foot tall pirate ship cost?" I ask.
"$1.5 million dollars," she replies, totally confident.
We head upstairs. "This room is getting a talking Pegasus," Storm says, pointing to her childhood bedroom. We enter the Jellybean room.
"There's going to be a balcony across the back of the house with a licorice whip slide that goes into a meringue pie," she continues.
"That sounds like you're building a theme park," I say.
"Except the rides are virtual and it'll teach people about ocean ecology and mythology. The Candy Cave's going to be teaching rock formations," Storm replies. She envisions a trolley will running from downtown Milwaukie to the house.
No timeline for the project is set, but Storm estimates the multi-phase conversion will cost about $7.9 million dollars and create 33 new jobs, many of those being the cast of pirates the ship requires. Storm says they have gotten bids in from animators and are now looking for funding. I ask if she's spoken with her neighbors about the plans yet. She says no, that the time will come for that later. But, she is adamant, noise won't be a problem. The store/virtual theme park will not be open at night and, besides, the giant glass arboretum in the backyard should block most of the noise from the pirate ship. Storm doesn't stop thinking big.
We head back down the stairs, which are lined with angels and more fake candy. Storm gives me a free lemon cookie. It's delicious. And simple.