An Understated Portland Home by Jessica Helgerson
The designer—one of Lonny’s Next Big Names for 2015—updates a 1920s English Tudor for a modern family
Some 10 years ago, when green living wasn’t always synonymous with style, Jessica Helgerson pioneered an eco- conscious aesthetic that left plenty of room for the art of design. Fast-forward a decade: sustainability is no longer just a buzzword, materials like reclaimed wood have become emblems of good taste, and Helgerson’s lush, nature-driven sensibility has put her at the forefront of a wave of West Coast talent. “We still use long-lasting materials, but our approach is more about making sure that whatever we put into a house feels livable and appropriate,” says the Portland, Oregon–based Helgerson, one of Lonny’s Next Big Names for 2015. “I wouldn’t put recycled-glass countertops in a turn-of-the-century house.” Instead, she relies on an open flow and timeless pieces that are influenced by the structure of a home and how it will wear over the years. In other words, Helgerson designs for the long haul rather than simply finding a stylish short-term solution.
Nowhere is that more apparent than in her most recent project, a modern yet approachable revamp of a 1920s English Tudor in the city’s Mount Tabor neighborhood. “I felt like we were erasing the muck,” she says of the once-convoluted layout, which featured closets within closets and other eccentric design elements. “There was a better layout beneath.” So Helgerson eliminated walls and homed in on a scheme that allowed light to penetrate interior rooms, installing built-in cabinetry and classic lighting that combine beauty, functionality, and sensitivity to the environment.
“We wanted to honor the soul of the house but also bring it into the 21st century,” says owner Heidi Lowell, who stumbled upon her future home on a walk through Mount Tabor Park. “Even in its tired state, you could tell it was extraordinary.” She and husband Alisdair Maden entrusted Helgerson and project manager Chelsie Lee to bring their vision to life without compromising the structure’s quirky personality. The design team began by expanding the kitchen, adding a multifunctional island topped in generously grained Carrara marble and a family-friendly breakfast nook accented with plaid throw pillows (a nod to the couple’s return from a two-year assignment in London). To create what the Lowell-Maden clan refers to as the snug room—a narrow passage off the kitchen that leads to the outdoor patio—Helgerson removed two awkward closets. The extra space now accommodates a built-in banquette of tufted velvet, which sits opposite a television hidden behind folded panels and a pair of silver deer antlers.
The second floor also required a considerable amount of reshuffling. In the master bedroom, an impractical cluster of closets was eliminated to create one large storage space, as well as a much-needed laundry room and linen closet and a vanity with dual sinks in the adjacent master bathroom, Lowell’s favorite room in the house. “The lighting in the room is exquisite,” she says. “It creates shadows on the ceiling that are an art form in themselves. The tile is delicate yet has texture and depth.”
In fact, the home’s lighting—sourced from local artists and artisans and featuring hand-blown glass fixtures—is a distinctive design element throughout, from the brass-and-glass chandelier in the dining room to the oil-rubbed bronze sconces in the kitchen hall. The combination of those pieces, Helgerson’s custom furniture, and well-chosen antiques speak to a design that feels quietly groundbreaking, much like Helgerson herself. “Every room complements another as if they are all one painting,” says Lowell. “Before we hired her we did our homework, and everyone we talked to about Jessica said the same thing: ‘She’s the best.’ And she was.”