When Sandra and Greg Cost set out to find a home for their family of six in the South West hills of Portland, they immediately fell in love with the perfect proportions and charm of this historic 1885 Victorian home. It had the six bedrooms they needed for themselves and their four children, three and a half baths to accommodate everyone in the family, and virtually intact original architectural features, save for one room: the kitchen.
While the grand entrance retained its original glamour and charm—with its ornate balustrade, leaded windows, and inlaid hardwood floors—the kitchen painted an entirely different picture. It had been badly redone in the '90s, boasting floral wallpaper and butter yellow finishes.
To solve this renovation tragedy, the couple called on the help of Portland-based firm Jessica Helgerson Interior Design. With the help of Chelsie Lee, the lead designer on the project, they were able to bring the house's feature back to its original charm—all the while furnishing it with vibrant modern furniture.
The dichotomy of the two extremes—the classic Victorian architecture and the bright, jewel-tone midcentury furniture—is what makes this stately home positively brilliant. Step inside to see the result.
"Our clients wanted a modern, glamorous home," explains Lee. "We set out with that goal and made decisions that felt in keeping with that idea." Though the rest of the home already lent itself to old-world charm, with its wood-paneled walls and stately fireplaces, the kitchen and powder room needed a serious face-lift—one that kept the original architecture top of mind.
"We were very respectful of the architecture on this project," Lee says. "Most of the renovation work came in the kitchen, wet bar, and powder room on the first floor. The rest of our work was decorative: new paint, furniture, lighting, and art throughout."
"We tread lightly when working in beautiful old homes like this one," says Lee, who added hardwood floors almost identical to the original ones back in the kitchen and covered the ceiling with period-authentic tin tiles. "We like to preserve all the character and charm built 100 years ago and match that with the new architecture. Later we'll take more risks by introducing modern elements when it's time to select furniture, lighting, art, and paint colors. We do this in hopes that the new architecture can last as long as the original and not be ripped out in 10 years again."
"We chose colors that complemented the warm existing woodwork," says the designer. These orange wood tones aren't the easiest to pair in the best of cases, but Lee found the perfect shade to soften the dark woodwork throughout.
"In the end," she says, "we landed on varied shades of a lavender gray, which lent itself nicely to both the bright bold palette of the furniture and the warm oranges and browns of the house's bones."
Every single material that went into the renovation was purposefully chosen for its presence in original Victorian architecture—marble, tin ceiling tiles, painted wood cabinetry, and oak floors. "We designed a custom inlaid wood floor pattern to match those found throughout the house, designed cabinetry and chose finishes that theoretically could have always been there," says Lee.
Since the house is listed under the National Register of Historic Places, some of the guidelines for the renovation were extremely strict—and the biggest challenge on the project blending the old and new architecture in a seamless way. To help with these rigid guidelines, the designer worked with local contractor Gregor Mitchell of The Works. "He did a fantastic job," says Lee. "We had scenarios where original 100-plus-year-old floors meet up with brand-new floors and you couldn't tell."
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For the furnishings, the designer worked to marry the style of the house with iconic midcentury furniture, which the couple loved. They already owned some pieces, like the Womb chair in the family room—which was reupholstered in a deep fuschia fabric.
"The bright blue Milo Baughman chairs in the family room were an early find and they really helped set the tone for the rest of our furniture roundup," explains Lee. "They felt just right with their geometric and bold shape juxtaposing the intricate ornate molding and trim. We liked playing with that balance."
In the master bedroom, they continued the theme of the bright jewel tone with yellow club chairs and a fuchsia overdyed rug—complemented by the soft lavender gray hue that runs through the house. "The color palette is fun and bold and makes it feel very modern," says the designer—who calls this project one of the most beautiful houses they had ever been in, even in its original state. "The ceiling heights, room proportions, and gorgeous Victorian details throughout make it feel so inviting."
Thanks to Jessica Helgerson and her team, this historic Portland home will live on in its immaculate authentic state for a few more decades.
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