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Outdoor Living Room

A Portland designer fuses indoors with outdoors

Written by Rebecca Christian
  • John Granen

    From twilight wine in the quiet bamboo grove on their property to exuberant gatherings around the fireplace in their terraced outdoor "living room," designer Henry Brown and partner Steve Bedford regularly turn their handsome ’60s-era home inside out. Maximizing living space and creating an intuitive flow between interior and exterior spaces always requires thought and creativity. But factor in the location—beautiful but damp Portland, Oregon, where even the women’s soccer team is called Portland Rain—and the duo has accomplished quite a feat.

    Because the two own Bedford Brown, an upscale home and garden store in Portland, guests often expect an established garden rather than outdoor spaces elaborated mostly by foliage, Henry says. "We tried to restore it to what it was originally and also put our own spin on it. We’re continually adding to it, changing things, and letting it evolve."

    Located in the classic Portland Heights neighborhood, the multilevel home has a southern exposure that drenches interiors with light, permitting neutral palettes inside to segue into the colors of nature outside. They also love its placement. "The house sits as far as it can to one side of the lot line and very far forward, so the outdoor space is to the back and one side. It’s unusual in the hills above Portland to have that much usable property. Because it’s on a hillside, we’ve ended up with these little terraced areas that really lend themselves to outdoor rooms, each with its own character and reason for being," Henry says.

    The main outdoor areas are an outdoor "living room" down a crushed granite path in the back and a large upper deck on the house, delineated by handsome charcoal-and-white awnings. Outdoor spaces are decidedly deciduous and coniferous, dappled by mini glens of birch, pine, camellia, magnolia, hawthorn, flowering plum, coastal redwood, and Italian cypress trees. Some of the trees provide a profusion of gold, russet, and burgundy leaves to watch from the home’s multitudinous large windows as seasons change. Others flower in soft pinks and whites."I love the bare branches, too," Henry says, "especially with the dusting of snow that blankets everything in white."

    Hedged with laurel and yew, accented with statuary, skirted with the soft fronds of ferns, and brightened by plants in
    containers, the property was originally landscaped by noted Portland landscape architect Wallace K. Huntington. The architect of the home was the late Halsey Jones, dean of Northwest contemporary architecture.

    A meditative space with a small ornamental pool is provided by the patio off the ground-level master bedroom. In the outdoor living room in back, guests relax on oversized wicker furniture for drinks, hors d’oeuvres, and sometimes dinner. "It has a really wonderful feeling, sheltered but also open because there’s no roof over it," Henry says.

    Because of the fickle Oregon weather, Henry and Steve  entertain most often on the large upper level deck they added. It is made cozy by curtains, wired for party sound, and appointed for dining with casually elegant tables, chairs, and banquettes. "Because weather in Portland can be discouraging," Henry points out,  "people have a tendency not to put their time and energy into outdoor spaces. This is a testament to what you can do here to enjoy a really nice, usable garden."

    Photography: John Granen
    Produced by Barbara Mundall

    Interior design: Henry Brown, Henry Brown Interiors, 1825 N.W. Vaughn, Suite A, Portland, OR 97209; 503/274-0966. Retail store: Bedford Brown, 503/227-7755,
    Landscape design (original): Wallace K. Huntington, Huntington & Kiest, 2892 N.W. Upshur St., Portland, OR 97210; 503/222-3383.

    Balcony awning and striped pillows (#5704); banquette fabric ("Coal" #5489): Sunbrella, 800/788-4913.
    Side chairs ("Portico" #TK-143, by Orlando Diaz-Azcuy): McGuire, 800/662-4847,
    Black containers for Boxwood; accessories: Bedford Brown, 503/227-7755.

  • John Granen

    Accessed by French doors from the master bedroom, a patio with boxwood hedges and a small ornamental pool provides an ideal spot for morning coffee.

  • John Granen

    Awnings, curtains, and pillows in Sunbrella fabric dress the deck in hospitable raiment. The McGuire chairs have a grid pattern that lends a geometric element; dinners are often served here.

  • John Granen


  • John Granen

    Surrounded by ferns, a cast-stone flame finial from Bedford Brown gives the outdoor living room that timelessly classic feeling.

  • John Granen

    The petite cast-stone pedestal table and wrought-iron chairs can be used for quiet dinners in this verdant setting. The table is topped by a chic black-and-gold pot of bromeliads with white blooms.

  • John Granen

    Stepping stones bordered by a rock wall covered with strawberry vine lead to comfy chairs.

  • John Granen

    Salvaged from the original ’60s landscaping, limestone gives a sitting area character.

  • John Granen

    In this mostly foliage garden, a trio of potted bromeliads energize the outdoor living room’s smart charcoal- and-white color scheme with their spikey bright red blooms.

  • John Granen

    Tucked into a corner of the garden is an armillary, an ancient instrument once used to determine various celestial positions and to demonstrate the motion of the stars.

  • John Granen


  • The Sidecar, price available upon request from Moore & Giles [1-800-737-0169]

    This beautifully crafted bar cart, The Sidecar by Moore and Giles, is a great way to store liquor, glassware, bar tools, and anything else needed to complete your own miniature bar. The cart, made of Virginia black walnut, birch, leather, aluminum, and brass, is wheeled to make sure the party can travel with you. Perfect for drink-lovers without the space for a full bar.