Calming colors are stylish while creating a zen-like atmosphere
Interior designer Henry Brown doesn’t typically go looking for trouble, but it’s easy to imagine him nyah-nyah-nyahing the heavens as he braces for another rainy day in Portland. The dove-gray palette he chose for his home’s interior, at least, seems a direct challenge to the Pacific Northwest’s notorious gray skies. (What? No sunny yellow walls? Not a trace of ersatz sunshine even in the accessories?) Henry, instead, is confident that he and partner Steve Bedford finally have found a home in which they can weather the intractable overcast with the calm colors they love.
“This is our first house here with a southern exposure, and we’re hooked,” he says. “The sun is a very limited thing in Oregon, and a southern exposure allows in a wonderful, radiant warmth. Our other houses had city views, which meant northeast exposures. We gladly gave up the city view for this.”
The southern exposure plus 1960 multilevel architecture by the late Halsey Jones, a pioneer of Northwest contemporary style, cinched the deal. “Halsey was selective in choosing his projects, so he only designed a handful of houses,” notes Henry. “But he really knew how to make each one live. His scale and proportions are exactly right.”
As Henry and Steve well know. Their previous residence, 10 years older and twice as large as their current home, also was designed by Jones. “When we decided to downsize, we wanted another Halsey house, and this one was just around the block. Even though it’s small, it lives large, thanks to Halsey’s incredible understanding of space and what it takes to live luxuriously,” affirms Steve, co-owner of the couple’s popular upscale home and garden shop, Bedford Brown.
But even seminal designs grow dated. Before moving in, Henry knocked out walls dividing the living room and den, and he relocated the powder room that had separated those spaces to a more private area off the foyer. The result is a plan that lives even larger than Jones’s original airy design. Now, only a grand piano separates the two discrete conversation areas that Henry created on the first floor, leaving the eye free to roam the entirety of the long southern-exposed space.
Another dramatic change is the open grillwork that Henry invented to separate the living room from the step-up dining room behind it. The wall articulates the division of spaces without sacrificing a single ray of coveted southern light.
“Typical of that era, an iron half-railing had divided the living and dining rooms,” explains Henry. “I wrestled with how to replace it. Something was needed to shield you from seeing dining room chair legs when you look up from the living room, but I didn’t want to lose the light from the living room windows.”
After toying with the thought of a flat grillwork screen that would rise halfway to the ceiling, Henry realized that a better solution would be to extend the grid all the way up. Plus, he determined that the grille should be broken up instead of flat, with sections converging at jaunty angles for more interest. “The geometric grid needed this angled design to add dimension to the room,” he explains.
The new wall is the redo’s most decorative element. “I’m drawn to highly decorative designs, but I only like these things against very clean backgrounds,” notes Henry. “In a 1910 house with ornate moldings, for example, it all becomes a little too intensely decorative for me. I prefer the juxtaposition with clean backgrounds to prevent feeling overwhelmed.”
Thanks to the home’s southern exposure, Henry was able to decorate for the first time with a palette of cool neutrals—mainly eggshell, pale honey, and gray. The clean colors ensure that collections of overscale architectural salvage and paintings by Northwest artists pop. Dimming down the backdrops included replacing the previously carpeted floors with whitewashed oak, then topping them with gray-white cowhide rugs for toe-teasing texture. Dove gray dominates the drapery and upholstery fabrics. The strongest living room color, in fact, is honey—a dollop on a chair cushion’s Fortuny fabric, and a richer dose on a leather chaise longue.
“Warmer colors, which I’ve been forced to use in all my other homes, would have made this house too warm,” confides Henry. Besides showcasing the collections, the pale palette serves a more personal purpose: “As the owners of a design shop, we work with color all day long. It’s nice to go home and have that quiet, Zen-like palette to unwind in,” says Steve.
Not only neutrals but a paucity of pattern imbues the spaces with an uncommon serenity. And those few patterns that are present are hushed, never cacophonous. The scale of the animal print on the living room’s fireside chairs is so small that the fabric appears to be a pattern-free solid when viewed just a room away, and the shagreen paper on the custom cabinets flanking the fireplace is more about texture than pattern. Even in the most graphic space—a small den that doubles as a guest room—pattern emanates organically from animal patterns and single-color curtain panels intersticed, like a stone on the Oregon beach, with veins of white.
More notable than the pleasing palette or even the architectural pedigree are the home’s objects. “I’ve always been drawn to large scale and interesting objects. Those are my real loves,” confesses Henry. Pieces like the zinc capitals atop the living room cabinets, a collection of antique bone currency mounted as sculpture, parchment boxes, and 18th-century Portuguese zinc finials on stone stands in the dining room travel from house to house. “We’ll sell upholstered pieces,” says Steve, “but our art and objects always travel with us whenever we move.”
Photography: John Granen
Produced by Barbara Mundall
Architect (original): Halsey Jones (deceased).
Architect (remodel): Hilary Mackenzie, Mackenzie Architecture, 2827 N.E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Portland, OR 97212; 503/282-4035, mackenziearchitecture.com .
Interior design: Henry Brown, Henry Brown Interiors, 1825 N.W. Vaughn, Suite A, Portland, OR 97209; 503/274-0966.
Retail store: Bedford Brown, 1825 N.W. Vaughn St., Portland, OR 97209; 503/227-7755, bedfordbrown.com .
Landscape design (original): Wallace K. Huntington, Huntington & Kiest, 2892 N.W. Upshur St., Portland, OR 97210; 503/222-3383.
Builder: Jon Lee Contracting & Construction, 1640 S. Carriage Way, West Linn, OR 97068; 503/679-1999, jonlee.cc .
Living Room Towards Piano
Removing a powder room that bisected the main floor created one large living room.
See details on the following slides.
The living room’s bar area is defined by an antique French frieze fragment repurposed as a mirror frame. The radial arrangement of four wing chairs creates instant coziness.
Living Room Details
Artwork and oddities find a home on an antique Chinese pedestal table. A statue of a head from Thailand lends a dose of zen to the living room.
Henry Brown (standing) and Steve Bedford.
Zinc 18th-century Portuguese finials are presented as sculpture on stone pedestals in the dining room, where mirrored doors increase the brightness. Antique orchid pots and candlesticks adorn an intimate pair of custom tables. The custom open-grid wall permits a peek into the living room, where 19th-century zinc capital molds crown custom chests.
The hallway’s marble-and-gilt 18th-century Italian table, purchased when I. Magnin closed in San Francisco, is flanked by 18th-century shield-back chairs. The 1930s mirror is French.
The kitchen’s sleek concrete countertops and linear architecture are softened by a collection of Vietnamese plates on the wall, vintage tole trays, and spiraling topiaries.
Kitchen Towards Range
A stainless-steel backsplash brings industrial-style modernity to the stove wall.
The streamlined cabinets designed by Henry receive a subtle dose of richness with a strié finish.
Organization is mandatory with stainless-steel open shelving. A colorful terra-cotta ram oversees all.
A pair of old Portland street lamps flank the entry.
The den’s high ceilings allow for dramatic decorating with oversize accessories and art. “High ceilings—anything over 8 feet—create a sense of spaciousness,” designer and homeowner Henry Brown explains. Even when square footage is limited, the lofty altitude will expand breathing room for a more comfortable environment.
See more from this room on the following slide.
Den Sitting Area
An antique Asian side table and curious artwork by Jeff Bertoncino inspire creativity in the den’s sitting area.
The den doubles as another guest room that features a daybed plus comfortable seating and bookshelves. Monkey prints above the daybed add a touch of playfulness to the room’s quiet palette.
Sisal carpet and corals on the window ledge create an organic feel in a guest room. A masculine color scheme creates a subtle yet sophisticated retreat for visitors.
Natural light flows freely through the bathroom, where marble and glass combine to create an indulgent spa-like atmosphere. The shower features a glass wall, which provides breathtaking views of their stunningly serene Oregon setting.
The symmetrically composed master bedrooms features twin swing-arm sconces for bedtime reading and a tall, upholstered headboard.
See details on the following slides.
Master Bedroom Details
Soft details lend subtle elegance on the plush bedding from French Quarter Linens.
Master Bedroom Sitting Area
A pair of Klismos-style antique chairs adds character to the master bedroom.