A Contemporary Pacific Northwest House Gets a City-Style Glow-Up
An Oregon home gets a radical interior refresh that bridges country, cozy, and city for a couple of retired New Yorkers starting over in the West.
Angular and open, with soaring ceilings, cherrywood cabinetry, metal railings, and glass tile accents, Northwest Contemporary houses built in the aughts have a distinct, and polarizing, style. You love them, or you don’t love them. And if you’re in the second camp, you may not even give them a chance, no matter how appealing the total package is. Consider this Ashland, Oregon, house, and its lengthy list of pros.
“The property is stunning,” says Julie Hawkins, the Napa Valley–based interior designer who was hired by the home’s new owners to create the “soft industrial” decor they craved. “They” are a couple of retired New York Times editors and long-time Brooklynites who had raised a family in a 19th-century carriage house, and were excited by the idea of more space and expansive views.
“There’s a pretty pond, a large pool, and a vintage barn. The views are gorgeous, especially in the morning mist,” says Hawkins. “I’ve enjoyed my morning coffee sitting in the breakfast nook, looking out the window, many times.”
The con list is shorter, but more intimidating. The sprawling footprint was the polar opposite of their snug home of 20 years. And the finishes felt frozen in time.
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“All of the wood was cherry, very red-orange. There was rainbow glass mosaic tile in the kitchen and bathrooms,” says Hawkins, who was given a budget and time frame that would not allow for a full gut renovation. “I absolutely loved working with these clients, but the house…”
Here she trails off for a thoughtful moment.
“It was the opposite of cozy. I will admit there were a couple parts of it that I hated,” she says. Layering in much-needed charm and carving out warm, inviting nooks were challenges. “The fun part is that the areas that I really disliked have become spots I love.”
The owners discovered the region after an open-minded, nationwide search for a new home base. They chose Ashland because of its proximity to great fishing, and its thriving restaurant and arts scene. It’s the home of a famed Shakespeare festival, and it attracts like-minded ex-urbanites who aren’t ready to sacrifice access to handmade pasta and nuanced wine lists. The house was large enough for visiting family, and the sizable kitchen was a draw. But when they were faced with more square footage to furnish than they ever dreamed about, they knew they needed professional help. Together, they worked with Hawkins to update some of the more generic details with carefully chosen antiques, sculptural lighting, strategic rugs, and a few boldly papered walls.
The first decisions they made together were to install a few more windows to take in more of the view, reorient the primary bedroom, and paint all of the floors a glossy black.
“Telling a contractor that you’re going to paint a wood floor black, oof—it isn’t fun,” laughs Hawkins. “You don’t want to be shunned by the woodworking community. Replacing the floors was cost-prohibitive, and this was our best solution. It was great luck that we found a painter that recommended the same black they used for the floors of the sets for the Shakespeare festival. It’s glossy, so it reflects light and keeps the rooms from looking too dark.”
They painted cabinetry and updated hardware instead of replacing them outright.
“We painted many of the interior walls in varying shades of gray, and selected a few places where wallpaper would make a big impact,” says Hawkins. “Papering that one wall behind the dining table really helped carve out a nook, making it feel like a separate space.”
Next on deck was modernizing the kitchen. While it was outfitted with impressive major appliances, it needed additional storage, and some earthier elements to take down the gloss factor.
“We had a metal fabricator build shelves, both for extra storage, and to create a separation from the main living area,” she says. “Replacing the glass mosaic backsplash with Fireclay Tile made a big difference, too.”
Creating a dedicated dining nook was also a priority.
“We were lucky that we found the perfect rug from Anthropologie, and didn’t have to have one custom-made,” says Hawkins. The single, papered wall adds some glowy glamour. “The Michele Varian wallpaper is dark and matte, but the branches are gold.”
The couple’s favorite nook in the house is a small bar off of the foyer that channels the low-lit, grownup vibe of a boutique hotel lobby.
“I couldn’t stand that built-in bar area at first,” says Hawkins. “Then we added a smoky mirror behind the open shelves with glassware, and a settee from West Elm with leather chairs. They use it all the time, and everyone loves it now.”
“I would fly out to New York to meet them, and they’d welcome me into their Brooklyn house. We walked through the rooms, and it was so welcoming and warm. We wanted to translate some of those feelings into a much bigger space,” says Hawkins.
They selected some antiques from a local dealer down the street to bring some New York west, and Hawkins introduced the owners to her favorite vintage shop in nearby Eugene, Oak Street Vintage. They shopped via FaceTime. A collection of Playbills from Broadway shows, accumulated over decades, became the basis of a fun wall installation in the mudroom. A dollhouse from the owner’s childhood in Kansas has become a storage hutch for her grandmother’s china. It was a creative collaboration that morphed into a friendship. And the transition to a new, active life in bucolic Ashland has been a huge success.
“Every part of the project was fun,” says Hawkins. “Taking this kind of outdated modern house, with yellow walls and orange floors, and creating a comfortable home for wonderful people has been a joy.”
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