Cocktail culture comes alive in a new house inspired by retro style

The story begins ― where else? ― by a pool in Palm Springs, in a neighborhood that once was home to Liberace and Jerry Lewis. For Diane Ingalls, who was visiting from Portland with her husband, the trip marked the start of a passion for all things midcentury modern. “I walked in the door and saw floor-to-ceiling glass, a round living room, a floating fireplace ― it was absolutely breathtaking,” she says of their hosts’ immaculately restored 1950s home. “My body started shaking. I connected to the style like it was a long-lost relative.”

The rough sketches that Diane’s husband, Chris, and an architect friend drew up by the pool that weekend became the basis for their three-year project. Armed with books on modernist masters, and acting as their own “pseudo-architects,” the couple built a 2,400-square-foot house in Portland.

The one-story structure showcases many signature elements of midcentury design, including an asymmetrical fireplace tailor-made for the couple’s frequent cocktail gatherings. “We didn’t care about a giant walk-in closet, big garage, or monster master bedroom,” Chris says. “What mattered to us most was flow, circulation, light, music.”

Even as self-described “midcentury junkies,” the Ingallses are hardly design snobs. “We’re not slaves to the original ― we get a kick out of budget shopping,” Diane says.

West Elm and Ikea are as prominently displayed as the pair of vintage Milo Baughman chairs (which Diane reupholstered in aqua vinyl) in the living room. And parked in the carport is the most telling fusion of mod and modern: Diane’s beloved Toyota Prius, whose license plate reads “JETSN.”

But it was a cocktail party the couple threw for their neighbors that provided the real testament to the home’s character. Thirty-somethings mingled with 80- and 90-year-olds until well after 11 on a Monday night. “We were seeing the original martini set in action,” Diane says. “A Dean Martin song came on, and all the older people were lined up around the fireplace, sipping and swaying.” The truism holds: Good design never goes out of style.


Mix a few well-chosen vintage pieces with contemporary items that recall the shapes, colors, and styles of the jet-set era.


Q: Where did you splurge?

A: We knew from the start that we didn’t want to scrimp on windows ― not just the quantity but the quality. I also ended up splurging on the living room couch; its design is a bit retro, but it will carry itself well through the next 50 years.

The outdoor furniture was a huge splurge, but we live in Oregon, and it has to stay out there all year long. My rule is if I’m going to spend big bucks on something, it has to be able to adapt well to new styles.

Q: Where did you choose to save?

A: We didn’t want to do the $80,000 kitchen, since a kitchen dates itself in about 15 years. Ours is two-thirds Ikea, and the rest of it is custom. If you put something in the right environment, it doesn’t need to be expensive.Q: How do you revive the spirit of cocktail culture at your parties?

A: Music and lighting are important to the climate we wanted to create. In-ceiling speakers were installed in all the major rooms, including the patio, so the music flows as you move throughout the house.

Vintage jazz and staples like Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Astrud Gilberto, and Stan Getz help fire up the martini mood ― and then out comes the vintage barware!


Living room
Brown paint on back wall is Roast by Devine Color (503/675-9519). Menlo Park by Rick Lee sectional sofa from American Leather. Vintage Milo Baughman chairs from Hawthorne Vintage (503/230-2620); aqua blue vinyl from the Whole 9 Yards (503/223-2880). Custom rug from Marion’s Carpet Warehouse (503/239-0528). George Nelson Saucer pendant lamp ($399) from Lux Lighting (503/299-6754). Large Textured Bulb vase ($39) from West Elm (888/922-4119). Paintings by Chris Ingalls.

Monterey outdoor sectional sofa ($1,999 per piece) and coffee table ($699) from Allegro Classics, Berkeley (877/727-8800). Folding chairs are no longer available.

Petal.02 chartreuse wall paint from Yolo Colorhouse (877/493-8275). Artworks by Chris Ingalls.

Breakfast nook
Glass wall paint by Devine Color (503/675-9519). Mirror Ball pendant light from Intelligent Design (503/228-8825). Orbit Spider chairs ($242 each) from Ultra Modern (214/206-1930). Axis table ($469-$529) from Room & Board (800/301-9720). Cable rug ($119-$649) from West Elm (888/922-4119). Artwork by Chris Ingalls.

Blackmar paint (#8536N) from Miller Paint Company (503/255-0190). Neutra house numbers ($75 each) from Design Within Reach (800/944-2233).

Kitchen and bar
Chartreuse wall paint is Petal.02 from Yolo Colorhouse (877/493-8275). Akurum cabinetry (blue color is discontinued) and Pax Stordal sliding pantry doors ($425-$525) from Ikea. Silestone counters from Home Depot (800/553-3199). Rocket pendant lights in satin nickel ($108 each) from Lux Lighting (503/299-6754). Pantry shelving from Storables (866/227-0092). Wood tray from Crate and Barrel ($40; 800/967-6696). Vintage Amoeba glasses ($8 each) from Home Ec (503/231-6449).