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A Romantic Aesthetic Takes a Turn Toward Modern and Masculine

by GRAY Editors

Photographed by David Papazian


THE HOUSE HAD DECORATIVE CARVED WOOD CAPITALS ATOP OLD WORLD–STYLE BUILT-INS. It sported gilded finishes, glass railings, a “tuxedo stripe” painted down the stairwell, and, most puzzling of all, multiple faux book walls cast in plaster. It was all very romantic—but not at all what Nick and Katrine Ehlen had in mind for their new home when they purchased the place in 2013. The 1940s-era residence in Portland’s Northwest Hills had been renovated only recently when its previous owner transformed into her dream bachelorette pad. The Ehlens loved the home’s quality craftsmanship and attention to detail, but they knew the opulent princess look had to go.


“They wanted it to feel more modern and masculine,” says Holly Freres, founder and principal designer at Portland-based JHL Design. “So we took out a bit of the romance and added a little edginess to make it a livable, casual space.”


Adding industrial accents and black elements to the home’s palette—inspired by existing dark details such as the stairs’ leather-wrapped handrail and high-gloss paint—“helped ground the space,” Freres explains. An angular rolled-steel firewood cabinet with hexagonal brass fasteners and a coordinating brass-and-steel mirror (designed by JHL and fabricated by local metal fabricator Recychedelic) flank the wood-burning fireplace. In the entryway, a black-and-white Alexander McQueen rug from the Rug Gallery plays up the high-contrast theme, as do three framed charcoal drawings by local contemporary artist Christine Bourdette, which now hang on (and partially obscure) the plaster book walls. “They’re authentic people, and fake books were not appealing to them,” Freres says. “We’re honoring what was there without allowing it be at the forefront.”

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