People who have lived abroad usually want a house with a little more character,” designer Garrison Hullinger says of his clients, an energetic couple who spent most of the yearlong project living in London. “I think that’s why they embraced our design. Their life experiences have given them a greater desire to have interesting things surrounding them.” During the frequent transatlantic videoconferences, the couple encouraged Hullinger to flex his creative muscles on the interior of their family home, just a stone’s throw from one of Portland’s many parks. “We wanted it to be young and fun despite our somewhat- traditional style preferences,” the husband says. “Finding the right places to push and be bolder with color to offset the neutral palette was key.”
To set the scene for the updated interiors, Hullinger began by eliminating the quasi-Tuscan interior elements, which included cherry cabinetry, bronze hardware and ornate fixtures that complemented neither the home’s cedar-shingle exterior nor the personality of its new owners. Gleaming white paint gives the kitchen cabinetry and built-ins throughout the house a more contemporary look and established a fresh backdrop for Hullinger’s vision. “The cabinets were in good shape, so it didn’t make sense to tear them out,” builder Patrick Richardson says. “The difference between before and after is shocking.”
Not all of the cabinets were left intact, though. In place of a built-in unit that took up an entire wall in the family room, Hullinger installed a custom media center made of reclaimed wood. “It gives the room texture and depth,” he points out. In the dining room, Richardson squared the formerly arched built-in shelving and created a visual counterbalance to the river-rock fireplace by adding white faux box beams and tongue-in-groove paneling to the ceiling. “We work a lot with Patrick, and the quality is always there,” Hullinger notes.
Against the updated backdrop, Hullinger wove in vibrant color. In the kitchen, for instance, an electric blue island sets the area firmly apart from the newly painted cabinetry, and he took more inspiration for the palette from the family’s daily rituals. “They make smoothies every morning, so their countertops are always covered with fresh fruit, and I wanted my design to match that,” says the designer. So, rather than repeating a particular shade, Hullinger highlighted certain areas with bold hues—mint pendants above the island, a hot pink chair at the built-in desk. “The change in color did a lot to make it feel more alive,” the husband explains. “Nothing is too out there for Garrison, and he loves crossing traditional design lines, so we paired up really well in that respect. There were lots of laughs during our brainstorming sessions.”
Though the long-distance collaboration may have been unconventional—Hullinger often sent packages stuffed with swatches for approval to his globe-trotting clients—it yielded exactly the mix of textural fabrics and interesting patterns that the owners craved. In one case, a wallcovering with an updated trellis pattern in the front foyer creates interest and emphasizes a wall niche. The designer created a more subtle expression in the master bedroom, covering the wall behind the upholstered headboard with a soft wood-grain pattern. “If you use wallcoverings in small, poignant ways, they become a splash of art,” Hullinger explains. “It’s another layering piece.”
The home’s exterior received its own update, as well. Along the back of the house, Richardson dismantled separate decks off the kitchen and master bedroom and reused the wood to build a large ipe-clad deck that is accessible from both spaces. “It’s absolutely awesome,” Richardson says. “It was challenging, but we have an amazing group of guys who do stellar work.” From the reconfigured deck, a grand staircase leads down to the backyard, which was reimagined into three spaces by landscape architects Steve Shapiro and Blair Didway. “It’s a very traditional home, and we created an English garden that reflects that architecture,” Shapiro says. In addition to a large grassy lawn, perfect for children’s play and sports, they created a concrete terrace with a hot tub and seating area, as well as a spot for a boccie-ball court and a fire pit. To address a drainage problem, they dug a dry stream that was enhanced with boulders and plantings. The extensive variety of the plants and foliage—hydrangeas, ornamental grasses and lavender, to name a few—provides color throughout the year.
During the project, the wife accepted a promotion that pushed their timetable up. Despite the added pressure, the group completed the project in time for the family to move in as planned. “Remodeling is both a thrill and an agony,” the husband says. “It took amazing team of people to make it all work.”