Portland Design

Five on Friday: Ross NW Watergardens

This week we are excited to share out conversation with local landscape designer, Ben Bowen of Ross NW Watergardens. Ben is a third generation landscaper and part of a family-owned business.

1. How do you consider the architecture of a home when you are designing a landscape?

It really depends on the client. Some people want a landscape very true to the style of their home; if they have a craftsman, then they want something classic. While other people may not care at all. They may have a very traditional home but they want a modern design for their yard that may not necessarily fit the style of the house. Sometimes the fit between the landscaping design and the house is seamless; other times you get a little more creative to make the styles work together in a way to make visual sense. If you do that well, it seems like you can make almost any style you want work. Whether the styles merge easily or not, there's usually things about the house that you're trying to accentuate or hide.

2. Can you give an example of what techniques you use to accentuate or hide parts of a house?

Sure; ranch style homes can have nice windows but will also have some long expanses of just bare wall. It's a great backdrop for some plantings, so picking where you put those involves some strategy. A lot of the newer homes that infill homes are too tall for some of the lots they are on. It can feel like they are looming over you as you approach the house when you have a two-story house eight feet from the sidewalk on a 4000 square-foot lot, the proportions can seem off. You can help soften that transition by utilizing tall, narrow plants. It goes the other direction too. Plants can also be a wonderful way to edit what you can see looking out from your house. Tall plants can be great for neighbors because they give a lot of privacy. Bamboo is usually the answer. 

3. How do you balance a client’s lifestyle with their landscape ambitions?

 Modern landscape and design-build project by Ross NW WatergardensAs far as maintenance goes I try to get a good sense of how much time they spend in their yard, including how much they want to be leisure versus working in the yard. Knowing their lifestyle helps to figure out what is the most sustainable design for the customer. When clients are planning to pay for someone else to maintain the yard, I design whatever they want and don’t weigh the two factors [leisure vs maintenance]. If they are going to do the maintenance themselves, then there are a lot of compromises that need to be made between beauty and labor. I find most people want to spend their Saturdays enjoying their landscape, not working in it. It helps that most people are realistic about how much work they will put into their garden, which really guides all those complex decisions.

4. Do you use edible plants in landscapes?

There is a lot of interest in edible plants in landscaping. I get asked this question often. There are lots of ways to work edibles into the landscape and I always try to do it in a way that works with everything else that we have chosen. I love to use blueberries because the shrub itself, even without the fruit, is very attractive. We plant quite a bit of persimmon; it's a beautiful tree and even if you don’t use the persimmons, they look so cool in the fall. In the fall, the fruit stays after you lose the leaves so it looks like a bunch of miniature pumpkins. If you were so inclined you could plant it just for that reason.   

5. How do you balance budgets and requests?

I try to balance the budget, climate, and style. For a lot of people, the budget is the most important. Depending on exactly how important budget is, I can make decisions about how to balance everything else. I feel like over time I have become good at reading people’s priorities. As we adjust the plan, I work with them to find their priorities and educate them about the costs and benefits of the different directions we could go with the design. It’s a very collaborative process and it is really rewarding to see the final product and hear client feedback about how they enjoy their outdoor space.

Bonus Question 1: The climate in Portland has been more extreme lately. How has that influenced your designs?

There have always been some plants that have been borderline evergreen for Portland but if we have more winters like this last one, they'll no longer be evergreen options. Hebe is an example of that; it’s a very popular plant that used to be considered an evergreen in Portland. I now must be more careful with what goes dormant during really cold winters. Hot summers just mean more water and more work, which is ok. It’s much more disappointing to have spring come around and think that your plants are dead - but they aren't.  

Bonus Question 2: Are you seeing any changes in your client's requests recently?

Portland is experiencing a lot of growth which is leading to some shifts in the demographics. People are moving from Seattle and San Francisco and bringing requests for modern homes and modern landscapes to go with them. These designs are really low-maintenance and attractive with clean lines, plantings that are function first, and a lot of hardscapes. As they get more popular I expect to see the effect snowball and we will get even more requests for these types of projects.

Bonus Question 3: What are your favorite Portland neighborhoods to look at landscaping?

Portland is a city where people really enjoy the outdoors and use their yards. All over Portland, there are more specific homes, not areas, I’ve noticed and really like. I enjoy the mid-century modern style and the landscaping that goes along with it. I think it can be distinctive and interesting. There are some great neighborhoods in Southwest Portland for those styles. It’s amazing how one person’s landscaping can influence and inspire the landscaping for the homes around it. There’s a six-block stretch of homes on North Flavel Drive where people have taken their landscapes and done interesting things with them, and they coordinate as a neighborhood. I don’t know how these things catch on but it is cool to see and I could imagine it spreading.

If you find yourself in need of some expert landscaping design or if you are looking for some inspiration be sure to check out Ross NW Watergardens on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, Houzz, and their Website!

Five on Friday with Abbasi Fine Rugs

This week we sat down with some local entrepreneurs, Omar Abbasi and his partner Alexandra Brennan, who recently started their own business, Abbasi Fine Rugs.                                                                                                              

1. In your bio, you mentioned that your dad has inspired you to start this business. Can you elaborate on that? Is your father in the rug business as well?

He is, he owns several businesses in Latin America that specialize in antique Persian rugs. He also sells furniture that my brother and I have helped him import from India and Indonesia. He has been doing that in Guatemala for 30 years. As I’ve grown up, I’ve realized that I really admire his work and his philosophies about helping people find this important feature for their home.

My dad always did this advertisement that I thought was kind of cheesy as a kid but have grown to realize is true. The line is “people always spend a lot of money on copies of Persian rugs but they could afford to have the real thing for less.” Working in the mainstream rug business for the last six years, I really see that to be true. I want to continue my dad’s approach here in Portland to help people connect with a better product.

2. How will you be finding your rugs? Will you be following your dad’s lead when it comes to sourcing?

Initially, the plan was to go to Iran and purchase a container, but the recent political climate has forced us to change our game plan. The new plan is to use the connections I have made throughout my lifetime doing business with my father as well as my own experience in the rug industry. We will still be sourcing directly from our contacts in Iran and the Middle East, we will just have to go about it a bit differently.

There are not a lot of people sourcing directly from Iran. Most stores are buying from wholesalers, so they must add more of a markup to make a profit. I have a very different business model, where I will sell a higher volume at an excellent value and not have to pay a wholesaler. The other benefit is that I get to personally select the rugs and find things that I really like and that my clients will be excited about as well.

All the rugs that we sell are hand knotted pieces which I have acquired over the last ten years of collecting. I’ve also found rugs in thrift shops and online, but that takes a lot of patience. You must know what you are looking for and be persistent. We hope to alleviate some of the headaches for our clients but still get them the great result of a beautiful, one of a kind piece.

3. How long have known you wanted to start this business?

About four years ago, I became way more serious about what I wanted. I started kicking around the idea that I could have my own business and I thought maybe it would be an antique store with all sorts of found objects everywhere. Not a lot of my friends thought that was a successful idea so I never did it.

In the last year, I woke up and decided that if I had a store that specialized in rugs and sold to my friends and their friends and had decent foot traffic, then it would be successful. I think there are many parts of my business plan that appeal to a newer type of consumer. There is a push for long lasting quality over disposable quantity.

I think this is relevant for younger generations who are emphasizing reducing waste. Instead of buying something that’s just okay for now and replacing it when you have the money and drive to find something better, take the time you need to find something you really love, that is timeless and you can keep forever. Our goal is to make that an affordable option by working with consumers to find just what they want. It may take longer but is so worth it and less wasteful in the long run.

Buying a rug is a really grown-up purchase. It makes your space feel like home. It increases your seating and is luxurious to walk on. It’s a physical and emotional change to the room.

As the population in Portland continues to increase, there can be other upsides to rugs as well. They are amazing for sound insulation. If you live in a condo or an apartment it can really cut down on the noise for your downstairs neighbors and help stifle some of the sounds you may hear coming from them as well.

4. Your business is offering a unique service based on requests. Can you tell me a little more about that? Do you know anyone else who does this?

Nobody that I know of really asks people what they want. People come in and start shopping around and if they’re not seeing exactly what they have in mind, a salesperson may come in and try to sell them on something else. They may get talked into purchasing something that they don’t necessarily want.

I want to help people find what they are looking for. If they have a clear idea of what they want, they can show me examples, draw it out, bring color swatches, let me know the size and their price range and I can find the rug that fits. It may take a little bit but it will generally be faster than if they look themselves, as I know the market and where I am most likely to find what fits their needs.

When you are rug shopping, it is a clever idea to explore your options. All store owners have different tastes and you may be limited by their inventory. That being said, if something grabs your attention, even if it's not what you thought you wanted, give it a shot. It might end up being great in your space. We offer a 24-hour trial period prior to purchase. Take it home. Feel it out. You shouldn’t have to keep something you don’t want to live with forever.

5. What would you say is the goal of your business?

I think my goal is to make the prospect of purchasing a rug more approachable. It’s important for people to know that at any stage in life you can have a home you love. Comfortable furnishings are not out of reach. If you just spent money on a home purchase, that initial anxiety and sticker shock can make it feel like you don’t have the money to nest and customize your home. Having an affordable option like a rug to upgrade your home is a great first step.

I think the overall assumption of Persian rugs is that they are expensive and out of reach. My goal is to set the prices so that they are attainable. The same amount of money someone might spend on a rug that is just tolerable from a department store could buy them something unique and timeless.

These rugs are made to last. They are handmade with fibers that age beautifully. We want people to know that these heirloom pieces are not out of reach just because you may be at a point in your life where you don’t have a big budget for decorating your home. You can own nice rugs and not go broke. Alexandra came up with a great catchphrase for the business “Rugs for Everyone”, and we have a new one, “You Can Afford It”. Now that we have a brick and mortar, I want to put that on the windows instead of “Sale” or “50% Off.” I want to have statements that invite people to feel welcome and know that they can leave with something they will love without stressing their budget.

Persian rugs are full of history and can be functional art. A quality Persian rug will become even more attractive as it ages. We even use old rug remnants to frame and hang on the walls. Even when they cease to be comfortable they can still enhance your space.

Bonus Question 1. Are there any significant changes coming up in your company that customers should be aware of?

Yes! Ahead of schedule, we’ve opened our brick and mortar!!

We opened April 1st at the corner of SE 32nd and Belmont (3150 SE Belmont, across from Cricket Cafe) and we’ve been working hard to broaden the spectrum of products we carry. In addition to gorgeous one of a kind rugs, we are now offering unique vintage furniture, handmade pottery, and crafts, and have been collaborating with a fellow small business owner in vintage dresses, jewelry, and accessories.

We’re so excited to host everyone for our GRAND OPENING EVENT tonight (April 21st) from 6 - 9 pm. Stop by for a toast to the future!

Thank you for this interview and the opportunity to talk about our passion. To all the readers, we hope to see you soon!

To find the perfect rug for your home be sure to follow the adventures of this new rug shop on Facebook, Instagram, and of course be sure to check out their website! I also recommend browsing their social media for some serious design inspiration! Definitely, check out their brick and mortar when you are in the market for a rug (Paris Group Realty blog readers mention us for a 15% discount from now until May 15th) and be sure to tell Alexandra and Omar we say hello!

Five Questions on Friday with Designer Ashton Ford

This week we had the pleasure of asking local designer Ashton Ford of AshtonForDesign some of our burning design questions over a delicious coffee.  Ashton, a hands-on local designer, works in residential and commercial spaces to create impactful, comfortable, and functional environments.

        1. You provide design inspiration to Portlanders by creating content for your website AshtonForDesign.com, contributions to ‘Where's Your Living Room?’ Living Room Realty’s online magazine. When you are looking to get inspired where do you go?

Inspiration is everywhere.

Physically getting out there and seeing spaces is the best way for me to get inspiration. Taking note when something is done well and/or when something can be done better. Talking to friends or strangers about these characteristics of a space. What’s their opinion?

You shouldn’t ever limit yourself to one form of inspiration. I subscribe to a few magazines, including  Interior Design and PNW publication called Gray. I’ll flip through these to discover new products, styles, and great projects that other designers are accomplishing. When you see or read something you like, scan it into your computer, or find it online to bookmark. That way you will always have it to reference. There are also great apps for your phones that allow you can scan directly to your email, laptop, or desktop.

And... Instagram! Social media is such a great platform to get inspired. If you see an image you like, or you start following someone, it will pull up other content that’s in line with your style.  People can be critical of Pinterest, and to each their own, but I keep boards of inspiration, color contrasts, industrial beauty, or whatever specific design element I am interested in. It’s a great way to organize ideas so that I can refer back to them. Especially when I have an opportunity to put them to use. I make digital and physical files for projects, which help identify a cohesive direction. Imagery (and sketching) is a very useful tool to communicate design ideas to clients and contractors. When I begin a project, I’ll create a layout of inspiration to get clients’ imaginations going and they start to identify what suits their taste. The layout inspires conversation.

2. In some of your writing, you offer a lot of design ideas for renters, what kinds of design upgrades are options for people once they buy a space that are usually not options when renting? What are some design advantages homeowners can take advantage of?

Paint, I know it’s cliché, but it makes a big difference and can change the overall appearance of a space. It is so easy to pick paint and have it done before you move in. This way you don’t have to deal with moving furniture around and risk damaging things.

Lighting is so important as well. You can have an amazing looking home but if you don’t have good lighting you won’t be able to appreciate it. When you’re renting, it isn’t usually worth the cost to install new fixtures, nor is it permitted...so you are more limited in the lighting changes you can make. When you own a home, however, it makes more sense to invest in new fixtures and, if need be, have them wired to exactly where you want them and not where they were for the previous owners.

Those customizations are the first changes I recommend in a new house. After that, you can start to think about materials like tile, counters, flooring, etc.  It makes a big difference when they are upgraded or modified. These things can get expensive, but remember that things can always be done in phases to maximize your budget. Be on the lookout for remnants or discounted materials around town. For example, you might see that you need 50 square feet of tile for your kitchen backsplash. Remember this quantity when you are perusing the tile showrooms, who sometimes heavily discount tile leftover from past projects.

Personalizing your home with accessories, like rugs, can have a big impact and you can start with discount rugs and upgrade to wool and silk as it becomes affordable. The obvious or not-so-obvious upgrades are decorative objects such as artwork, plants, and the like. Have fun exploring your city’s many shopping venues and personalize your home as your budget allows.

3. You write in your bio that you are interested in the psychology of space. With that interest in mind, how do you think the psychological effects of a space play into a home purchase? How can buyers adjust a space to influence their emotions in a positive way?

It’s easy to dismiss the huge effect that lighting has, but it influences everyone, whether they are conscious of it or not.  People often don’t recognize bad lighting until it has been replaced with better lighting. Then they realize how much more relaxed or motivated they feel in the space. I think that one of the innovations we will soon see in homes are intuitive lights that change throughout the day to positively affect the end-user.

Cooler light may increase productivity and warmer light will help people reduce their energy as the day settles into the night. Bulbs that can change color temperature and wattage output seem like a natural step into the future of custom interior design. Until then, homeowners should try to identify what kinds of light make them feel best and set up their home to fit their needs in each room. You’d be surprised at how many colors an LED now comes in.

Along with lighting, spatial layouts will affect individuals differently based on their needs and personality.  For example, some people find that an open floor plan lends itself to better productivity, while others find open floor plans a bit overwhelming, making it difficult to focus. These personality types might prefer smaller or designated areas for work. Floor plans that are more segmented may also be good for people who live with others and may need to make some specific spaces their own private area. Also, remember that many things in a house can be changed to fit your wants and needs. Whether you have a large open space or a series of rooms, you can create a dynamic plan that suits and inspires yourself.

Again, color has a huge significance in design. Many of the things we are taught about color are sometimes not as accurate as we assume. For example, people say that blue is a very calm or relaxing color, but when applying a blue to a wall, it doesn’t always create that effect. When you think about fire, blue and white are the hottest colors, while reds and oranges are not. The reds and oranges can actually create a relaxed space if done correctly. It totally depends on the hue or saturation you choose as well as the final touch of finish. Blue can be a calming color...or…. it can be bold and reactive! Color is a major attribute of design.

Texture can also play a major role in the psychology of a space. Fabrics versus leathers. Woods versus metals. Plants versus no plants. People have memories and experiences associated with these materials and they should be taken into consideration when designing.

4. It seems that home shopping is aided by some creative thinking to see the possibilities of a space and how it would fit into your life. Do you have any advice for people who are not particularly creative and in the process of home shopping?

Recruit some extra help! Enlist the service of a professional; bring along your designer or seek out a creative friend who understands your style and needs.  They can help you envision how things could be transformed which makes finding a home that much easier and less overwhelming. This step may also help you budget better because a designer can assist in pricing out some of the recommended modifications, which you can then factor into the overall cost. A designer can also give you some helpful perspectives on the overall impact of changes that can be made, such as opening a kitchen to a dining room, creating a bigger master bathroom or providing more storage space. This is extremely important information to consider so you don't unnecessarily rule out a house that has great potential.

5. What do you think are the most cost-effective design changes to make?

Plants are one of the most affordable ways to modify a space. You can buy plants at several places around town for a relatively low cost but there are also a lot of ways to get plants for free! Ask friends if you can propagate their plants, which pretty much means ‘clipping a plant you know can grow roots in water.’ This easy task can add some natural greenery to your space. There is even a woman here in Portland, Julia Barbee, who coordinates a propagated plant exchange. It’s called Portland Propagation and it is awesome!

Add inexpensive life to a space with paint, pillows, a shelf of books/records, artwork that has been collecting dust, and more! Just remember that these things can be subtle touches or extremely dramatic statements. It’s totally up to the end-user how they want to feel in the space and how they want their guests to feel. Your space, whether it is your home, your office, or your commercial business; it is your personal creation. There really are no rules when it comes to decor. Confidence is the key to a successful space.

Bonus question 1. In some of your writing, you talk about shifting things around seasonally, which is an idea I really like. What are some practical ways homeowners can do this?

Sometimes seasonal décor ends up being holiday-specific and you miss out on changes that you could enjoy all season. Instead of just putting up holiday decorations, consider changing textiles like curtains, warm blankets, and table runners with the seasons to make a space airier in the summer and cozier in the winter months. Consider adding accessories to your mantle that set the mood for the whole season. Floral arrangements are a great way to reflect the seasons. A vibrant array of buds and luscious green stems or a textural beauty of branches with dried leaves. Possibilities are endless.

Changing out artwork is another great way to shift it up. Your home can feel fresh and seasonal with what you decide to display. Showcase pieces you’ve collected throughout your travels, but maybe never got around to framing or finding that blank space on your walls. You don’t always have to hang artwork. You can install what they call a ‘piano shelf’ anywhere your heart desires and lean them against the wall! This variety and rotation of art creates an engaging interaction with your home. It can keep things interesting and help you fall in love with your place all over again.

That being said, some behavior experts say that routine, such as keeping everything in its place or having a capsule wardrobe, frees more space in the mind for other things. So maybe the idea of changing things out varies in appeal from person to person. It’s worth trying out these seasonal changes in your home to see if you like it!

Bonus question 2. One dilemma homeowners often face is how to fit all the design elements they have into their home? Any advice for people looking to integrate items with sentimental value into their space?

Tchotchkes and those items that get passed down can be difficult to find the right place for. Grouping items together on a tabletop or displaying even three-dimensional objects on walls can be a great way to integrate these items into your home.

For example, my dad gave my husband and me a rock he had picked up during our wedding ceremony. He painted ‘09.06.15 - Josh and Ash' plus a little heart on it. It has some serious sentimental value so we needed to find the right place for it. We found a prominent place on our bar shelf, and it even works on a functional level as it can be used to hold down cocktail napkins.

Basically, your house is where you live, often where you work, and a place you share with loved ones, so it should be a home not just in a physical sense but in the cognitive sense too. Decorate and design your home with components that activated your senses and your thoughts. These details may, in turn, inspire your guests as well!

If you would like to know more about Ashton’s work you can follow her on Instagram, browse her Pinterest boards, and definitely bookmark her website!