A modern Portland basement renovation becomes a whole house refresh

Text: Erika Heet

Photography: Jeremy Bittermann

For the interior refresh of a family’s Colonial-style residence in Portland, JHL Design started at the bottom—in the basement, to be exact. “The clients initially contacted us because they wanted to convert the basement from a pass-through space to a destination,” says Holly Freres, president of JHL, a Portland-based firm launched by her mother, Jane. “As we started to design the basement details, the clients got excited about bringing this new layer of sophistication to the rest of the house,” says Freres, whose husband, David Horning, joined the firm in 2020 to lead the building and architectural design side.
The design upgrade expanded to include the kitchen, living room, dining room, entry, stairs and laundry room, along with three bathrooms and two bedrooms. The scope included space planning, new floors, fixtures and finishes throughout. The facade, which somewhat belies yet supports the modernity within, was updated with new steel and glass entrance doors.
The new basement, designed for the couple’s teenage son as a hangout, is defined by rich mahogany paneling that extends from floor to ceiling, “giving the impression of being inside a lavish ship’s cabin,” Freres notes. “There were specific constraints of the space,” Freres continues, “including lower ceilings typically found in a basement, which led us to a design that was a series of warm, intimate spaces.”  Elegant wood fins separate the lounge and TV area, while custom-made benches and bookcases are reminiscent of midcentury simplicity, the designer points out. To keep things sleek and uniform, the paneling conceals generous storage space. The basement’s built-in sofa, by local maker Made, is covered in a Mark Alexander fabric, while the custom pillows are in a fabric from Zak+Fox. Side tables from Lawson Fenning complete the lounging area.
Upstairs, the kitchen was lightened and brightened, with seating updated by nook cushions from Trio covered in fabrics from Holly Hunt and S. Harris. The nearby living room is elegant yet comfortable, with lounge chairs from Verellen paired with Croft House coffee tables. Here, as elsewhere, the team from JHL mixed the clients’ incredible collection of art, including works by Sri Lankan painter George Keyt and Indian artists Sayed Haider Raza and Avinash Chandra, with powerful yet understated furnishings. “Since the art provided such vibrant color and abstraction, we leaned into more subtle patterns and forms for the home’s furnishings and textiles,” Freres says. 
As for lighting, “We wanted to balance the stately, old-world feel of the home with a more modern lighting package, but not stray too far from classic forms,” Freres says. “We landed on fixtures made by American craftspeople and brands like Allied Maker, Urban Electric and Bec Brittain, which add the right layer of refinement.”
Refinement is the key word here. Integrating a design refresh into a more traditional, stately home required a discriminating approach. “We focused on sophistication in every subtle detail,” Freres says. “We designed a lot of custom furnishings wrapped in velvets and bouclé to give a sense of luxury, but also kept approachability and functionality top-of-mind. The scale of the furniture was very important as this century-old home had dedicated rooms and less of an open floor plan. We capitalized on the space by using artful furniture forms with elegant lines.” JHL Design, jhldesign.com

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