Petite Grandeur: A Small But Perfect Space

Petite Grandeur: A Small But Perfect Space


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“A small space has to be perfect,” says the owner of a meticulously crafted Portland condominium that suits her to a T. “If you’re not careful, it can feel impersonal, like a lovely penthouse in a very nice hotel.”

Charged with the design of her and her husband’s abode was design principal Duncan McRoberts, whose classicist training and astute awareness of the owners’ requirements made him the prime candidate for the project. “They were moving from a wonderful traditional home and are quite sophisticated,” says McRoberts. “The challenge was to create an interior for a smaller space that had a similar sense of grandeur. Traditional architecture answered the call, as it provides beauty through a wonderful layering of detail.”

One of the first priorities was the kitchen. The wife is an accomplished cook and wanted ample storage, but there was also an equally important need for separate and distinct office space somewhere in the apartment. McRoberts’ solution was to create what he calls the “nexus” of the condo, a combination office-pantry off the kitchen that doesn’t give away its multifunction. Storage space hides behind paneling, fine dinnerware finds its home on niche shelving, and cabinet drawers at the office desk house important household items and documents. “It’s a very atypical but useful concept,” he says. “You’d never know it was a pantry.”

Considerable attention was also paid to the main hallway; the owners and McRoberts wanted it to do more than provide passage. “I was very aware that the hall needed to become a room that felt lived in and wasn’t confined to its functionality,” McRoberts explains. To that end, the 27-foot-long hall is uncommonly wide and features arched niches hung with fine artwork that foster a gallery feel.

Throughout the flat, McRoberts implemented custom millwork, moldings and columns—and extra touches such as specially tarnished brass hardware—to ensure that every room has its own presence, and that each space is uplifting but not over-designed. “Everything is incredibly articulated,” the wife says, “from hidden coat closets to the woodwork, which was hand-painted twice and then glazed. It has a rich velvety feel that I love.”

The interior architectural design—executed by builder Lindley Morton and his project manager, the late Jeff Wells—is complemented by significant artwork, rugs, objets d’art and antique furniture that the wife has collected over the years. To plan how this collection would be used in the condo alongside new furnishings and carpeting, the wife consulted with designer Robert Trotman; together, they chose a fresh color palette and new fabrics to reupholster some of the existing pieces. “It was a very collaborative effort,” says Trotman, who has worked with the wife before and credits her with having impeccable taste. “We tried to recreate the feel of their old house by incorporating things they love with new ideas.”

The dining room, which opens to a terrace and overlooks downtown Portland via floor-to-ceiling window walls, features a handsome table and chairs, and a series of prints that depicts the process of silk making. The master bedroom is purposely neutral except for a colorful Warhol above the bed and framed Chinese embroidery on the walls. The wife equates the effect to putting on a simple dress and then accessorizing with a piece of jewelry. “The jewelry is what you look at,” she says.

In addition to the terrace, the condo features a shared courtyard, where a gardening passion is often indulged—something that first drew the owners to the building. “Though we’re not in our old house anymore, we still have green space,” the wife says. “I can walk outside and breathe.”

While pleased with the end result of his efforts, McRoberts is also quick to heap praise on the lady of the house. “It was her artistic eye that makes this place so wonderful,” he says. “It’s a classical interior, but she brought a lot of eclecticism and made it classical Asian as well as modernist. It’s very tastefully done.”



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