Can a Classic Pacific Northwest House Also Be a Great Contemporary House?

Portland architect Rick Berry puts a new-school edge on regional design.

By Caitlin Collins February 29, 2016

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A Rick Berry-designed residence in Colonial Heights.

Designer Rick Berry takes inspiration from two grandfathers of Pacific Northwest design: John Storrs and Pietro Belluschi. But he has an edge that neither of these legends possessed: he’s a born-and-raised Oregonian. For more than two decades, Berry has accumulated a portfolio with Scott Edwards Architecture of both commercial and residential buildings, all the while tracing a shift in the architectural scene. “There’s a new clientele we didn’t have 10 or 15 years ago,” Berry says, “and the biggest thing I’ve noticed is people have started to embrace what I call Northwest Regionalism.”

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Rick Berry's Hotchkiss Residence.

Favoring natural materials, ample windows, and design that accounts for the elements, Northwest Regionalism facilitates a “blurred transition between indoors and outdoors,” evoking all at once the cozy heritage of the Pacific Northwest and a contemporary spatial openness. Though the movement has gained momentum across multiple design scenes (think of how often you see antlers and birds when you’re buying … anything), Berry’s contribution to Northwest Regionalism as an Oregon native rings a bit more genuine, as he can speak to the experience personally. “A key piece of being in Oregon is you can be outside a lot of the year as long as you have cover overhead,” he says. “March, April, May, you should be able to sit outside—so we blend large overhangs into our architecture.”

Despite the natural connection to the Northwest, Berry's work absolutely identifies itself as “new.” As his designs pop up within older, more established Portland neighborhoods, Berry is more concerned with blending structures in physically rather than stylistically. “The architecture we do takes into account surrounding neighborhoods, in a positive way and to scale, but in a contemporary style—I think that’s okay, because we’re in a different generation,” he says. And, being in this new generation themselves, Berry’s current clientele absolutely agree. “They’re young people, young families just starting out, and they’re hip and they want to try something a little different, and that’s really exciting to me,” says Berry.

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Berry's Mulligan Residence.

Berry says that earlier in his career, he found himself creating Craftsman-style homes and similarly nostalgic structures for retiring Baby Boomers. Now, 15 years later, clients are coming from a new point of view: “Our clientele grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s—they don’t need that to feel comfort.” Now Berry’s job is not only to build what his clients need practically, but also to define what home looks like for a new generation of homeowners. “How do we design for the next wave of people? Do they need a bungalow to feel comfort? That’s the important thing, is creating comfortable space that you want to be in.” For many, that comfortable space is embodied by the characteristics of Northwest Regionalism.

For all his innovative talk, Berry also has a traditional goal in the midst of his contemporary design: bringing the family together. “Technology is something that’s changing really quickly now," he says. "You have so many little devices, people are in their own little streams nowadays, but something I’ve always wanted to do is create spaces for families to be together. I think creating good architecture can help get a family together in the same room.” 

In this way, Berry’s design philosophy mirrors the duality of Northwest Regionalism itself: achieving comfort in a new way while staying grounded in tradition. 

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