How This Bethany Mansion Got a Vital Injection of Vintage Cool
Clad in a river rock façade and muted tones of brown, gray, and beige, Jaime Schmidt’s house doesn’t look like it would hold so many colorful secrets. Don’t get us wrong: it’s very nice and all. But tucked away in a cul-de-sac in Bethany—an unincorporated Washington County community just over Forest Park’s steep rise—the house’s primary selling point, at first blush, is its sheer enormity. Think outdoor pool with built-in slide, movie room, indoor basketball court, and a cavernous living room and open kitchen big enough to host the socially distant soirée of your dreams.
Six-foot buffer between people? No problemo.
“The space is big. We have a lot of room. But it didn’t have a whole lot of character,” Schmidt says of the 6,373-square-foot house she and her husband, Chris, purchased in 2018. But they were sold on it anyway—beige and all—with the trees surrounding the property on all sides reminding her of her Michigan childhood.
“The neighborhood was key,” says Schmidt. “We liked that we were in this cul-de-sac out here. When you’re driving down there’s a bunch of cookie-cutter homes, but this little neighborhood was tucked away. It’s secret and private.”
Soon after moving in, Schmidt—the founder of toiletry brand Schmidt’s Naturals, of deodorant fame—invited interior designer Andee Hess of Osmose Design to interview for a much-needed rethinking of the house. They clicked immediately. Though no stranger to residential work, Hess is best known for defining the look of some of Portland’s most trafficked businesses and restaurants, from the light-green counters of Pine Street Market’s Wiz Bang Bar and the bulb-laden ceilings of Ava Gene’s to House Spirits’ gigantic tasting room and, most recently, the retro-tastic remake of the Oaks Park skating rink concession area. Hess’s saturated, colorful style—bursting with surprising textures and big geometric patterns—was an instant fit for this high-ceiling canvas. But it was Hess’s focus on collaborations with local designers and artists that sealed the deal.
“We didn’t really have a clear vision of where it wanted to go,” says Schmidt. “But every idea she threw out, we loved.”
“It’s always interesting, approaching a new home. It’s all so personal—this is their home, their family,” says Hess. “I see the aesthetics of a home, and I try not to make any judgments. The most important thing is to be able to capture the hidden things. They were incredible because they were not afraid of anything. How do we make this personal? How do we bring in more inviting corners and experiences?”
The scope of the project snowballed.
First, it was just finding furniture for an empty home. Then it was fixing the lighting, which, according to Hess, was primarily down-lighting, which didn’t highlight any architectural details. Then things got serious. Hess, a 15-year design vet, brought on trusted contractor Grada Inc and got to work on more dramatic transformations.
Walking into the main entrance today, you are greeted on your left by the tiered piano lounge, built on a raised platform. In a reversal of ’70s-era “conversation pits”—depressed or sunken areas lined with comfy seating—the built-in velvet sofa surrounds a custom green onyx coffee table. Every wall and surface is covered in a different texture, from the shag carpeting to the rough walls. Hess sourced the centerpiece artwork herself at Augen Galley, an early-1980s painting by Leonard Ruder.
“The reverse conversation pit. The talk-show stage. Whatever you want to call it,” says Hess, laughing. “That is situated in a really large great room—so we took that step up and created this layered, inviting thing in a really open space. It’s about creating layers of intimacy.”
Schmidt sold her Schmidt’s Naturals to Unilever in late 2017 (she’s still involved as a spokesperson), and had shifted her focus to supporting the local maker community through the organizations Portland Made and Supermaker. Her own business had started with making deodorant in her kitchen and selling it at farmers markets, and she wanted to use that experience to help others.
“That’s a strong focus for Osmose, too,” says Hess, “collaborating with makers and enriching our projects.” The opportunity for custom projects and collaborations was another factor in designer-client matchmaking, and the results are sprinkled everywhere. The living room fireplace features a travertine slab surround and custom tile work by local sculptor Scott Foster—who, among many other things, has created stop-motion puppets for Laika’s Boxtrolls and Booksmart. The deeply green master bedroom—continuing Hess’s motif of showing layers on layers, à la Italian architect Carlo Scarpa—features integrated nightstand lamps from Esque Studio. The upstairs powder room boasts a bold continuous, curving yellow line that snakes around its walls and floor, forming a wild, maze-like pattern that dares you to try and find its end point. (This writer could not do so during his prepandemic visit.) The office has hand-painted wallpaper. Hess’s love of layers is found, too, in the downstairs game room, where a mustard colored “terrazza” sofa from Swiss designer Ubald Klug resembles a pan of dough that’s been folded over many times.
Of course, with a house this big, there’s still more to do. Since “finishing” nearly two years ago, Schmidt and her husband have transformed a downstairs bedroom into a music-making room. The indoor basketball court became the family’s gym. Meanwhile, Hess and Grada are currently building a new sauna in a downstairs room—covered in metallic chrome wallpaper that will make the sauna look like a floating portal.
“Now we have other parts of the house that we overlooked because they weren’t a priority,” says Schmidt, referring to some unused bedrooms and entertaining spaces. “We thought we were done.”
One job that is done? Giving this beige house an unmistakable personality.
Jaime Schmidt in Conversation With Paige Hendrix Buckner
Wednesday, September 9, 5 p.m., Zoom