Homes of Portland

‘Home’ is the word I most strongly associate with Portland, Oregon. It is far from the only thing I associate ‘home’ with—shopping malls, telenovelas, Christmas, American commercials from the 90s, and Mexican junk food all rank high on the list. But Portland is a special part of that list because it is the only place where I have felt at home from the moment I arrived.

I remember landing in PDX airport in August of 2007 and running to the restroom. When I turned to flush, I saw my first dual-flush handle (it allows the user to control how much water is used to flush, which saves gallons of water.)

It was love at first flush.

Everything I encountered after that was just as perfect: farmers’ markets, efficient public transit, bike lanes, flowers the size of my face, trees the size of my dreams, public parks, and delicious vegan food everywhere…

Because I moved to Portland for college, it became my first home apart from my mother’s. And what a home it was! Fittingly, Portland also has some of the most beautiful houses I’ve ever seen. While I was visiting last month, I tried to capture some of them.

The number-one reason Portland houses are beautiful is, of course, the setting. The above picture is an unedited iPhone photo of a random house I saw on my way to the bus. Look how full of life Portland is! Look how tall that tree is! Look at that tangle of flowers on the mini-porch! There’s probably a more apt term than ‘mini-porch’, but I am not an architect!

Even if you subtracted the setting–as I tried to do for this shot–Portland is full of beautiful Victorian and Craftman-style houses painted in cheery colors. This house with individually-painted shingles in some of my favorite colors used to be my dream house. When I showed Abbita, my grandmother, a picture of it, she noted that it had too few windows for her taste. You can’t tell from this picture, but I agree with Abbita. My dream house should have no fewer than one million windows.

Portland residents also like to add fairytale touches to their already magical real-estate realities. This Craftsman has miniature toy dinosaurs on every rock in its front yard! I’ve also seen tiny toy horses tied to horse rings in sidewalks. (Horse rings are what people in the 1800s used to ‘park’ their horses. Read more about Portland’s toy horse project here.)

But what’s a home without an interior? This picture of my friend Alex’s house shows two things characteristic of Portland homes: (1) amazing old wood details and (2) color. Sadly, the photo doesn’t do justice to the deep orange of this dining room’s wall. Another thing I love about this picture is the cross. Alex was my roommate freshman year, and this cross is the first thing we bought to decorate our room. We bought it at a store selling fair-trade artisanal goods from Latin America. From what I remember, it’s either from Ecuador or Honduras, but uh, don’t quote me on that. Living with Alex is one of the best living arrangements I’ve ever had—and that’s even considering the size of our room. It was so small that the next year it was turned into a single-occupancy dorm. Alex, if you’re reading this, I love you! Thanks for letting me crash in your perfect house.

When I walked into Jo’s house (a house I’d been dying to see ever since I saw this house tour on her blog), the first thing I saw was this yellow tea kettle sitting on the most darling gas stove I ever did see. I was breathless over the color coordination among the kettle, wall décor, and dishtowel. If I had a Pinterest, I would pin this soooo hard. Let’s focus on what’s important here, though: tea kettles. Every Portland house has one! A lot of them have a stovetop one and an electric one. I didn’t even know what an electric kettle was until I moved there, and I’d only really had two kinds of tea in my life: chamomile and peppermint. Then, I started drinking tea to stay warm, and pretty soon I was drinking it just to drink it. Once, when I was feeling very romantic and Devin was writing his thesis, I bought him flowers and fancy tea. Only the tea tasted like perfume, so I ended up using the tea bags as potpurri for my drawers. All my socks and t-shirts smelled really good for a few months. After I took the above picture, I discussed kombucha with Jo and her housemate Aria. It boggles my mind that a lot of North Americans reading this probably don’t know what kombucha is. If you have never heard of it, here is all you need to know: it originated in China, it’s fizzy, some people think it cures every disease ever, everyone in Portland has an opinion about it, and once Lindsay Lohan claimed it made her drunk.

Jo, Aria, & Chris also have the neatest book & zine corner. This picture is a testament to their design genius, in case you weren’t convinced by the kitchen shot. I know not everyone knows what a zine is, so I found this webpage from Brooklyn College that explains the concept. Basically, it’s cool writing made and self-published by cool people. Most zines are made using paper, scissors, and photocopiers though that has changed a lot thanks to things like computers and Photoshop. When Devin asked me to be his girlfriend significant other—he asked me to be his girlfriend, but I prefer the term ‘s.o.’ ‘Girlfriend’ is just too antiquated/normatively gendered for me. So is ‘fiancée’, but I haven’t found any accurate equivalent for that so most of the time I say ‘partner’, which doesn’t really capture it…ack sorry, what was I saying? Oh yeah, Devin photocopied every feminist zine he could find at the Portland Independent Publishing Resource Center, put them in a binder, wrapped the binder in newspaper from the New York Times Style section, and asked me to be his ___________. The rest is history! (Can you tell I miss Devin? Me too.)

Jo’s living room is one of the prettiest I have ever seen (I got to sleep on that couch, you guys!), but it also reminds me of every Portland living room I’ve ever been in. The vintage couch by a window, the glass jars and bottles on a coffee table, the laptop… The whole scene gives me goosebumps, in a good way.

P.S. Every time I rave about Portland, I feel a strong moral conviction to acknowledge the huge problem of racial segregation in that city. Portland’s racial inequality is increasing. Seattle—the other metropolis in the Pacific Northwest—is decreasing racial inequality thanks to bold, innovative policies. This episode of Think Out Loud, a radio show from Portland, is a solid introduction to the problem.

P.P.S. If you enjoyed the pictures of Jo’s house, check out her blog. It is my favorite blog in the whole of the worldwide web. Her latest post, especially, inspired and moved me. I cried the best kind of tears.

Homes of Portland

5 thoughts on “Homes of Portland

  1. Jessica says:

    I love this post on Portland! I, too, have been thinking a lot about home and about Portland, and Reed, and the people with whom I surround myself. I’m learning more and more, however, that home can indeed be with me wherever I go; it’s more about a mindset than a location. But that doesn’t mean that some physical places can’t be a much more comfortable place to be at home than others, and Portland was definitely one of those for me.

      1. it’s actually of a house in sellwood, but the purple house is a mighty fine house!


        p.s. thanks for supporting my hypothesis that all portland houses are beautiful!

    1. amen, jess! i think the people who are happiest are those who feel at home anywhere. the hermit crab people, if you will. i strive to be a hermit crab myself, but sometimes i struggle with the lack of compost bins and evergreen trees…

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