JHL Design Transforms a Historic Portland Penthouse into a Japan-Inspired Office Suite

The space had been demolished of all its previous finishes except for the existing black and gray walls and some rustic-looking terrazzo flooring, which was uncovered after the firm chose to grind down existing vinyl floor tiles. Photography by Haris Kenjar.

After spending several years vacant, the penthouse of a 1927 office building in downtown Portland was converted by local studio JHL Design into an office space for a boutique tech firm. Holly Freres, JHL principal, was set on maintaining the distinct character of the original architecture as well as the large expanses of glass that overlook the city.

Thanks to an unusual layout, which also involved angled walls and a sloped ceiling, the firm’s first order of business was to reconfigure the 4,000-square-foot space and improve its overall flow. Rather than enclosing the core like a traditional office they chose to keep this central space open, accentuating the high ceilings and sense of drama. The result: nine private offices, a shared work table, three lounge seating areas, and a kitchenette. 

Ceiling heights vary between 12 and 14-feet throughout and the open central space features cloudlike white paper lanterns by Vancouver, BC-based Molo Design. Photography by Haris Kenjar.

Many of the design elements are a subtle nod to Japanese forms and materials, as the client does business with Japanese companies and spent many years living in Kyoto. “Our intention was to add to the patina of the space by introducing handmade, uneven textures throughout,” explains JHL Design’s creative director Liz Morgan. Adds Freres of the walls, which had originally been painted and then scraped at some point: “We chose to leave this as is because it adds an interesting and gentle reminder of the building's history.”

The custom office wall system is made from Alaskan Yellow Cedar, which is a typical Japanese building material. Photography by Haris Kenjar.
Pendant lights from Allied Maker hang over the bar of the office kitchenette and feature a bronze and black walnut shade. The stools with camel suede seats are by Gubi. Photography by Haris Kenjar.
The desk was designed by JHL and custom made by Portland-based Quartertwenty. Photography by Haris Kenjar.
The conference table was designed by JHL and custom made by Portland-based Quartertwenty. Photography by Haris Kenjar.
In the lobby, a woven bamboo wallcovering from Phillip Jeffries was hand-stained a custom shade of black on site. Photography by Haris Kenjar.
In the bathroom the walls are lined with double-glazed blue vertical tiles from Heath Ceramics; wall sconces are by Allied Maker; the sink is by Stone Forest with a faucet from Watermark; and the walnut-framed mirror is custom. Photography by Haris Kenjar.

Read more: Most Creative Office Projects of 2019

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