Interiors

Bursting With Plants, a 1910 Portland Foursquare for a Florist and Barista

by Sabrina Smelko

From where I sit as I type this, I can count 14 plants in my home surrounding me — some big, some small, but all bringing me such joy. Plants make any home feel inviting, and Alea Joy’s is no exception. In fact, it may be the most beautiful example of a home that marries indoor and outdoor living that I’ve ever seen!

Alea is a florist and proud owner of the plant shop Solabee Flowers and Botanicals in downtown Portland, OR. Her passion for teaching people how to successfully integrate plants into their spaces is one she definitely brings home with her. Over the four years spent in her home, the first few as a renter with a roommate, Alea has perfected the art of unifying the outdoors and indoors. And once her landlord unexpectedly sold the foursquare house to her, she was thrilled to finally be able to call it home for her herself, her fiancé Peter King (a drum-loving Barista from Chicago) and their cats, Dancer and Jude.

Since its conversion to a triplex in the 30s up until they bought it, their home has been a rental property. So while they weren’t surprised to discover that it was in need of some serious fixes, they were a bit stunned by how intimidating the renovations were. They’re currently in the process of totally gutting and redoing their bathroom, but as Alea explains, “the list of projects [is] endless… redoing the front porch, and creating a back deck with a french door exit off the kitchen are up next.” Regardless of the hard work ahead of them, their home already oozes with comfort and feels open, earthy and inviting. It’s host to big family dinners with Peter’s massive, loving family, their travel souvenirs and mementos, two happy felines and plentiful greenery! “I am just thankful to have a home to call our own. A place to just be ourselves,” Alea says, “We feel very fortunate in our humble surrounding, but are also extremely grateful for the space to grow in the years to come. It’s just the beginning for us!” With a wedding planned for October on the horizon, and a honeymoon to Ireland and Iceland shortly after, the couple is excited to get away and look forward to their return home as Mr. and Mrs. —Sabrina

Photography by Jaclyn Campanaro

Bursting With Plants, a 1910 Portland Four Square for a Florist and Barista
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The table and bench in Alea and Peter's dining room were hand built by Peter. "As the youngest of six, it was very important to him that all his family would be able to join us at our table," explains Alea, "We hosted our first Thanksgiving this year at our home and it felt great!"
Bursting With Plants, a 1910 Portland Four Square for a Florist and Barista
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A mature hobbit jade sits on their dining table in one of Alea's favorite pots.
Bursting With Plants, a 1910 Portland Four Square for a Florist and Barista
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Jude, the beloved rescue cat, is turning 12 years old this year, but to Alea she'll always be her kitten.
Bursting With Plants, a 1910 Portland Four Square for a Florist and Barista
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A rubber plant, San Pedro cactus and baby jade plant share a north-facing shelf with a tiny model replica of their house, which was a gift from a friend of Alea's. "Little did we know at the time that within a couple years the house would actually be my very own," Alea says.
Bursting With Plants, a 1910 Portland Four Square for a Florist and Barista
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Alea on their front porch.
Bursting With Plants, a 1910 Portland Four Square for a Florist and Barista
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The light in the couple's bedroom from their south-facing window is perfect for the huge Gloriosum Philodendron. It takes up a lot of room in their bedroom with a nearly 4-foot span, and Alea lovingly refers to it as "the Great Dane Puppy!"
Bursting With Plants, a 1910 Portland Four Square for a Florist and Barista
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On their bookshelf is an 11-year-old string of hearts, one of the oldest plants in Alea's care.
Bursting With Plants, a 1910 Portland Four Square for a Florist and Barista
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Dancer the cat enjoying the sunlight and watching the birds and squirrels out the window.
Bursting With Plants, a 1910 Portland Four Square for a Florist and Barista
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This vase was gifted to Alea by RS Handmade out of LA, whom she randomly met at a Tucson, AZ street fair. "I thought is was a very generous gift, and a good reminder of the goodwill in the creative industry," she says. Having fresh, locally grown flowers in their home is important to Alea, such as these red ranunculus.
Bursting With Plants, a 1910 Portland Four Square for a Florist and Barista
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While their spare bedroom is tiny, it gets the best light in the house. The whole family spends a ton of time here lounging and relaxing.
Bursting With Plants, a 1910 Portland Four Square for a Florist and Barista
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Even in the dining room there are little spots filled with green.
Bursting With Plants, a 1910 Portland Four Square for a Florist and Barista
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Their in-kitchen dining area is a fun spot to sit and watch all of the action in the kitchen.
Bursting With Plants, a 1910 Portland Four Square for a Florist and Barista
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A heart leaf hoya sits on the shelf next to some of the couple's favorite containers. "We tend [to gravitate] towards things made from natural materials, with an earthy feel, in the kitchen," says Alea.
Bursting With Plants, a 1910 Portland Four Square for a Florist and Barista
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Alea's hanging plants make great use of the room's awkward angles.
Bursting With Plants, a 1910 Portland Four Square for a Florist and Barista
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Alea in her kitchen, one of the larger spaces in their home.
Bursting With Plants, a 1910 Portland Four Square for a Florist and Barista
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Bursting With Plants, a 1910 Portland Four Square for a Florist and Barista
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Their living room is the first thing you see when you come in the front door.
Bursting With Plants, a 1910 Portland Four Square for a Florist and Barista
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This cozy corner is a favorite place to sit, do paperwork or read. "The large Xanadu Philodendron was grown from a 4" pot by my mother and given to us as a housewarming present," says Alea.
Bursting With Plants, a 1910 Portland Four Square for a Florist and Barista
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Another gifted plant from Alea's mother, the Xanadu. "This plant obsession might be hereditary!" jokes Alea.
Bursting With Plants, a 1910 Portland Four Square for a Florist and Barista
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"That's us!" Alea says. "We love each other tons and tons!"
Bursting With Plants, a 1910 Portland Four Square for a Florist and Barista
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Their living room coffee table is never without a pure beeswax candle.
Bursting With Plants, a 1910 Portland Four Square for a Florist and Barista
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The Boss, on vinyl. "Peter and I just combined our record collection," Alea says. "Despite being engaged and getting a house together, this felt like a major sign of our commitment! I'm sure other vinyl collectors out there would understand!"
Bursting With Plants, a 1910 Portland Four Square for a Florist and Barista
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Their huge variegated Monstera was Alea's housewarming gift to herself. Before they had much in the way of furniture, Alea bought plants to fill the empty spaces, making them feel intentional.
Bursting With Plants, a 1910 Portland Four Square for a Florist and Barista
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Bursting With Plants, a 1910 Portland Four Square for a Florist and Barista
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Growing up, Alea used to get these rainbows from her local Saturday market. "They are synonymous with childhood and wonder for me," she says, "I recently found the maker again and was amazed that he was still making rainbows for a living so many years later! He told me he never expected rainbows would pay the bills, but I love that magical sentiment and they remind me that it is possible to make a living doing something lovely for the world."
Bursting With Plants, a 1910 Portland Four Square for a Florist and Barista
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Bursting With Plants, a 1910 Portland Four Square for a Florist and Barista
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Caring for her plants is a constant task, but Alea loves that there is always something to do in the house. "It allows me to garden, even on rainy days."

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Comments

  • This is one of my favorites to date. I love the warm caramel tones with all the plants (and cats!). It is so earthy and soothing. Thank you for sharing!

  • Look at all those plants! I love it…they remind me of my Grandparents house and how my Grandmother always had the house so nicely decorated. I have never had much luck with indoor plants…maybe some day. This is such a lovely home…thanks for sharing!

  • This is one of my favorite houses features so far! I am always so grateful that folks allow us to see inside their homes; it’s such an inspiration. The plants in this home are incredible and I hope that more local little plant shops pop up; I’m saddened that locally, the only places I’ve found for houseplants are the large home improvement chains. Perhaps persuading local nurseries to carry houseplants would be good!

  • The whole house looks so peaceful – I would love to live here. Can you please tell me the paint color in the living room?

  • I love plants and am simply amazed at the number and variety of stunners here. Together with the cozy furniture and great light, this house just feels right (even if the owners see lots of projects. I know that feeling.) Definitely one of my favorite sneak peaks.

  • This home is so warm and inviting! It’s so thoughtful and stylish, yet still seems so functional, comfortable, and effortless. The rainbows are so so wonderful.

    We love plants and cats, too, but haven’t found a way to discourage the cats from nibbling on some of our plants. They don’t bother philodendron, jades and other succulents, snake plants, or rubber plants, but they destroy everything else…what has worked for you to keep all of your plants looking so good? Thanks!

    • I’ve had cats and plants together in the house for most of my life. I’ve found that the ones that are supposedly “safe” for cats must also taste good, because I can’t keep them in the house – things like spider plants, palms, and dracaenas (although the latter are on many of the toxic lists.) Some plants I have that my cats aren’t interested in chewing are hoya, ming aralia, schefflera, pachira aquatica (sometimes known as money tree,) pedilianthus, and various ficus. I also have a number of others in the house that they will occasionally nibble on, but only a few leaves – pothos, philodendron, snake plant, pleiomele. And of course, they don’t seem to like chewing on cactus, and other succulents, either.

    • It’s so interesting that you noticed this! Great eye!!!
      Today I listened to NPR’s TED radio hour about originality, and I think that there is something interesting about this example that you’ve made, that their houses look so similar. When I was flipping though these pictures, I was thinking to myself, “wow, these people have really curated a space that fits exactly who they are”. I was struck by how honest, non-contrived it seemed. Then I looked at the photos of Anne’s house, and there is was, all of the “originality” of styling I thought that I was seeing in the these photos. It only stands to prove that our only form of originality is building on and customizing something that already exists. It seems to me that Alea has built, respectfully, out-of and on-top of the spirit of Anne’s house.

      • Anne and I were roommates for 3 years! Hence the similarity in the space from her photos, it was shared and some of the objects are still there. Thanks for noticing. If you’d like to see the difference check out the New Boho Book by Justina Blakney, we’re in there with the shared space. A wonderful meditation of space as it grows and develops.

  • Love it but will also second the question of how to keep cats from eating the plants. My cat’s favorite thing to do is wake me up at 5 am munching on the leaves of my houseplants. It has really put a damper on my houseplant aspirations!

  • Everything about this place is just lovely, but I’m curious about the combination of plants plus cats. Perhaps Alea can share her knowledge or resources with regard to plants that are cat-safe? Lists I’ve found online often contradict each other and I’ve pretty much concluded that everything is toxic to plant-nibbling cats like mine, as there doesn’t seem to be a single definitive list out there.

  • Lovely home, and such incredible plants! Out of curiosity, do you have more information about the duvet cover/bed quilt?

    • It was an Ebay find, just searched for indigo bed covers and loved this one. It is a block print batik.

      • Thanks for the question. I would be remiss to claim to know. In my store we air on the side of caution. If you fall in love with a plant, it is worth it to take the time to do a little personal research and see. The decision is a personal one, since your cat’s behavior is known best to you. There are things out there! Good luck and best wishes cultivating your indoor garden, the balance exists out there!

  • lovely light, lovely colours, the plants and the flowers are so restful. and the furniture is fab too, thanks for sharing

  • Would love if Alea did a guest spot on all her plants and maybe also incorporated what is cat-friendly and what her cats seem to leave alone. All the blogs show the same few plants over and over again. Ferns, succulents, and cacti have been great. They’re safe, but I have to put them high so they don’t get chewed. I’m definitely looking for some larger, floor plants to decorate with that are relatively cat safe.

    • Hi miamaus

      We’ve done posts on this topic in the past in the Home Ec section of DS. There are sadly no plants that are guaranteed to repel your pets or be uninteresting to them. It’s mainly about seeing what your pet is interested in or not. I just linked to a spray above (please see my response to the previous commenter) with a natural spray we use at home (safe to spray on plants and grass) that discourages pets from eating, scratching and pawing at plants. I’ve used it indoors and out with great success.

      Grace

  • For all the questions about cats and plants, I sadly have not been able to crack the code of our mysterious feline friends. I have talked to so many who have cats with a plant fascination and many who have cats that never lay a paw on them. A common thread still alludes me! My cats are luckily the later, and we live in unison with the cat and plant relationship. The cat and cat relationship is another story, sadly we’ve got a stormy situation there.

  • What a magnificent place! All of the plants really make this space feel like home. The rugs are really beautiful as well; the one under the dining room table and the coffee table. Their pottery collection is astounding too. Gorgeous!

  • I’ve always thought that it would be wonderful to hire a “plant consultant” to tell me what I can and can’t grow in my apartment (and how to care for my plants). This post just inspired me to go around and check on the scraggliest of my specimens. Black thumb, sigh.

    • Peter’s boss gifted it to him in Chicago! Total score, but I do not have any other details on it right now.

  • We closed on our first house last week and the very first thing I did to celebrate was head to the nursury to get some houseplants! I had to leave all mine behind when we moved across the country a few years ago. (We moved in a schoolbus, so space was too tight for 50 plants.) https://instagram.com/p/2ueMQqQT2r/

  • Alea, I had a dream last night that I asked you over to my house to help me with my plants. Your house is lovely and it’s good to see you looking lovely and happy too! Great to see you on one of my favorite sites.

  • Love the look of your lovely home, all the green plants do add a special touch that you cannot recreate in any other way. We have a lot in common, I am a florist too, even though I am not working as one, I still love to fill my home with flowers and plants too. And as to questions of cats and plants, I agree, some cats leave them alone and others can’t seem to do that. ( I have had both kinds). Good Luck with your renovations too, I hoe we will get to see those as well.

  • This apartment reminds me so much of my friend who moved to Portland except he is from St. Louis not Chicago! Those cats are quite lovely and the florist looks like a total dreamboat. She knows how to rock a bun.

  • I love this apartment and all the plants! I keep coming back to this post and looking at all the pictures for inspiration.

    For those asking about plants and cats/dogs, the ASPCA has a comprehensive list of which plants are safe or toxic to pets! https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control/toxic-and-non-toxic-plants

    Unfortunately quite a few of Alea’s plants are toxic to kitties (all those gorgeous philodendrons, alas!), but having plants in the home definitely depends on your individual pet’s behavior. Our kitties love to climb all over and chew on plants, and have already managed to kill a dwarf palm by standing right in the middle of the leaves and squashing them down (playing who is queen of the palm? ;)).

  • Wow! Love this post so much! Plants, pottery, wooden surfaces! That purple rug! I must have looked at it half a dozen times! A few days ago I took all my plants outside for a bit of rain. It made our deck look like a jungle for a day to the delight of my youngest but our house look naked, empty and cold! I hated it. Plants give so much life to a space. So far, I have 22 big and small plants and they all mean so much to me. It does require a bit of puttering but it’s worth it and very soothing. I take the time every Sunday. Taking care of plants is like therapy. They are like my green babies and some even have names like: Béatrice my soft and wide Staghorn fern, Sally my carnivorous pitcher plant… :) My oldest one is a citrus tree that my brother planted from seed in the mid 80s (we’re in Québec, the seed was from a fruit from the grocery store so I doubt it will ever grow any but any tips to make this happen are welcome! :) Lovely, lovely space! Thank you for sharing.

  • Alea rents the third unit in her house, a teeny tiny one-bedroom unit on Airbnb. My boyfriend and I stayed there in December while visiting Portland and loved it. Her Airbnb unit looks a lot like her home, warm and beautiful yet casual, and filled with plants. We also visited her plant shop too and have a cactus from there on our coffee table at home. She was a very gracious host! We hope to visit again soon.

  • Alea, I am obsessed with your shelving unit on slide 12! Can you please tell me how you made it or where you got it from? Thank you!

  • I just love this home! I’ve also seen it in The New Bohemians and follow Alea on Instagram but I still can’t get enough of it. She definitely inspires me to incorporate even more plants into my home.

  • Oh my this space is heaven! The color combos and plants are literally perfect! Looking forward to having a space big enough to actually design.

  • “… it is possible to make a living doing something lovely for the world.”

    I may just need to print that out and pin it above my workspace. Thank you for the inspiration!!

  • that leather chair in the bedroom is amazing! looks like sergio rodrigues’ poltrona mole. where did you find it? this is one of my earliest childhood memories from my grandma’s house and i would love to have one myself.

  • I didn’t realize how badly I needed a heart leafed hoya. That is a beautiful plant. I’m so inspired to add to my plant collection. I always thought I was a black thumb, but with a little effort I’ve been able to keep 7 plants alive and growing. Thanks for this! I love how they incorporated the plants to be almost like additional family members.

  • wow wow WOW! My favorite home tour in a long time.

    Also, I wanted to add I love the format of these photos. The layout from the last design was soooo finicky.

  • was there a website redesign? I’ve been visiting this site for years and am a bit lost in the new layout

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