Letting the Details Shine Through In Portland, OR

by Annie Werbler

The first inhabitants of a simple yet stylish Portland, OR home, Design Survivalist Rebecca and art director husband Mike Guss are glad to let its thoughtful architectural details take center stage. The couple doesn’t feel the need to populate their rental property with lots of stuff, preferring to display items that have personal history, practical function, and beautiful lines — even with a small child and cat in tow. The house, with its modern matte black framed windows, concrete floors, and centerpiece slatted staircase, demands pared-down, calm, and clean decor. Its austere furniture and curated artwork are always agreed upon by both Rebecca and Mike, or otherwise deemed unnecessary. “The picture rails in the bedrooms are a perfect system for us because we can change things out frequently,” she explains. “Washi tape and picture-hanging strips work well for rotating things like our daughter’s artwork. But for now, we like the white walls.”

Mike, who spent his formative years in Japan, and Rebecca, who enjoyed childhood summers in Montana, prefer an uncluttered aesthetic, in part due to their early influences. “Now that I’m older, I miss the wide open spaces, the visual clarity and pauses,” Rebecca reveals. “I think that’s part of the reason why I find myself attracted to our living space being so minimal.”

Carving out a place for Rebecca’s home office was another reason to make the free-flowing, organic vibe a priority. She and Mike gave their daughter the bigger bedroom, then dedicated a workspace nook in their own. Their daughter’s room stays organized because the majority of her toys, clothes, art supplies — and even her dresser — go right into the closet storage system. And luckily for the appreciative but discerning family, the landlord felt equally as passionate about providing excellent functionality in the original design. Their unit is built with eco-friendly features like a split-ductless heat pump system in each room of the house, a tankless gas water heater, energy-efficient appliances, and low VOC paints and finishes. Keen attention to detail encourages the tenants to expose the beauty inherent in these (and other) choices. According to Rebecca, “That really makes everything else possible.” —Annie

Photography by Rebecca Guss

Letting the Details Shine Through, on Design*Sponge
The contents of the kitchen shelves at Rebecca and Mike Guss' Portland home change almost daily. "Because we use many of the dishes so frequently, I don't fuss so much about returning everything to the exact spot each time," Rebecca shares.
Letting the Details Shine Through, on Design*Sponge
Rebecca and Mike Guss with their daughter in the yard.
Letting the Details Shine Through, on Design*Sponge
The entry courtyard is filled with herbal, culinary, and medicinal potted plants, save for the pretty fern in the grey pot.
Letting the Details Shine Through, on Design*Sponge
"The evening they put the sealer on the floor to dry, a whole raccoon family (from the looks of things), and maybe a cat, and a possum walked through," Rebecca shares. "Instead of redoing it, they went with it. I love that it captures a moment in time, and is a little nod to nature - intentional or not."
Letting the Details Shine Through, on Design*Sponge
The small but efficient kitchen allows two people to work in the space simultaneously. The blue bar works well with Rebecca's mother's blue and white China on display.
Letting the Details Shine Through, on Design*Sponge
Mike selected the modern Braun clock for this kitchen corner, while antique Japanese bonsai scissors came from Rebecca's grandmother.
Letting the Details Shine Through, on Design*Sponge
The simple dining area works well for a young child's messy toddler years. Colorful books and Rebecca's family photography are practical ways of adding personality into the space.
Letting the Details Shine Through, on Design*Sponge
In the living room, comfy throw pillows can be switched up depending on mood or playtime wear and tear.
Letting the Details Shine Through, on Design*Sponge
Ms. Meow's favorite spot amongst the cushions and streaming daylight.
Letting the Details Shine Through, on Design*Sponge
Indoor plants inject life and color into the decor.
Letting the Details Shine Through, on Design*Sponge
Rebecca has tended this plant for a full decade, lovingly displayed in a wooden stand made by her father before she was born.
Letting the Details Shine Through, on Design*Sponge
Books, a record player, and records from Rebecca's father are neatly arranged beneath the stairs. A fun place to play, "You’ve always got to check underfoot to make sure there aren’t any toys left," Rebecca adds.
Letting the Details Shine Through, on Design*Sponge
Ms. Meow equally enjoys the stair design. "She pokes her head between the bar and makes adorable cat noises," Rebecca says. "She's always guaranteed a good scratch here."
Letting the Details Shine Through, on Design*Sponge
Plants, especially stag horns, seem to thrive around the stairs beneath a skylight.
Letting the Details Shine Through, on Design*Sponge
Rebecca and Mike's bedroom contains a breathable, uncluttered area carved out for her workspace.
Letting the Details Shine Through, on Design*Sponge
Rebecca's "all-time best find ever" - the gelatin silver print by Robley Johnson titled "Desert Sky” of Rattlesnake Mountain in eastern Washington - was scored at a garage sale for 15 cents.
Letting the Details Shine Through, on Design*Sponge
The contemporary home's 934 square feet spread throughout two levels.
Letting the Details Shine Through, on Design*Sponge
A collection of treasured items, like the Massimo Vignelli Perpetual Wall Calendar ("helps us keep our days straight"), Minim playing cards, a book of etchings by Lucien Freud, and personal photographs above the bed. Rebecca's mother brought the antique table lamp back from Australia when she was a young woman, now fitted with a new shade.
Letting the Details Shine Through, on Design*Sponge
In her bedroom, some of their daughter's favorite books. "Her room gets the most light out of any room in the entire house," Rebecca reveals. "Once she’s a little older I’m going to give her some plants to care for."
Letting the Details Shine Through, on Design*Sponge
Many varied surfaces for play in the girl's bedroom.
Letting the Details Shine Through, on Design*Sponge
"What we love most about our home is the light and the joy watching our plants grow, our daughter sing, and our cat smile." - Rebecca and Mike Guss
Letting the Details Shine Through, on Design*Sponge
In the bookcase made by her dad, Rebecca displays her daughter's trinkets, like a Daruma wishing doll and a basket crafted by her sister. "Books have always been a big part of my life, so I was thrilled how much my daughter loves them," she explains. "Our daughter expects that we will always read at least four a night, and Mike tries to read the Japanese books to her at least once every few days."
Letting the Details Shine Through, on Design*Sponge
Rebecca covered the windows of an IKEA play kitchen with black and white graphic wrapping paper.
Letting the Details Shine Through, on Design*Sponge
Many of the dolls were either sewn by Rebecca's mother, or otherwise made in a way that makes her smile. "The handmade dolls all have little hearts with “I love you” painted on the chest," she describes. "Maria - the red dressed doll - my mom made for me for my first birthday. We made her new clothes from Marimekko fabric."

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  • Haha, I love the animal-decorated floor. Squirrels walked in some wet cement in our yard, and we left the footprints for similar reasons. Nature finds a way ;-)

  • What a pretty home! I love the storage bed in your little girl’s room…would you mind sharing the source?

  • Rebecca, your home is inviting and beautiful! Where are your kitchen shelves from? Also below the clock in your kitchen you have dark bottles and a jar with small wooden spoons, where did you get those utensils? And you have white shelves in several bedrooms, where are they from? Thanks!!

    • The kitchen shelves are ripped down doug fir boards with a water based sealer on them. The brackets are from West Elm. The bottles are grinders from Menu. Some of the wooden spoons are random finds but most of them are from the Japanese “dollar” store, Daiso, in the Seattle area.

  • What a lovely home. I especially am drawn to your open kitchen. I love your kitchen countertops! What material are they? I’d love to know more about them.

  • What a gorgeous home you have. The title of this feature fits perfectly, the details really shine through. I love your minimalist and clean style. It’s very appealing and inviting.

    • Hi! The blue color is actually bluish green (even though in pretty much every light we’ve seen it in it looks more blue). It’s Benjamin Moore Newport Green.

    • Hi, late to the game here…that clock is a Fliqlo clock. I actually just updated mine not to long ago to the Padbury. That one is equally nice.

  • Hi Rebecca
    I noticed the Robley Johnson print in your office design. I actually have the original photograph of that print. I am trying to get more information on the piece. Any info that you can give would be appreciated.
    I may take it to the Hanford Reach museum as there is a Manhattan Prohect Exhibit here in Richland that I believe has a few of Robleys works in it
    Hope to hear from you
    Carisa K

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