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Portlandia: Inside the Remodeled Farmhouse of a Cult Favorite Ceramicist

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Portlandia: Inside the Remodeled Farmhouse of a Cult Favorite Ceramicist

February 27, 2019

We’ve been fans of Portland, Oregon-based Notary Ceramics—the project of ceramicist Sarah Van Raden—ever since she exhibited at our Portland Market a few years back. Since then, her vessels and artful flower frogs have popped up everywhere, well beyond the Pacific Northwest. But becoming one of the country’s cult favorite ceramicists was not always the plan. Van Raden first took a pottery class in college, but didn’t go near a wheel again until a decade later, when she signed up for a class at a local art school. After that, she was hooked: she saved up for a kiln and a wheel, transitioned from her job as a photo stylist, and cleaned out her basement to create a temporary studio.

It’s the endless possibilities of clay that made Van Raden fall in love with ceramics, she says. The same can be said of her own house, a 1914 farmhouse in Portland. When she and her husband, Paul, found it, it was “old, not updated, charming, and in our very limited budget.” But, as with a lump of clay, she saw the potential. About ten years after moving in, the couple (and their two daughters, Eloise (7) and Sylvie (5)) has just finished their latest project: a total kitchen overhaul. Join us for a first look at the quiet interiors—plenty of ceramics included.

Photography by Kris LeBoeuf, courtesy of Sarah Van Raden.

 &#8\2\20;our house is an old farmhouse built in \19\14,&#8\2\2\1; say 9
Above: “Our house is an old farmhouse built in 1914,” says Van Raden. “We bought it in 2008, at just the right time. We were only 27 and it felt like a crazy purchase, but we had recently moved back from living abroad in New Zealand and we knew we wanted to put down roots. We lived with my parents for about eight months while we saved up enough money for a down payment. My husband and my mom found the house online one evening after I had already gone to bed; the next day Paul went to look at the house and called me with the news that it was our perfect home.”

Above is the living room and entryway, with a custom oak coat rack made by Bruce Designs and a high shelf for Van Raden’s collection of baskets, found at “antique stores and estate sales.” Above the sideboard (found “at a barn sale in rural Oregon”) is an antique chalkboard, a gift to Paul from an old bakery he managed. The couch is from Ikea.

the living area leads into the newly refinished kitchen. both rooms are painted 10
Above: The living area leads into the newly refinished kitchen. Both rooms are painted in Just About White by Miller Paint. The fridge is by Frigidaire and the wall sconce is from Wayfair.
&#8\2\20;we updated the kitchen this fall with the help of some friends, an 11
Above: “We updated the kitchen this fall with the help of some friends, and hired Bruce Designs, also friends, to create all of our custom cabinetry,” says Van Raden. “We spent countless hours on Remodelista and Pinterest gathering up all of the ideas that inspired us, and over time we saw the same pictures and concepts creeping up over and over again. We knew we wanted concrete countertops and white oak wood, and the rest came from our desire to improve the flow of this old house.”

Case in point: the open area in the foreground was once the dining room, before the couple turned a back mudroom into a sunny dining area. Now, there’s breathing space left between living room and kitchen. The hanging light is actually a woven basket purse from Bali.

the kitchen, in the center of the house, gets plenty of light, thanks to the su 12
Above: The kitchen, in the center of the house, gets plenty of light, thanks to the sun room behind. “When I was pregnant with our second daughter, I pleaded for a dishwasher in our kitchen,” says Van Raden. “As it turned out, there wasn’t enough room in the original layout to fit a dishwasher, so we used the footprint of what was a very shabby mud porch and opened up the whole back end of the kitchen. Then we were able to have a dishwasher—and we put in a sun room in the back. It provides so much light, and it’s where we eat all of our meals.”

Note the dishwasher, now next to the sink. The concrete counters are by Coulee Concrete in Portland. (For more on the pros and cons of this countertop material, see Remodeling 101: Concrete Countertops.)

van raden&#8\2\17;s own ceramics appear throughout the house, and oak cabin 13
Above: Van Raden’s own ceramics appear throughout the house, and oak cabinetry and shelves provide plenty of space for display. The couple opted for a sink by Fireclay paired with Ikea’s Gamlesjön faucet.

Above: Van Raden’s ceramics mix with her collection of antique glassware, in shades of grey and green. At right, found artwork is propped on the concrete counter.

Van Raden has expanded since the days of working in her basement. “I worked out of my basement for two years, but last year I took the plunge and rented a large studio space about three miles from home,” she says. Part of the space is a shop with Van Raden’s own wares, and a few select goods she loves.

van raden in her kitchen, with her own ceramic pendant light. 16
Above: Van Raden in her kitchen, with her own ceramic pendant light.

Remodeling a 100-year-old house has come with a few challenges. “We found that the joist beneath our kitchen had cracked and was about to give way during our latest kitchen remodel. We ended up having to shore that up, which was time consuming and expensive,” says Van Raden. Besides that, she says, “The challenges have always been financial. We both have plenty of ideas and quite a bit of experience with light building projects.”

the sun room/dining room in the back of the house, with mix and match dining ch 17
Above: The sun room/dining room in the back of the house, with mix-and-match dining chairs. Paul made the dining table, and the antique pitcher was a thrift-store find from France.
the sun room gets use year round. &#8\2\20;in dreary portland winters it&am 18
Above: The sun room gets use year-round. “In dreary Portland winters it’s the only place I want to be,” says Van Raden.
on a built in cabinet near the kitchen: the akeno table lamp from urban outfitt 19
Above: On a built-in cabinet near the kitchen: the Akeno Table Lamp from Urban Outfitters and a hanging Mexican birdhouse, a thrifted find.
the couple&#8\2\17;s quiet bedroom is fitted with an ikea bed frame and lin 20
Above: The couple’s quiet bedroom is fitted with an Ikea bed frame and linens from Parachute Home. Note the artfully imperfect wreath above the bed.
a cart serves as a mobile bedside table. 21
Above: A cart serves as a mobile bedside table.
van raden keeps the palette spare and earthy throughout the house, mixing antiq 22
Above: Van Raden keeps the palette spare and earthy throughout the house, mixing antique wooden furniture with shades of white and grey, natural-fiber baskets, glassware, and ceramics.

Not pictured are the couple’s other recent projects: a walk-in closet and an attic playroom. “It’s become the hub for every playdate,” Van Raden says.

&#8\2\20;we remodeled our bathroom when i was pregnant with our first daugh 23
Above: “We remodeled our bathroom when I was pregnant with our first daughter,” says Van Raden. “It was a mess of primary colors, with a plastic shower, reclaimed sink and cabinet, and terrible lighting. We found the old clawfoot tub down the street from our house, in a vacant lot where they had recently demoed a little cottage. My husband offered the contractor some cash for the tub and surprised me with it for Valentine’s Day. It’s still my favorite thing in our whole house.”

The couple opted for new subway tile and grey grout to keep the bath in line with the old house. “It’s both affordable and classic while staying true to the period of our home,” says Van Raden.

the bath, with one of van raden&#8\2\17;s own candle holders. &#8\2\20; 24
Above: The bath, with one of Van Raden’s own candle holders. “The pale blue is a color that I mixed myself from Miller Paint’s white and some old blue paints I found in our garage when we moved in,” Van Raden says.
van raden at home. 25
Above: Van Raden at home.

More ceramicists we love (and their own spaces):

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