Bringing Color to the Inland Northwest
Designer Builds Cohesion in a Split-level That Celebrates Pattern and Color
“I’m definitely not afraid of color,” says Natali Alexander of Natali Alexander Design. Thank goodness for that. Her bright, pattern-rich home provides a much-needed contrast to dreary winter days in the Inland Northwest.
Natali grew up in Spokane, spent nearly a decade in London after high school, then moved to Los Angeles before returning with her family. “We knew there would be months out of the year here where it’s fairly dark,” she says. “Even in the depths of winter, the house is still a bright, cheery place. The inside of the home feels lively.”
When Natali and her family moved back, they “didn’t have a desire for a remodel,” she says. Famous last words. This home, built in 1973, needed significant work, but the location and footprint were too good to pass up. Natali has a reverence for the oft-maligned 70s darling: the split-level. “I’m a huge believer that the best layouts for the way we live right now are split-levels,” she says. With bedrooms on one floor, main living spaces on the other, and everything connected, “the layout is perfect for a family.”
The interior of this particular split-level…not so much. “While it wasn’t derelict…it was really bad,” she says. “In terms of what I was going for, there was really nothing salvageable about the house. It was like starting from scratch.” Previous owners had updated spaces in phases over the years, but the design wasn’t cohesive, the bathrooms hadn’t been touched, and the basement was like, “‘Where’s the dead body?’ It was so creepy.” Thus began a down-to-the-studs renovation.
For design inspiration, Natali often turns to tile and wallpaper as jumping-off points before making other selections, and that was certainly the case here. There’s fox wallpaper in her daughters’ bathroom, Heath tile around the fireplace, terrazzo from Concrete Collaborative in the primary bath, Hygge & West wallpaper in the entryway, wallpaper by Portland artist Lisa Congdon in the powder bath… the list goes on and on. One of the most recent additions is the showstopping black-and-white concrete tile that wraps around the fireplace wall from the living room into the kitchen, another Concrete Collaborative material, this one designed by artist Dan Covert. When Natali saw it, she was instantly sold. “I was like, ‘I want it floor to ceiling, everywhere.’”
To save space, she selected pocket doors in rooms like the powder bath and the primary bath, where the switch allowed for the installation of a full-sized vanity with double sinks. Updating different materials inside and refinishing existing pieces—goodbye, basalt fireplace (which Natali prefers outside) and chunky rough-sawn wood beams (they’ve been cleaned up and boxed in), eliminating a pony wall, opening the stair wall, and other similar decisions lifted weight off the home, as did the decision to add windows and skylights so every space has ample natural light.
The mix of prints and color is too much for some people, Natali acknowledges. But for her and her family, it’s just right. When working to make a home full of color and pattern cohesive, she has several strategies. Because there is so much color, pattern, and texture she chose to temper the vibrancy, using light-toned wood—light maple floors, birch casework—throughout the home, and then grounding the spaces by choosing black for all of the hardware. The walls are all painted the same shade of white, and the furniture is clean-lined. The tile flooring used in wet spaces is repeated in various spots in the home, like a large black hex and a small white hex with black grout. And every space includes at least one shade of blue. These cohesion-building choices “are by no means necessary in every space,” Natali says, but they work well here “because I knew I had so much going on.” At the same time, each space feels distinct. “I like rooms to have their own identity.”
The décor blends new purchases with vintage items and family heirlooms. A George Nelson bubble lamp hangs over the dining room table. The vibrant living room rug “is probably one of the most unique and valuable things we own in the house,” she says, a piece they inherited from a home they owned in LA. A soft wool with a deep pile, it most likely dates back to the 60s or 70s. “The rug is super special.”
A gallery wall mixes Mexican yarn pieces originally purchased during a trip family members made to Mexico in the late 60s, and a sunflower painting created by a great-aunt that made its way through several family members’ homes before landing with Natali. “For me, putting [a gallery wall] together is really just instinctual,” Natali says of her collection of family pieces and vintage finds. “It’s just about how it feels. For me, there’s no science to it, it’s, ‘I like this weird and bright thing and I want to look at it all the time.’ ”
For lighting, she chose fixtures that fit the intersection of modern and mid-century-inspired. “I don’t want to live in a time capsule. I don’t want to recreate the 50s or 60s, but I like those kinds of shapes.” Favorite sources for lighting include Portland-based Cedar & Moss.
Natali is working with other clients on interiors and commercial spaces, and has loved opportunities to collaborate with and purchase from independent artists and companies. Though she hasn’t always known where each step would lead, the path has been rewarding. “I’ve always been sort of like, ‘I will figure this out. It will work.’ ” Having worked in artistic fields throughout her career, she’s enjoying her segue into interior design and has become a licensed general contractor. “It’s been the right path for me to take, and I absolutely love it.”
Interior Design and Styling: Natali Alexander, Natali Alexander Design
Photography: Kayleen Gill, Kayleen Michelle Photography
Florals: Candace Ford, Handmade Spokane (sourced via Half Moon Blooms) & Anthesis Co.
Patterned Tile: Concrete Collaborative
Hair: Tenaya McCall, Kluer Style House
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