Everyday Glamour

On the green outskirts of Portland, the Seder family is slowly renovating their dream home, one project at a time.

Everyday Glamour

On the green outskirts of Portland, the Seder family is slowly renovating their dream home, one project at a time.

Issue: October 2019

By: Katy Kelleher
Photography by: Erin Little

After Vanessa Seder had her daughter, Katia, she found herself stuck at home yet bursting with energy. The food stylist and cookbook author wasn’t used to sitting still, but she didn’t feel quite like her old self yet. So she started working on a new hobby: she began to clear the briars from her Portland yard, one prickly vine at a time.

The Seders bought their house in Portland after renting a few other places and moving around the outskirts of the city. Now it’s the only home daughter Katia has known, and the family finds it hard to imagine ever leaving. Featuring a slate mansard roof and copper gutters, the compact Victorian is both classic and eclectic.

“I found gardening in Portland,” says Seder as we sit in her living room, looking out at the now manicured garden that curls around the front and side of her 1900s Victorian. “When I was growing up in Los Angeles, we had a big garden, but I never thought about it. After Katia was born, I felt stir crazy.” It was October 2012, and Vanessa recalls bundling up her infant and heading outdoors to “hack away.” Vanessa and her husband, Jon, had just closed on the house (which they had been renting from the previous owner, Jon’s older brother). They were happy with their decision, but the house didn’t feel like their home yet. The more Vanessa cleared the yard, the more undergrowth she peeled away, the more she began to connect with the place. “I unearthed part of an old, old path,” she recalls. “I knew we had to continue that path.”

Making a home in Portland has been a slow, thoughtful endeavor. Vanessa and Jon both love design and mixing the old (family heirlooms and antiques) with the new (contemporary light fixtures and quirky art, like this framed midcentury modern piece inherited from Vanessa’s grandmother).

Seven years later, the stone path leads from the lawn and through the garden, past the perennials and right up to the roots of a gnarled old tree. Although they don’t know yet if this is their forever home, the Seders can’t imagine moving anytime soon. “Katia would be heartbroken,” Vanessa says. “This is the only house she’s ever known.”

This one-of-a-kind wire chandelier was purchased at a flea market directly from the artist. The table was sourced from a barn in Buxton. The oil painting on the far wall is one of Jon’s highway scenes.

Located in the Deering Highlands neighborhood of Portland, the three-bedroom, one-and- a-half-bathroom house manages to feel at once both cozy and spacious, thanks to the semi-open layout downstairs and the light filled bedrooms upstairs. Although it’s fully furnished and reflects the family’s style, Vanessa admits that it’s not quite done. “We’re doing a bit every year,” she says. “We do one practical thing, and one aesthetic thing. We’ve built that into our budget.” Water damage on the exterior of the house meant that siding was one of the first major projects—the Seders put on cedar clapboards—followed by the overhaul of the garden and lawn. They’ve also put in extra storage in the foyer, renovated a garden shed to serve as an office space, and painted every single room. “I do a lot of the painting myself,” says Vanessa. “Our attitude is that we’ll only pay for things we can’t do ourselves,” like the electrical work or the siding. Vanessa is drawn to light colors, so she painted the entire downstairs Benjamin Moore’s White Wisp, which looks gray in some lights, slightly taupe in others, and serves as a neutral backdrop for the couple’s art collection.

Upstairs, the bedrooms are kept simple and airy. The apple lithograph is another flea market find.

Along with the verdant, blossoming garden, the art is the most standout feature of this house-turned-home. There are oil paintings on almost every wall. Katia’s bedroom has a collection of pink-and-purple cupcake and doughnut paintings, and the living room and dining areas both feature Impressionist style paintings of cars in motion, chugging along on highways and side streets. These are all Jon’s work, which he creates in his artist studio. Located on the second floor, the studio is one of the only rooms in the Seder home that boasts dramatic paint. The moody blue accent wall “just works” in his studio, which is neat and organized yet filled with tubes of oil, jars of paintbrushes, and wooden easels. Unlike Vanessa, who works primarily from home on freelance projects, Jon has a daily commute to New Hampshire, where he does corporate PR, writing, and editing for a federal contractor. Jon has been oil painting for years, but it wasn’t until he started commuting to New Hampshire that he began to paint these rather mundane moments. “At first, I was like, are you sure you want to look at your commute on the wall everyday?” Vanessa remembers. “But I think there’s something more to it than that—he captures something beyond the commute. It’s a moment in time.”

Vanessa dreams about someday doing away with this corner of the porch and expanding her kitchen outward. For now, it’s a cozy corner for Katia and Birdie to bond.

The oils of cars and roads are quietly striking, which is a good way to describe the Seders’ overall aesthetic. On first glance, the dining room is sparse and calming, with soft white walls, a big old wooden table, and a collection of chipped green wooden chairs. But once I look closer, I begin to notice the personality of the space. There are cabinets filled with an eclectic collection of white and blue dishes; some are midcentury modern while others look like traditional Japanese ceramics. The dining table is a hulking piece of history, sourced from a barn out in Buxton. The chairs and bench are all shades of blue and green, and while they were never intended to go together, they work. The hues in the room remind me of duck eggs, straw, and barns—a rustic, soothing color palette that could have come straight out of an issue of Martha Stewart Living. Above the dining room table, I notice a funky wire chandelier. “We bought that at the Brooklyn flea market directly from the artist,” says Vanessa. “It’s one of a kind, and I can’t remember his name. What will we do if it ever breaks?” she muses out loud. “We’ll have to figure out some way to find him.”

It’s clear that the Seder family’s surroundings grew organically. There are hand-me-downs (a mirror from Jon’s grandmother, a painting by Vanessa’s) and objects sourced from yard sales, flea markets, and the side of the road. Vanessa likes objects that have “a little stress on them.” She says, “It says to guests that they can use it. Everything should be comfortable in our house—comfortable and used.”

Although Vanessa says she could cook “anywhere” (a skill she learned from working in her tiny Brooklyn kitchen) she does hope someday to expand their kitchen and create a space where multiple people can work side by side. Right now, it’s a little too small for the chef to admit in collaborators. (She makes an exception for Katia, who loves to help out.) The next big project will be expanding this workspace by knocking down the exterior wall and taking out the back porch, which will allow the Seders to put in a big island with plenty of chairs, so that guests can hang out with Vanessa as she works. For now, the family mostly gathers in the dining room—or on the front porch.

“We consider the porch to be one of our rooms,” says Vanessa. “We eat there, we hang out there. We really don’t take it for granted, because we moved here from a condo with no yard—that makes you appreciate it even more.” Although she can’t pinpoint why, Vanessa says, she always wanted a blue porch, so they painted the floors a dark slate. Vintage iron outdoor furniture found at an estate sale sits around an old weathered coffee table. The porch is framed by a white railing with spiky slats that look as though they were cut using pinking shears. It’s an unusual touch, one that Vanessa wasn’t sure about at first. “But it’s grown on me,” she says. Whether they’ve grown into the home, or the home has grown on them, it’s not entirely clear. But either way they’ve found a place that reflects their creative family of three, inside and out.

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