Women in design: Jessica Helgerson

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Portrait of Jessica Helgerson. Parker Fitzgerald Photo.

“I TELL OUR CLIENTS WE VALUE WHAT the house has to say. I think the people who come to us respond well to that—they want what’s best for the house,” says Jessica Helgerson, the founder of the Portland, Oregon–based interior design firm that bears her name.

With a background in sustainable building, Helgerson specializes in updating older homes in a variety of styles—mid-century modern, Tudor, Victorian—with long-lasting materials and period-appropriate built-ins. “I don’t think the work we do gets ripped out a year later,” she says. “With the decorating part of the design– furniture, lighting, accessories—we can be more experimental, playful, more modern.” The firm’s interiors are crisp and uncluttered and yet they appear welcoming and lived-in.

Helgerson appreciates the culture of Portland and the city’s built fabric. The budgets for projects might not be as high as in larger markets, but her clientele is younger and seeks her out for her “slow design” ethos (similar to the city’s slow food culture). Recently, more commercial clients have come calling, and the firm has completed restaurants, retail projects, a yoga studio, and the public areas of a boutique hotel.

The living room of a house in East Hampton, NY, 2017. Matthew Williams Photo.

Her design team happens to be all women. “It’s a happy accident. I’d love to hire male designers, but interior design tends to be very female-dominated,” she says. Together they have created a collaborative and inclusive work culture. She and her staff prepare and eat lunch together every day. “I’m not the kind of designer that gets photographed in ball gowns and has an invisible team behind her,” she says. She credits her team on projects and makes it clear that she is not the sole author of every design idea.

Beyond the firm’s design work, they also operate a storefront gallery out of the studio, called Front Of House, with site-specific installations by a single artist. Helgerson and a couple of friends have also started a textile importing business, Collectivo, that supports women artisans in Oaxaca, Mexico. “We think art and craft are a powerful way to bring us closer together and counter some of the divisive rhetoric that’s been out there in recent years,” she says. For Helgerson, art, design, and craft unite to enhance the experience of everyday life.