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Emily Henderson

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by Emily Henderson
Emily Henderson Portland Upstairs Hallway Secret Bookcase

Oh, how we’ve been itching to reveal this super fun space. WHAT’S BEHIND BOOKCASE DOOR NUMBER ONE? Any ideas? I mean, it could be ANYTHING, right? From a hoarder-like stash of Christmas nutcrackers to a master bedroom no child knows actually exists (is that the secret to sleeping in?). But before we spill the secret, let’s talk about this upstairs landing on the second floor of the Portland home.

Emily Henderson Portland Traditional Upstairs Hallway6

This second floor is a new addition to the Portland project. As a reminder (catch up fully on this house here), we reconfigured the floor plan, added the top story and shifted the stairs a bit so that all three floors (top, ground, basement level) would have a continuous staircase. We worked in conjunction with Base Modern to design the railings and banister (which we went into a little more in the entryway and stairway reveal), and the open metalwork work so well up here to bring in light from the ground floor as well as from the other rooms on the second floor (should the doors be open).

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While this could have been treated like an open loft-like landing, we decided to make it a LANDING, designing this custom built-in cabinet as a showpiece for beautiful things (art, books, decor items…and as you’re about to find out, the entrance to a super top secret room). Craig Cowing from Crestwood Inc. helped to execute the work (he also did the cabinetry in the kitchen). To work with the color palette throughout the home’s permanent fixtures, we decided on a slate-like blue by Sherwin-Williams called Grays Harbor and it’s the perfect saturated yet moody shade.

Emily Henderson Portland Traditional Upstairs Hallway19

We worked with Velux here (as we did throughout the home) to bring in some more natural light via skylights (at night that stunning organic yet modern Rejuvenation light—which is ENORMOUS and such a power piece up there—illuminates the area). Had the skylights not been installed, the only sunlight that could have potentially graced this space was dependent on the doors being open from the master bedroom and two guest rooms. That just wouldn’t do. This was an opportunity to flood in whatever light the dreary Portland skies would offer, so we had to think outside the window and Velux was a “light” saver here.

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Since we’re talking about light, I think it’s time to pivot and move into what’s behind that secret passageway through the bookcase because it also involves natural light…

Emily Henderson Portland Traditional Secret Room 11

THIS PLAYROOM. Well, really it could be anything, but considering it’s only about 5 feet 5 inches at its highest point, we thought it would make perfect sense to be a little “hideaway lair” for the littles in the family. However, how badly would you want to commandeer this for your grown self and turn it into a full-on read-until-you-fall-asleep nook? Honestly, this could have been a throw-away space for Christmas decor of year’s past, but instead, we had some fun. It was actually just rafter space over the living room. There’s a breaker box in here that need some access so why not turn it into real usable space?

Because this was essentially a niche under the roofline, we knew we needed to bring in light, otherwise it’d literally be a tiny cave, which sure, is cool, but frankly, this is cooler. As we did out in the stair landing, Velux came in and positioned a skylight to provide maximum light. At night, there are cans in the ceiling for when the sun goes down.

Emily Henderson Portland Traditional Secret Room 2

Aside from the lighting, because it’s a really tight space (literally, the ceiling drops to about 2’5″ at the lowest point), it was important to make sure this secret room was comfortable. I mean, let’s get real…wall-to-wall carpeting, though not super desirable, is AMAZING. Picture yourself as a child…wouldn’t you want to be smooshing your tiny toes into plush carpeting? Roll around uninhibited? Think about what you’d want as a kid…then do that.

Emily Henderson Portland Traditional Secret Room 3

Let’s take a second to admire this insanely chic play kitchen by Milton & Goose. Play kitchens absolutely DID NOT look like this in the ’80s…right? The adults might have to duck and kneel to watch the cooking show or come over for plastic pancakes, but I think it’s well worth the spatial sacrifice.

Emily Henderson Portland Traditional Upstairs Hallway11

Okay, coming back to the cabinet to talk art, because we had the pleasure of working with so many unbelievable artists and artisans for the staging of the whole Portland project. The vessels (the knobby white concrete vase and the tiered wood bowl atop the books) were loaned to us—the vase from by The Good Mod and the bowl from Mantel, both local Portland stores, which, if you’re in the area or traveling there, you would be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t stop in. Both stores have GOOD stuff, folks.

The little blue geometric piece is by Jessica Poundstone, available through Chairish, the threaded work of the bridge (the detail in person is insane) is by Amy L. Frazer, and the small collage piece is by MaryAnn Puls.

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On the opposite side of the cabinet is this really pretty vignette graced by the Annie Selke runner and that sweet wood stool via The Good Mod (designed by Spencer Staley). More local artist work dot the cabinet and boy do we love all these pieces. The large abstract with the colored organic shapes is by Mia Farrington (you might remember her work from the rumpus room we revealed last month), the embroidered mountain piece is by Annie O’Dorisio, the landscape by Von Stead Art on Etsy, the mixed media wood-like piece by MaryAnn Puls, and the botanical artwork by Kelsi Cross Studios. It’s a mix of price points (i.e. that wildflower is $28 while some of the other pieces are a bit pricier), but art doesn’t have to be all “collectors” pieces. As long as it strikes you, it could cost $1 or $100,000…

Emily Henderson Portland Traditional Upstairs Hallway2

Lastly, the wood figure set (from McLauchlan Made) and the geometric sculpture by Aleph Geddis (which we borrowed from The Good Mod), bring in the warm tones of the Mangrove Ventura planks from Hallmark Floors. It’s important to balance cooler tones (like the blue of the cabinet and art) to get a well-rounded, welcoming look.

Emily Henderson Portland Traditional Upstairs Hallway3

And there you have it! Below is the Get the Look with all the shopping resources, but let us know if you have any questions! Pop into the comments and let us know what you think!

Emily Henderson Portland Project Stair Landing Secret Room Get The Look1

1. St John’s Bridge Thread Painting by Amy L. Frazer | 2. Small Abstract by MaryAnn Puls | 3. Kinetic Lines 4 in Navy Blue Print by Jessica Poundstone | 4. Untitled by Mia Farrington | 5. Tim Lamp Pendant by Rejuvenation | 6. Wildflowers by Kelsi Cross | 7. Small Abstract by MaryAnn Puls | 8. Nature Painting by Von Stead Art | 9. Cabinet Maker | 10. Ball and Rod Sculpture by Spencer Staley via The Good Mod | 11. Cabinet Knob by Rejuvenation | 12. Vase | 13. Expand by Annie O’Dorisio (similar) | 14. Wood Sculpture by Aleph Geddis via The Good Mod | 15. Large Vase (similar, original via City Home) | 16. Small Sculpture Set by Elise McLauchlan via Mantel | 17. Runner by Annie Selke | 18. Wooden Bowl by Elise McLauchlan via Mantel | 19. Painting by Whitney Jordan | 20. Play Kitchen by Milton and Goose | 21. Table Lamp | 22. Wood Side Table | 23. Wood Stool by Spencer Staley via The Good Mod | 24. Bean Bag | 25. Soccer Ball | 26. Red and Blue Basketball  | 27. Storage Bin | 28. Sherling Rug | 29. Octopus Throw Pillow | 30. Alligator Knit Throw Pillow | 31. Striped Pouf by City Home | 32. Guitar | 33. Dot Pillow by City Home | 34. White Pillow (similar) | 35. Tebby Bear (similar) | 36. Cat Throw Pillow | 37. Deer Knit Plush | 38. Wood Train Set (similar) | 39. Skylight by Velux | 40. Wood Flooring by Hallmark Floors | 41. Oyster White by Sherwin-Williams | 42. Pure White by Sherwin-Williams | 43. Grays Harbor by Sherwin-Williams | 44. Baseboard by Metrie

  1. Hi! This space is so cute and innovative.
    I would love to see a post on how the Portland house sold/working around your shooting and what furniture/decor new owners kept. Did they decide to use the rooms as you intended? How much stuff had to go back? What was that process like? Did they bring in their own style?

    1. I’d like that too! And your thinking on doing another flip house.

    2. I totally agree. It would be amazing even as a video tour and interview with the new owners to see what they kept, changed, and why! DO IT!!!

    3. the owner of a design agency here in Portland bought it and it looks like they kept a ton of the stuff! i feel weird sharing the insta handle though…like it’s an invasion of privacy. LOL. But, it’s SUPER lovely and loved 🙂

      1. if its public, then im sure its open? I’d love to see!

    4. This would be great if the new owners are into it 🙂

    5. awesome idea! I would be SOOOO curious!

  2. Great spaces! Loved all the special art and how you displayed it!

  3. I bet your rock guy & painter were happy with you when you showed them this room! 🙂 The hand-blown glass pendant is stunning! The sunlight is everything up here.

  4. AAAAHHHH That playroom is EVERYTHING! Such a cute idea, and the whole landing is stunning. Thanks for sharing such a pretty space with us!

  5. This is the most beautiful landing I’ve ever seen!

    1. Ah, thank you 🙂

  6. I’ve been waiting to find out more about this space! It’s a great use of space and incredibly clever. I am thrilled to see the action in the photo showing the bookcase movement. Any chance of getting more detail about the “how”? I’d love to know about the weight, hinges, etc.

    1. Looks great! Absolutely, yes that next step of HOW information would be great. Specifically what hinges. Thanks

      1. Ditto, need the HOW! Too fantastic not to copy.
        Thank you!

    2. The design team used a great cabinet maker who had an expertise, so that always helps, but there are casters built into the cabinet (that you can’t see) for ease of opening without damaging the floors. I believe that part of the cabinet also has 1/4″ clearance, so it doesn’t sit EXACTLY on the floor.

  7. The playroom is the cutest! Do you have a video tour of the Portland house? Would love to see that, but I couldn’t find one.

  8. I want to be a kid again!! My sisters & I would have loved this room growing up. My mother not so much. I envision her covering everything in plastic (carpet included) so we couldn’t make a mess of everything.

    1. Sigh! 🤦

    2. HA! Same (likely).

  9. Wait so did you say what was behind/inside the cabinet door shown swinging open? Or when you said you’d come back to that and later spoke about all of the pieces, is that what you were referring to? And there’s not a secret compartment?

    1. The playroom was behind there. 🙂

      1. Yup! Secret playroom!

  10. Adorable idea to use that space for a playroom! Stupid question maybe but just wanted to ask, is the room is fully hooked up to HVAC (particularly ventilation)?

    1. I second this question! Is there any ventilation?

    2. Yes there is a vent in there!

  11. I have a lot of questions 🙋🏻‍♀️ Is that the only way to access the room? How do you get a vacuum in there?? I’m envisioning crawling through when my child won’t come out 😂

    1. Haha. Same! As a kid that would have been amazing. As a mom I have so many practical questions. Like whether the kid can accidentally lock themselves in there or how to crawl in and vey them out.m when they don’t want to come out. Ha.

    2. Yup only way to access. Zero idea about the vacuum to be honest. HAHA it probably needs a handheld or something that manuevers easily?

    3. Exact same. I was picturing my 3-year-old spilling some snack in there and then having to vacuum on my knees? And also my mom brain was definitely concerned about my kid getting locked in! But considering Emily is a mom of littles I’m sure she thought through that!

  12. I realize this doesn’t have broad applicability, but I’d love your tips for styling a moving bookshelf. We have a secret passageway behind a bookshelf (Basically why we bought the house — it leads to a game room! How could we not?!), but it leads to a heavily used hallway and things fall off all the time. I’ve all but given up and left it empty, which sort of kills the appeal.

    1. Could you affix some books and photo frames so it looks like a styled bookshelf, but they can’t move around when you use the door? I’m thinking you may be able to do it with Command strips…

    2. Have you tried the goo that museums used to affix things?

    3. Have you tried museum/earthquake putty? You can get it on amazon. It’s like blue tack that you hang posters with, but way stronger. You can get things off just takes a little more oomph. I believe in the picture on the package it has a bunch of glass vases on a tray being tipped at 45 degrees and not falling! I totally should have been using it on my shelves when I lived in LA (instead paid a hefty repair fee for a gouge in the wood floor from something falling) but in fact used it to secure kids wooden train tracks to a train table! All worthy causes.

    4. I was going to suggest Stick Um candle adhesive – it’s made to keep taper candles upright in candle sticks, but I’ve used it for lots of other purposes. Sounds like the earthquake putty would be more of a strong hold, but I guess it depends on what you’re looking for. And it’s a fairly clear putty, unlike the blue earthquake putty, so it may not be as visible.

  13. Oh my gosh while my inner child LOVES that space my inner adult who has terrible claustrophobia couldn’t even bear to look at those pics longer than a split second. Love the bookshelves, that blue is a dream.

    1. Yup. Just when I thought “maybe I’m not so claustrophobic anymore!” I look at that room and wonder “but is there any air? !?!” because apparently I am. still.
      Such a gorgeous bookshelf. And beautiful styling.

    2. SAME! I am still having shortness of breath 4 minutes after looking at the photos 😂

  14. Could you please confirm the width of the shaker trim on the cabinet doors? I am having custom cabinets built and looking to do the same exact doors. Thx!

    1. Just checked in with Julie from the design team, and she says they are 2 1/4″. Hope that helps!

  15. these portland updates are the absolute best! did you do oyster white in the whole house (except for rooms that are not white)?

    1. The interior of the play room is Simply White by Sherwin-Williams (though the walls and ceiling of the staircase landing are Oyster White) .

  16. I spy “branch by Brady”. So much beautiful art on this landing. The skylights are brilliant!

    1. HA yup. His calling card.

  17. Super cute, super clever. Those skylights are amazing.

    Please tell me you got a video of someone vacuuming the cubby though.

  18. Love this hideaway. Also love how you used local artists. Their pieces are spectacular.

  19. Curious about the logistics here:
    – What kind of hinge

    – How do you keep the base of the bookcase from scratching the floor when it’s sliding across it

    – Is there an HVAC vent in there? (Thinking if the bookcase is closed, is it freezing in the winter and an oven in the summer?)

    – Can you open the skylight?

    – Is there an electrical outlet inside?

    1. Hi! I touched base with the design team and have some answers for you!

      Hinge: We’re not 100% sure, as this was sourced by the cabinet maker (we don’t recommend attempting a DIY on this…work with a professional if you can!), but likely something more industrial (possible a piano hinge).

      The bookcase swinging door has built-in casters and has a 1/4″ clearance to prevent scratching.

      Yup, HVAC vent!

      Yes the skylight opens! It’s Velux’s “Fresh Air” light (linked above).

      There are a few outlets up there.

      Let us know if you have any more questions!

  20. I love EVERYTHING about this project except the comment about how wall to wall carpeting isn’t desirable. C’mon, it’s less expensive than hardwood, fun for children, good for sound (for those people who live in condos especially) and is standard in so many homes. It would be great if you talked more about wall to wall carpeting options and ideas, especially for bedrooms!

    1. Oh trust us, we love wall-to-wall. It’s just commentary on how the industry as a whole makes it “undesirable.” Emily had some wall-to-wall ideas coming soon because she did some in the mountain house and had some amazing ideas for making it even better.

  21. Such a boring question, but inspired by that runner: what are your go-to non-skid rug pads for thin rugs/runners like that. We have a long hallway and have given up on having a runner there. Likewise, constantly adjusting and straightening our kitchen rugs is a drag as our non-skid rug pads are anything but.

    1. I bought one from the Citizenry and it has been working great!

  22. This is random, but something I’d LOVE your advice on is finding books to stack like this on shelves. Do you thrift them or find them from vintage stores? Do you go to a certain section of a bookstore and look for big books that look good together when stacked? I love the look of this, but when I try replicating it I feel like I either need to buy a million books I won’t read or that my current books look too small for this kind of decor.

    I LOVE what you guys do! <3

    1. Love this idea for a blog post! I am adding to our list xx

  23. I love it! Would only be worried if it would be possible for someone to become trapped in there (earthquake blocks the landing where the shelf opens, or small child not able to push open). I’m sure you’ve addressed that! I hope.

    My grandkids have a secret room under the basement stairs and they love it. Even better with a skylight and all the beautiful things!

  24. I love this space, but what is wowing me more is the gorgeous staircase and railing. I would love to see/know more information on such a showstopping set of stairs. Just beautiful! 😍😍

  25. I love the landing and that light fixture is amazing but all I could think was how ridiculously hard it would be to change the lightbulb. Especially after seeing the video of how hard it was to install!

  26. While this idea is fun and creative and magical, to be honest I would have a ton of concerns as a parent about any “hideaway space” in my home that only had one entrance/exit and that I didn’t have easy access to visually and via audio. But I’m sure all those concerns could be addressed in someway.

  27. The secret playroom is super cool! However, I do wonder how that carpet is going to get vacuumed…..

  28. Amazing! Also, being the catastrophizer that I am, I love the it could also double as a secret panic room. 😛

    1. Trust that I’ve also thought that. HA! I was lucky enough to have been sent to Belgium for a work trip many years ago, and we visited this INSANE estate of an antiques dealer, and he had a secret room behind a wall-to-ceiling bookcase that was mostly just for fun, but turned out to be a safe room one day after a break in. SO SCARY but also…genius.

  29. I bet that little room is hot AF in the summer.

    1. HA! There’s AC, the window has a shade on it (and opens), so it should be fine!

  30. I don’t want to sound like a negative nancy here, but I feel like you just gave away an important security feature of this house…. if I had a spot like that I would want to keep it under wraps as a place to hide valuables if you are going away, or for a place for kids to hide if an intruder were to enter, etc. I doubt that many home invaders or criminals actually read this blog, but now it’s out there…. other than that, it is absolutely genius. Beautifully executed and FUN!!! I love this house and everything you did in it.

  31. The landing is stunning with the Grays Harbor color and beautiful wood floor. Love your out of the box thinking on the kids playroom! I was surprised that the cabinet moved…I was expecting the kids to climb through the cabinet doors.

  32. First of all, this space makes me feel like I want to be a fearless child again and not an 38 year old grown a** woman, with claustrophobia, anxiety and panic attacks, affraid of… well, spaces 😂 I mean, how does that happen to us?!
    Second of all, is it just me, but did you actually show in this post where is the secret entrance? I would love to see doors leading to this lovely room, and where and how does this cabinetry open.
    Thank you

  33. Love all of it! The bookcase, the light fixture and, especially, the secret playroom! What kid wouldn’t love that?!

  34. Even the pics of this space gives me crazy claustrophobia – but you are soo soo talented! Love the color and styling of bookcase!

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