Design with a Mission

For Emilia Décor, the purpose of interior design is to improve lives.

Emilia Callero was working for the Hacienda Community Development Corporation when she got a chance that would change her life. In the run-up to the nonprofit’s launch of the Portland Mercado, an affordable retail environment and small-business hub located at Southeast 72nd and Foster, Callero got to lend her aesthetic voice to final design decisions.

“I wanted to bring in the essence of open-air markets in Latin America,” Callero says. The colors, the smells, the mix of vendors—“I wanted to create a beautiful assault on the senses.”

Callero had always loved rich textiles and thoughtful design. Nearly 20 years ago, she studied textile artists in Mexico and began incorporating indigenous textiles into personal interior design projects, including her own home. But her experience at the Mercado inspired her to step away from nonprofit management and launch her interior design company, Emilia Décor, in 2016.

“Coming from a different industry has been very helpful,” Callero says. “It took me a while to realize the similarities to working in the nonprofit world, but it really is about managing projects with a mission in mind, just using that in an artistic field.”

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Callero’s approach involves looking at a family and thinking about how to make their life better, and then managing a project for the best outcome. Emilia Décor’s recent kitchen renovation in S Portland shows how this can work, with subtle changes having a major impact on how the homeowner feels in his new space and makes use of it.

When the client first approached Callero, he told her he wanted to do something special as a 50th birthday present to himself. Though he’d lived in his home for two decades, he had never completed any intentional design projects. Instead, he’d adapted his lifestyle to accommodate the home’s quirks.

“He wanted to enter the next phase of his life in a more refined way and to feel like he had a home that he deserved,” says Callero. “We all deserve to live in a place we love and that feels like us.”

To help find out just what that meant, Callero asked questions about how he wanted to use the space and to find out what kind of style he gravitated toward.

“At first, he said he didn’t think he had a style or didn’t know what it was, but I quickly realized he was leaning toward this modern yet warm look,” says Callero. “Sometimes people don’t realize they have patterns until someone else points it out.”

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Emilia Callero, owner of Emilia Décor

Taking these cues as a starting point, Callero set to modernize the kitchen and make it more efficient. She kept the same footprint, save for a small closet that was removed to provide some extra counter space, and worked to visually open up the space. She removed the upper cabinets flanking the sink and replaced them with one bank of open shelving. The stove was moved to a more functional spot, and a counter-depth refrigerator opened up the space even more.

The subdued, earthy color palette was inspired by the client’s love of the outdoors. “I felt like that was a very important piece of his life that I wanted to represent in the design,” says Callero.

Handmade dark-green terra-cotta tiles lend an organic note and a focal point, while light-oak cabinets and hardwood flooring give off a Pacific Northwest vibe. Crisp white quartz countertops and backsplash create a seamless look that keeps the space light and bright. Callero used flat-black finishes on the cabinet hardware and light fixtures, which feature brass accents for warmth and visual interest.

“I’m in the lifestyle business,” Callero says. “People come first, then the design. I want to know how I can improve my client’s quality of life.”

Since the renovation, Callero says her client has been cooking more, entertaining friends, and feels much more relaxed and calm in his new space. Mission accomplished.

For more info, visit: EmiliaDecor.com