Creative class: DIY design


Dozens of clear containers filled with colorful legumes, textured grains and shaped pastas form an intriguing display in the kitchen.

“It’s my bento-box mentality,” says Christopher Giovarelli.

His entire loft in Northwest Portland, like a traditional Japanese lunch box, is precisely arranged to present the everyday in extraordinary ways. Old book pages work as wallpaper. A battered door serves as a breakfast bar. A cluster of light bulbs hanging on wires forms a casual chandelier. Even his big-box purchases have been personalized in some way for a unique look.

Giovarelli, a marketing professional with a funeral-services insurance company, has an eye for decorating on a dime. He’s created a distinct sense of home in his Pearl District rental using an imaginative mix of budget contemporary furniture and reclaimed and reworked vintage pieces. Fearless when it comes to home improvement projects, he has tackled painting, paneling and papering but leaves wiring to trained electricians after an unfortunate first attempt.

“Sparks came out of the wall,” he says.

Built for commercial use, the ground-floor space is a windowless rectangle except for a storefront wall of glass facing a fairly busy street. (The panes are partially frosted for privacy.) The main floor serves as Giovarelli’s living room, dining room and kitchen. Open stairs lead up to a loft, where he’s carved out a bedroom and second small sitting area.

2012AugSept CreativeClass 01 2012AugSept CreativeClass 02 2012AugSept CreativeClass 03

It takes a creative eye to gracefully mix traditional, contemporary and mid-century furniture in a commercial space and make it feel like home. Giovarelli likes the juxtaposition of vintage wingback chairs and modern white Ikea sofa, sleek glass dining table and reclaimed-wood paneling, and hair-on-hide rug atop zebra stripe atop a bare concrete floor.

Christopher Giovarelli scored a vintage velvet chair at a secondhand shop and made an end table from a broken hi-fi.

Artfully arranged food suits his “bento-box mentality.”

// Photos by John Valls

Click on any image to view larger


He accomplished a lot with paint and imagination. The backsplash in the kitchen, for example, only appears to be handset mosaic tile. The bathroom walls are bright orange with the poem Tonight I Can Write by poet Pablo Neruda written in freehand with black paint, the words drifting up and down in places like the notes of a confused melody. He likes the poem.

“But honestly, I was looking for something long,” he says. “I had a lot of wall to cover.”

He made a unique side table by attaching inexpensive legs from Ikea to an old record player, and he used longer legs to raise a WWII trunk — “$5 at a garage sale” — to serve as an entryway table. The neon-orange garage sale sticker remains. He also created a unique buffet by affixing an inexpensive Ikea white box atop a rough wood table.

“I like the juxtaposition of the clean, shiny surface with the worn,” he says.

An open railing left the upstairs visible from the ground floor. Giovarelli created a small retreat by placing inexpensive white bookshelves a few feet back from the top of the stairs to delineate a landing and, behind the shelves, what he calls “the hunt club” with a deep red wall, big couch and cardboard deer-head trophy.

“The loose inspiration was of an old men’s lounge,” he says, “funky but masculine.”

2012AugSept CreativeClass 10 2012AugSept CreativeClass 06 2012AugSept CreativeClass 08

Tonight I Can Write by poet Pablo Neruda is hand-painted on the bathroom walls.

Ikea legs added to a WWII trunk make a unique table; an orange $5 garage-sale sticker price remains. Guests can pore over wallpaper of English sonnets and a Sherlock Holmes mystery.

An extra-tall handmade headboard and bookshelves placed at the top of the stairs and paneled on the back help create privacy in the open space.

Photos by John Valls

Click on any image to view larger


An elaborate black-and-white illustrated banner from an Alberta Street event makes for an interesting coffee table top protected by a sheet of glass.

Instead of hiding his bed behind more bookshelves, he placed the back of a very tall headboard against the open rails. He made the headboard by upholstering it with white vinyl, using washers and screws to create button-like divots. A coat of white paint and new modern pulls helped coordinate two garage-sale nightstands with the bed.

Giovarelli isn’t afraid to rework old pieces to give them new life, or to rework new pieces to imbue an old spirit. He doesn’t snub the big-box stores and isn’t above a little selective dumpster diving. All those colorful bottles displayed on shelves in his hunt club?

“I went to the recycle bin the morning after New Year’s Eve,” he says.

2012AugSept CreativeClass 04 2012AugSept CreativeClass 07 2012AugSept CreativeClass 05

An old door topped with glass serves as prep space near the painted-tile wall.

Rough wood floorboards from the ReBuilding Center warm up one wall and contrast with the modern sideboard, glass table and vintage Danish chairs.

Layers of area rugs warm concrete floors. One wall, upstairs and down, is covered with book pages glued to huge pieces of butcher-block paper.

Photos by John Valls

Click on any image to view larger


Secrets of a DIY guy

2012AugSept CreativeClass SB03

  • On First Thursdays, Christopher Giovarelli hangs the work of his artist friends, opens the door and throws a party. When not a pop-up gallery, his place still looks like one. Framed black-and-white prints on a green wall are actually just pages cut from a photography book by Jeff Dunas. He block-printed the artist’s titles in the margins to create the illusion of limited-edition prints but stopped short of forging a signature.
  • The wallpaper along the stairs consists of pages of text taken from a book of English sonnets and a Sherlock Holmes mystery. “I chose them because they were similar size,” he admits. He carefully unbound the books to maintain the pages. He used glue to attach the pages to butcher-block paper and hung the paper to avoid leaving lots of glue marks on the wall. He originally thought he would run the paper up to the ceiling but ended up liking the stairstep look.
  • He created the illusion of handset tile in the kitchen with paint. The wall was first painted a grayish putty color. Using a sharp scissors, he cut horizontal and vertical grooves about one inch apart in a rectangular sponge, then stamped the wall with white paint. He later went back with a tiny paintbrush and randomly filled in some of those one-inch squares with color. From a distance, it looks like tiles. Up close, the hand-painted look is equally interesting.
  • An old door from the ReBuilding Center in Portland, cleaned up, covered with glass and attached to legs, helps define the kitchen area. It provides addional prep space and room for friends to gather.
  • Giovarelli purchased an old green buffet that didn’t have a top for a bargain price from a secondhand store in Portland. He painted it white and created a plywood top that he covered with reclaimed hardwood flooring. It offers storage and surface space.