Artist Kelly Rae Roberts and her family reinvent a slower, more colorful life in Sisters.
Photography by Gallivan Photo
Kelly Rae Roberts got her first lesson in small-town living on Instagram. She had posted to the 38,000 followers of her commercial art business that her family was building a home in Sisters, Oregon, and were embarking on a bold, somewhat scary relocation project. Within minutes, one of those followers sent her an image from across the street of their new home, and continued to send photos until the family moved in and they became neighbors.
“The engagement level of the community is so easy,” Roberts said. “Everything is simpler here.”
Roberts is becoming something new in this next stage of her life: a master of the art of relocation. After 20 years of living in Portland and building a commercial art and education empire based on her brand of inspirational, folk-art-inspired art pieces, she and her husband, John, along with their son, True, wanted something else. Winters in Portland bummed them out. They wanted quick access to the outdoors, more space in their lives, less busy and more joy, and a house that lifted their mood all year long. They had been visiting Central Oregon for years and started looking in Bend before being drawn to Sisters. They suspected it was a place that might satisfy John’s desire to return to his roots as a small-town person. Seven years after starting this conversation, they finally took the leap.
“I wish it had come faster,” Roberts said. “Living here is like one big exhale.”
Finding a house that could serve as a container for Kelly’s eclectic, colorful, farmhouse-meets-Morocco style proved more of a challenge. In Sisters the family discovered that most of the houses on the market were lodge-style homes with heavy wood and stone. She was looking for light and airy, with shiplap and beadboard, maybe some wainscoting, all the elements of modern farmhouse style. Driving around with their realtor one day, they happened upon a neighborhood in Pine Meadow Village where a spec home was going up. The details and features were not yet set — they could shape it to their desires.
By then, this wasn’t the Roberts family’s first home-design rodeo. They had already renovated two older Craftsman homes in Portland. Roberts’ strong nesting impulse and a lifetime of building beauty into her spaces meant the choices flowed easily. For the move, they downsized by about 1,500 square feet, making conscious choices about what the new space could afford them. The priorities? Family time, art space, less visual clutter and interiors that would lift their spirits every day. Roberts set to work studying farmhouse style and pulled together her desired elements: all hardwoods, lots of custom woodwork, textured walls, that beloved shiplap, as many windows as possible and vaulted ceilings.
In the year since they moved in, their home has become a livable gallery for Roberts’ joyful, homespun style and her collections of other artists’ pieces. It works, in part, because of one bold choice. For all of the walls, she chose a single, barely blue-toned grey by Benjamin Moore called Stonington Gray, a favorite among decorators wanting artwork to pop against a cool neutral backdrop.
“We’re not afraid of yellow couches, colorful wallpaper and mismatched chairs,” Roberts said. “Colors are really the adjectives in a home.”
She created the spaces with her personal color palette, a cohesive yet unexpected pairing of coral, chartreuse, navy, soft sage greens and robin’s-egg blue.
“I’ve never been afraid of color,” Roberts said. “I didn’t even own a piece of black clothing until I was in my 40s.”
Some of the benefits of the move have been unpredictable. Roberts feared that she wouldn’t be able to find the community of women she had built around her in Portland, that Sisters might just be a retirement community, that her family might not fit in. But what she discovered was a place where people are passionate about their relationship to the outdoors, where many create bandwidth for the people that matter to them, and where women entrepreneurs are the norm, not the exception. Her desire for the slow life shows up every day, like in the way her neighbors head to their porches at 4 p.m. to sit and reflect.
“My system doesn’t seem on high alert anymore,” Roberts says. “There’s a sense of ease and rest, even when I’m working.”
Roberts has noticed just how her art is changing, too, in part because of her new relationships with craftspeople in town and Sisters’ reputation as a quilting sweet spot, home to Oregon’s largest quilting festival. The elements of traditional handicrafts — embroidery, quilting, knitting, all hallmarks of the slower life — are finding their way into her work. She also has her first fabric line coming this year.
“I’ve been wanting a fabric line for decades,” she said. “I moved here and it’s like it just happened for me.”