Curating a Nostalgic State of Mind

Author of "Modern Americana," Max Humphrey, designs interiors with nostalgia in mind
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Max Humphrey believes mountain homes are meant to be and look lived in. His nostalgic designs include unexpected touches like objects found on family trips and furnishings that have developed some patina. | Photography by Christopher Dibble

Interior designer Max Humphrey calls mountain living “a state of mind,” saying, “Even though my actual house is on a flat cul-de-sac in suburban Portland, I live in the mountains in my head.” He adds, “A way to incorporate some modern Americana design elements into an actual mountain home is by bringing the outdoors in. Both literally with greenery and figuratively with botanical decorative references like floral prints, wallpapers and fauna-inspired designs.”

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Window seats, adorned with locally sourced pillows and textiles to boost pattern and texture, pay tribute to the charms of old homes, efficiently use space, exude coziness and direct attention to the great outdoors. | Photography by Christopher Dibble

Humphrey, who has a new book, “Modern Americana” (with Chase Reynolds Ewald and photographer Christopher Dibble), credits his distinctive, nostalgic sensibility to excursions to antique malls with his parents as a child. “If I was lucky, there would be a pinball machine in the lobby, because otherwise it was the last thing in the world I wanted to be doing on a Saturday in the summertime,” he says.

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The designer enjoys prompting fond memories with spaces reminiscent of summer-camp interiors. | Photography by Christopher Dibble

Today, Humphrey drags his own family to similar venues to find objects, furnishings and accessories that express his contemporary retro vision.

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A collection of bandannas in a variety of traditional American patterns is framed and grouped on a wall above a picnic bench to capture the homespun allure of simpler times. | Photography by Christopher Dibble

In his design, Humphrey honors local wildlife by using objects like “a vintage brass deer sculpture or little needlework pillow with a raccoon on it.” Sourcing materials and furnishings from local craftspeople likewise celebrates a home’s setting.

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The author scours antique malls for found objects like this mid-century sign that have stood the test of time and exude retro Americana with an eye toward durability. He gears design toward lifestyle to create the comfort and coziness that transforms mountain homes into inviting havens. | Photography by Christopher Dibble

Mountain-home design demands putting comfort first. “Homes in the mountains are meant to be lived in, so to me that means durable materials (unlacquered brass, leather and handmade tiles) that look even better once they develop some patina,” he says.

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Humphrey’s book features chapters that are especially helpful when designing homes in the mountains, such as “Wild West,” “Fireplaces,” “Plaid,” “Pendleton,” “Leather,” “Animals” and “Maps,” the latter used here to support a strong sense of time and place. | Photography by Christopher Dibble

Humphrey recommends referencing the natural world, from surrounding forests to “a blue jay hopping across my lawn,” to create an interior palette. His book includes chapters particularly relevant to mountain homes, such as “Leather,” “Maps,” “Fireplaces,” “Wild West,” “Summer Camp Vibes” and “Animals.”

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Uncovered windows offer wooded views and invite the outdoors in. Humphrey honors the essence of mountain living by working with local craftspeople when decorating. | Photography by Christopher Dibble

In the “Taxidermy” chapter, Humphrey describes turning to artist Chase Halland of Faraway Lovely in Idaho, “who makes the stag busts out of foam, covers them in Pendleton wool and then adds vintage and found antlers” to enhance the mountain-home vibe for a family with kids. “This is a modern way to use taxidermy and honor the deer as an animal,” the author writes.

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Animals play a big role in cultivating modern Americana. Paintings of horses and a brass sculpture capture images from Western ranches. | Photography by Christopher Dibble

Having recently released a handmade nostalgic window treatment collection with Hartmann & Forbes, Humphrey believes the best design evolves over time. “Interior design is not like it is on TV, where there’s a big reveal at the end with scented candles burning,” he writes. “Most of my projects take many months, some take many years, and the really good ones never actually end.”

Categories: Interior Designers