Designer SpotlightOct 28, 2019

Designer Spotlight: Jessica Helgerson

Written by All Sorts Of

We’ve long been fans of Jessica Helgerson for, well, about forever. Her designs transport you into our personal version of heaven and she takes a unique approach that is different every time, but you still know it’s a JHID creation. Everything she touches is timeless, beautiful and we’re constantly inspired. Her work is inspired by the natural elements that surround her, and from her time living in Santa Barbara, Italy, France and the Pacific Northwest, which we see clearly reflected through the textures, materials, and colors of her work.

We were lucky enough to have a real and candid conversation with Jessica about the ins and outs of the design industry –everything from the challenges, the shocking moments, the misconceptions, and how to get started if you’re feeling a bit stuck. If you don’t already follow Jessica Helgerson on IG, do yourself a favor and hit that follow button for some serious, serious inspo. Alright now, take a seat, and scroll on down!

a conversation with jessica…

Tell us about the JHID journey. How did you get started and how did you get here?

I started out in Santa Barbara, where I grew up. I was a rebellious punk rock teen and dropped out of high school in my junior year. I pretty quickly realized I was going to need to turn things around if I wanted to move my life forward, so I picked up with city college and graduated from UCLA with an English major. After college, I lived in Italy for a year where I learned Italian, cocktail waitressed, taught English, and tried to figure out what to do with my life.

When the Italy year was up, I moved back to Santa Barbara where, on a whim, I went to an informational evening at the public library, presenting the UCSB Extension Interior Design program. I thought — wow, that’s everything I love! I should try it…

The rest is (sort of) history. I did love it. I worked for a few years at an architecture firm in Santa Barbara, but I didn’t agree with their approach to running a business and my HEART was totally in a non-profit I was on the board of, called The Sustainability Project. We were a group of architects, builders, landscape architects, all working for a greener built environment. I finally got to a point where I HAD to do my own thing, I really wanted my own values to guide my professional life, so I started JHID. That was twenty years ago. A year or so into business ownership, I met my husband, Yianni Doulis, an architect from Portland, Oregon. He eventually convinced me to move here with him, and I’ve been in Portland, running JHID part two, for fifteen years. Over those years it has grown to an office of ten. We have a ton of talent in the office — JHID is now much more than JH! :)


When you were first getting started, what were some of the biggest hurdles you had to overcome?

I think the trickiest thing for me is, and has been, the running of a business.  I started JHID because I love designing, not because I love business.  I’ve learned how to manage people, look at spreadsheets, understand “the bottom line”  but it’s not where my heart is.  I’m in the process of trying to figure out how to get back to doing more of what I love (and am much better at!)

What advice would you give to someone who wants to get started, but doesn’t know where to begin?

It’s a very broad and undefined profession, that ranges all the way from people who specialize in window coverings, pillows, and final touches, to furniture designers, to people who are essentially interior architects and who product big sets of drawings. Our office is very much in the latter camp. I personally feel like it really isn’t possible to design without shaping the space and drawing all the parts and pieces that go into creating it. I feel like the skeleton needs to be well designed before the skin can go on. That said, there are awesome designers, whom I really admire, who are much more on the decorating end of things and make magic with all the finishes and furniture alone.


Which will make you the most happy? Where do you think your strengths will lie? Follow that path! And keep checking in with yourself. Do you like what you’re doing? What do you struggle with? Where do you find ease? Do what you like and what you’re good at.


What’s something about the interior design business that shocked you the most, that you wish you knew before you got started?

Hmmm.  I’m often shocked by the mis-conceptions people come to us with, with regard to timelines, process, budget.  I feel like HGTV (which I’ve never actually seen) has done a real dis-service to our profession, with designers being awesome and eager with $500 budgets, transforming houses over a weekend, paintbrush in hand.  Um.  NO.  Not how it works!  At least I haven’t figured out how to do it that way.

Have you always been based in Portland, Oregon? What inspires you about the PNW?

I mentioned growing up in Santa Barbara earlier; I think the same thing I love about the Pacific Northwest I also loved about Santa Barbara and that is the natural environment. I grew up hiking in the chaparral, laying on the beach and swimming in the Southern California Pacific Ocean, which is very different from the Oregon Pacific Ocean where we go crabbing, tide-pooling, and exploring — but no sunbathing and not much swimming either! When I was little, I used to cut out photos of moss and ferns from National Geographic and they lined the walls of my room, so I think I was always meant to be here — I have always craved the lush green. I’m much more of a snail than a lizard.


I should also mention that my mom is French and that more than a quarter of my life has been spent there. What I love about France; nature, yes, but even more so all the stone buildings, the little villages, the beautiful churches, the city architecture. I love how old the buildings are, how settled into the landscape. I miss that here, where so many buildings are so new, and often no so beautiful!

What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in building your brand into the successful one that it is today? What’s next for JHID?

Well, it’s nice to hear you say that!!   I guess I’m not really one to rest on my laurels, nor do I really see JHID as a “successful brand.”  I do have plans though, which feels good!
In the last year I’ve gotten clearer on what I’d like the next decade to look like, and I finally think I can see growth as a good thing.  We’ve spent SO much time designing tons and tons of custom things – light fixtures, furniture, house parts, tiles.   For a long time it was a point of pride that we were continually “designing from scratch”  but on the other hand we were also constantly in the prototyping phase, and as soon as we figured something out we’d just move on.  I finally think I’m ready to do something with all of that, whether it is manufacturing ourselves or licensing is still to be determined.
I also think we are ready to take on larger commercial projects particularly boutique hotels, and I’d also love to expand into the international market.  At this point we are definitely national, only about 10% of our work is in Portland, but I’d love to work in other countries too!  Diversity in project type and location really keeps us interested in what we’re doing, as the years go by.  
I only recently wrote all of this down, and just last week we got a contract for a project in Montreal and an inquiry to do a lighting line, so I think the stars are aligning :)

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received, either professionally or personally?

When I was pregnant with my son, our next door neighbor in Santa Barbara said;  “You’ve been given a seed.  It may be a poppy seed, it might be an oak seed, it might a cabbage seed.  Don’t try to make the poppy an oak, don’t try to make the cabbage a poppy, just prepare the earth, water, and take good care of it. . . let it grow into the best poppy, oak, or cabbage it can be.”  
That has been such a guiding mantra in my parenting but also professionally.  Each project we work on we try to really listen to. . . what does THAT house or building want?  What makes it itself, and how can we celebrate that?  The mantra also goes for managing the designers and staff in my office. I try to lead from behind, support their strengths, find solutions where they’re not so strong, celebrate what they are and not try to force them to be what they’re not.

What are five things you can’t live without right now?

  1. My sweet husband Yianni who has been bringing me my coffee in bed, every morning, for two decades now, and my teenagers Max and Penelope who are thoughtful and wise beyond their years. Home feels good.
  2. Our two new crazy & cute kittens, Charles and Clementine, who provide ENDLESS entertainment.
  3. Space planning!!  It’s my greatest talent in life except dishwashing which I’m also VERY good at and enjoy almost as much.
  4. My cashmere jumpsuit, which is pretty terribly unflattering and I only wear at home, but soooooooo cozy!!
  5. Kombucha!!  The way to my heart?  Buy me a kombucha :)


  • This was such a good read. Have been following Jessica for a while now. Love everything they do. I particularly have to give credit for the well thought out questions. Have you guys thought of having these interviews in video? A mini video that would have some behind the scenes with Designers, I think it might be wonderful to take a peek into their process and thoughts.

    Nevertheless I love reading all your Designer spotlight. Thanks

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