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It’s a little guessing game Stanna Rysdam likes to play with people who visit her one-of-a-kind home just outside town. It’s a fun game at that. Though the refrigerator stands against the wall in plain sight, it is indeed hard to find.
A recent guest playing the game cocked his head, listened for a tell-tale refrigerator hum, and thought he heard one. Hesitantly, he reached for the latch on what appeared to be a cabinet made of old barn wood.
“That’s it!” Rysdam said with a laugh. She grabbed the latch herself, swung the door open to reveal the well-lighted interior of her thoroughly modern food storage appliance.
“The wood is glued on,” she said. “My husband thought I was crazy to do a thing like that to a perfectly good refrigerator, but he likes it now.”
The refrigerator is hard not to like, because it shows off Rysdam’s unique talent to its best effect. She knows how to make the new look old, the old look new and the ordinary look extraordinary. By now, she has it down to an art.
For 28 years, she’s been dragging things home from yard sales, estate sales, antique stores, auctions and flea markets, making them over and finding places for them in her own little corner of the world.
China, glassware, pots, pans, furniture, little bits of architecture from old houses and barns, toys, quilts, picture frames with paintings inside and picture frames with no pictures at all, bric-a-brac, whimsy of all descriptions — the Rysdams’ rustic log home is fairly stuffed to the rafters with all this and much more.
Another person might try the same thing and wind up with a house that looks like a junk heap. But here, every single piece, whether it sits on the floor, atop a cupboard, in a cabinet with glass doors or high up on a shelf, seems to fit.
It works so well, so perfectly, that a national magazine recently sent a photographer all the way to Elgin to do a spread. Soon, through the pages of New York-based “Flea Market Decorating,” Rysdam and her home will be known across the land.
“Some magazines are for people who can afford to hire a designer. This one is aimed at people who want to do it themselves and save money,” the photographer, Philip Clayton-Thompson, said during a break in shooting last week.
Rysdam and her husband, Jerry, bought the log home along Highway 82 about 15 years ago.
It was a fairly plain abode on an unadorned piece of property, but it had potential. There was even a second house to play with, a small one out back that had sat vacant for years.
setting up the shot: Photographer Philip Clayton-Thompson prepares to shoot a bedroom in the Rysdam bunkhouse. - Photos/Bill Rautenstrauch
Rysdam had plenty of good ideas for landscaping, building additions and improvements, and interior design. She and her family got to work.
Outside, they built a barn, a shop, and a riding arena. An old buckboard was placed in the front yard, barrels and water troughs were pressed into service as planters for the flowers Rysdam loves to grow.
The house out back was gradually remodeled, transformed into a tastefully furnished bunkhouse.
And little by little, the main house became the embodiment of Stanna Rysdam’s dreams, a Better Homes and Garden-quality living space furnished almost completely with second hand or antique items.
“I’ve always been a collector, and I’m interested in all the different decorating styles,” she said. Her own personal style, she said, emerged as a cross between shabby chic — a look showcasing a casual and relaxed lifestyle — and country.
After the Rysdams’ son, Ryan, graduated from high school, he moved away to Troutdale. Then Stanna took her collecting to a whole new level.
During visits to Troutdale, she discovered the Star Antique Malls owned by Gayle Tweed, Brent Heeb and Darwin Otto. She became one of their best customers, and they became her friends.
A couple of years ago, she showed them some pictures of her home. Tweed was so impressed she decided to send the photos on to Flea Market Decorating.
Only a few of the thousands of submissions the magazine gets are picked for features. Rysdam’s made the grade. As a bonus, Rysdam’s flowers will be featured in a magazine called Container Gardening.
“I was very surprised that I was picked. It’s very satisfying,” Rysdam said.
ARTWORK: Rysdam's decor includes numerous paintings gathered from many sources. Rysdam also is an avid collector of picture frames. - Photos/Bill Rautenstrauch
She added she spends a lot of time wondering what her grandmother might think of all this.
“She always told us a house isn’t supposed to look like something in a magazine. You’re supposed to live in it,” she said.
Thompson, the owner of Blackstone Edge Studios, is a freelance fine art photographer who regularly shoots covers for national magazines including Architectural Digest, Better Homes and Gardens, Country Living and Vanity Fair.
He and his wife and business partner, Donna Pizzi, do a lot of work in Southern California. They have photographed homes of the rich and famous, including Walter Matthau and Elvis Presley.
Only once in a while do they get to break away from the mainstream and visit a place like Eastern Oregon.
Thompson said he always enjoys taking a drive off the beaten track. It gives him a chance to show people there are other places in the world besides Los Angeles and New York.
“I get sent to shoot these wonderful houses and it’s great,” he said.
As for the assignment at hand, he said Rysdam’s house is a joy to photograph.
“From a technical point of view, it’s a log home but it has a lighter look to it. This is the kind of decorating you see in the conventionally built homes,” he said.