Portlander Greg Hennes first saw the Jennings Hotel during a trip to hike Hell's Canyon, a sluice of stone and river running through a distant corner of northeast Oregon. A charming hotel in the remote mountain town of Joseph, 10,000 square feet of faded lumber and brick walls in need of tuckpointing, the Jennings offered a blank canvas to Hennes, He purchased the space in 2014 with visions of bringing a refined design aesthetic to the remote region. But he's not planning to do it alone. With a successful Kickstarter campaign entering its last hours, Hennes should have the capital to turn the Jennings into a portfolio for Portland designers, such as furniture maker Benjamin Klebba of Phloem. The unique renovation plan will give over each room to a different designer to do what they please.
"I'm giving people more or less creative freedom to design," says Hennes. "Kickstarter will provide us with the materials to do the room. I'll set up a base—ripping out drop ceilings, cleaning up the floors—and give people a blank palette."
Originally built in 1910, the hotel has taken many turns over the past century, functioning as a tattoo shop, boarding house and supposedly, a brothel. The cadre of designers will work on converting what is now a row of run-down apartments into high-end hotel rooms. Hennes has already gotten started on common areas, favoring a Shaker and American folk aesthetic.
One of the first things he built was the hotel's new sauna, which he uses every night (he stuck with a kit, since he didn't want to cut hundreds of boards). His initial plans are to have four rooms ready by winter, featuring work from collaborators such as Shelter Collective (a North Carolina-based group that is an exception to the Portland-heavy crew), interior designer Lisa Garcia, and Wood & Faulk, which will be collaborating with Phloem on a common kitchen/dining room. Hennes sees the craft and artistic community as his main customers, and eventually hopes to be able to pay for artist residencies on the property. The surrounding Wallowa County, including Hell's Canyon and extensive prairie land, certainly plays the part of inspiring wilderness well.
It may seem like Hennes is making a jump from his previous jobs, which included Clutch Camera & Lighting and Campfire Cologne (tagline: "respect the beard"), but to him, it's all in pursuit of the same goal.
"That's the thing, the freedom of being able to do what moves me and makes me happy," he says. "It's about living an artful life."