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Colorful, eclectic, art-filled garden reflects designer JJ De Sousa’s hip style

one, including herself, would call JJ De Sousa conventional. Her
larger-than-life personality transfers to everything she does, from the
exuberant garden and colorful brick home in Southeast Portland to Digs
Inside Out, the home and garden shop and headquarters for her
design business.

After completing the design course at Portland
Community College nine years ago, De Sousa jumped right in, leaving
behind a boring career in corporate human resources to design interiors
and gardens, a job she finds entirely fulfilling.

“I’m so
lucky,” she says. “I get to be surrounded by beautiful things and
beautiful spaces. I can hardly believe this is my life.”

Much of her design basics are found in her garden:


regard for red morphed into an ardor for orange — not a long stretch
— when the color made a deep bow in the marketplace several years ago.
Orange makes neutrals pop, and using it repetitively to unify the space
creates an unself-conscious way for the eye to move through the garden.
“Orange is such an eye-catching color,” De Sousa says, “it just works.”
Dutch to the bone, she mentions it doesn’t hurt that orange is the color
of the royal House of Oranje and the Dutch soccer team Ajax.


of the art in the garden is made of salvaged items and by local
artists. “We’ve got such an abundance of local talent, and I want to
support them,” says De Sousa, who not only buys the art for her home,
but carries it in her shop as well.


“I had
a high-maintenance garden,” says De Sousa, “and I got over it.” Once
she bridged that chasm, succulents became her go-to plants. “They’re so
low care, and so architectural. I’ve always liked sharp, prickly


With five cats and two dogs, De Sousa
and her husband, José, have plenty of furry company. Fluff, short for
Marshmallow Fluff, in particular enjoys hanging out. “She’s our
good-will ambassador; she follows people around the garden and talks to
them,” says De Sousa as the white cat with one green and one blue eye
jumps into a nearby chair and starts meowing.

Other fauna
includes an inside joke missed by many: Chicken roosting boxes are
planted with hens and chicks, which also go into zinc tubular chicken


Metal is repeated throughout the garden in
accents and hardscape such as the fence, which gives both a modern and a
rustic feeling. The corrugated sheets were purposely set horizontally
to “give the feeling like you’re moving in one direction.”


and fire pits, blankets and durable, year-round furniture allow the De
Sousas to eat, entertain and hang out in their garden from April to
December. The horseshoe sectional is made of recycled polyethylene,
which is naturally anti-microbial to keep mildew at bay. “I haven’t
touched it in five years,” JJ says. She urges people to create spaces
within spaces. “People think of their gardens as one big space instead
of breaking it down into smaller ones,” says the designer. “It’s like
painting a room dark; it makes the walls recede.” It must be, because
her 77-by-127- foot lot is home to six areas that will seat 66 people.


Sousa is a hands-on designer, who starts with broad ideas and narrows
them down. Drawings aren’t her way. “I use more of an organic approach,”
she says. “I know I want a water feature or a retaining wall here or
there. Then I work on materials later. But sometimes you find a killer
piece that can throw your design on edge, and the next thing you know,
you’re changing everything.”



Buy the best you can afford. When it comes to outside furniture and
furnishings, you really do get what you pay for. Durable materials last
for years and so are more sustainable than cheap ones that soon end up
in the landfill.

— Don’t be afraid of color; it can change everything.

— Good lighting is essential and so often overlooked.

— Create spaces within your space. When you break it down into smaller areas, it actually makes it feel and look bigger.

— Make intentional entertaining spaces: places to sit, to lie down and to eat.

— Don’t buy everything new or right now. Take your time and create a garden that reflects who you are and how you live.


Digs Inside Out, 1829 N.E. Alberta St., 503-460-3447,
a new venture of 18 merchants focusing on vintage and
salvage home and garden items, set to open Wednesday; 1005 S.E. Grand
Ave., kitty-corner to Rejuvenation Hardware; 503-208-2580; JJ De Sousa has two spaces, one an apothecary
of lotions, soaps and other potions called Apotheek; the other for
smaller home decor pieces called House of Oranje.

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