Photography
Videography
Creative Direction
Companion

Credits

Photography
Videography
Creative Direction
Companion

Lee and Karie in the dining nook.

Nestled above the Wilson River, about an hour outside of Portland, you’ll find a beautifully renovated 1960s cabin.

Move through the lush forest-lined highway too quickly, and you may miss your turn. That’s the beauty of River Cabaan, a vacation rental and weekend retreat tucked into the Tillamook hills.

Lee and Karie in the dining nook.

But before you imagine wood-paneled walls and wool blankets, you need to meet the creative couple behind the cabin. Karie Higgins is the Brand Director at Bing Bang Jewelry, and Lee Gibson is a Design Director at Nike. Originally from New Zealand, they spent some time in New York before heading out West for Lee’s dream job designing sneakers.

The couple’s experience growing up in New Zealand inspired their thoughtful approach to modernizing the space. Fresh white walls, neutral palettes, and modern, minimal furniture set the backdrop for nature to shine. The result—a decidedly nontraditional approach to a Pacific Northwest interior.

“Coming from New Zealand, everything is really about bright, light interiors and natural textures,” said Karie. “We tried to be faithful to the original layout, and that’s what drew us in in the first place; the vast wall of windows. You don’t see that openness very often with cabins out here.”

Hundreds of guests gravitate to their home-away-from-home for this very reason. We sat down with Karie and Lee (and guest of honor, their daughter, Lolo) to learn more about how they bring the outside in and give their guests the chance to recharge and experience a bit of New Zealand in Tillamook.

“I think it’s all about the location and the view. When you’re on the deck, you can see and hear the river. When you’re inside, everything is oriented towards the outside. It’s very calming.”

River Cabaan is tucked into the Tillamook hills and sits right along the river—a perfect nature retreat for guests.

You both work in creative industries within fashion and accessories. Tell us about how you got to where you are now?
K

We both studied spatial design. Lee focused on architecture, and I was into interiors. I had some experience working with jewelry before we made the big move to the States, and I took on the role as the Brand Director for Bing Bang Jewelry, where I’ve been for almost ten years now.

L

We also worked in education. We taught at the university level in New Zealand and then moved to New York when I went to get my post-graduate degree at Parsons. I’ve always been into sneakers, and when the job at Nike came up, I couldn’t pass it up.

Tell us a bit more about growing up in New Zealand.
K

Lee grew up in a very rural area, and I grew up closer to the coast. Portland is quite like New Zealand in many ways. You’re close to the beach and the mountains, and there’s a similar climate, a bit of wine country.

The Roly Poly Chair adds a pop of color to the neutral tones and textures throughout the living space.

“The modern side of our taste definitively comes from studying design, but we’re not afraid to mix in vintage with new.”

“The modern side of our taste definitively comes from studying design, but we’re not afraid to mix in vintage with new.”

Mix and match materials in similar tones like travertine, cane, and linen with black accents to create a layered yet cohesive look.

Lolo’s favorite reading spot.

Lolo’s favorite reading spot.

What drew you to buy a home on the coast?
K

Moving from New York to Portland, there was a big difference in affordability. Before we fully settled into Portland, we took a road trip to Seattle and stayed in a tiny cabin on a river. It was a transformative experience for us. There was a moment when we were sitting next to the river and could hear the water that we realized we hadn’t experienced this feeling in the US before, and it made us feel at home. After that, our goal was to find a smaller place in the city and have enough left over for a home outside of the city, in nature, where we could invest.

L

People thought we were a bit crazy, getting a smaller space in Portland and then this cabin out of the city. Now, most of our friends who are looking for places are looking for spots like ours.

The transition from New York City to a smaller city like Portland can be pretty substantial. When did Portland begin to feel like home?
K

It was a no-brainer that we would move here for Lee’s dream job, but it was an adjustment. Compared to New York, Portland felt small and slow. When you’re used to living in Bushwick, this city is extremely quiet. We can drive to the beach and mountains whenever we want, which has helped us embrace the slowness.

L

Portland is a lot about finding these little neighborhoods. The food, wine, and coffee here are amazing. Discovering pockets of the city that we love has changed everything.

The blush tabletop makes everything look a little bit prettier. The linoleum surface is also very easy to clean.

Family breakfast moments.

Family breakfast moments.

Most of our time at the cabin revolves around eating and entertaining.

We have everything you need to get R&R. Books, puzzles, and games for rainy weekends.

Tell us about transforming River Cabaan into the space it is today. Did anything surprise you during the process?
L

One of the first things we did was paint all of the walls white, and we got an odd amount of flack for the decision to brighten everything up. That was the biggest surprise to me.

K

Hardcore Pacific Northwest types tend to think that everything needs to have a dark feel. We tried to be faithful to the original layout, and that’s what drew us in in the first place; the vast wall of windows. You don’t see that openness very often with cabins out here. It also had this expansive deck. As Kiwis, our whole lifestyle is about having a flow with indoor and outdoor living.

You rent and share River Cabaan with people through Airbnb, and it’s almost always fully booked. What do you think makes it such a special place?
L

I think it’s all about the location and the view. When you’re on the deck, you can see and hear the river. When you’re inside, everything is oriented towards the outside. It’s very calming.

K

We wanted River Cabaan to feel much like a little boutique hotel, so you’ll see the candles and sheets we choose are things we want to enjoy as well personally. We’ve had hundreds of guests, and it’s been amazing for us to see it through other people’s eyes.

Stone fruit and floral details set the table.

How would you describe the aesthetic of River Cabaan? What influenced your design decisions?
K

People often see Japanese and Scandinavian, or “Japandi” style in our references. But coming from New Zealand, everything is really about bright, light interiors and natural textures. We also use a lot of plywood. Americans seem to gravitate towards dark and cozy vibes when it comes to decorating a cabin, but our style is more common in New Zealand. The modern side of our taste definitively comes from studying design, but we’re not afraid to mix in vintage with new.

L

In New Zealand, many baches (their word for cabins) aren’t very big. So, it’s all about windows that open to a deck, wide doors, and bringing the outside in.

If you think about the foundation of a great space, what are your essential building blocks?
K

Natural light is essential. It’s hard to create a beautiful space without light and shadow. That’s why we boosted the light by painting the interior white. We like a warm, neutral palette as an easy base, and I love to work in pops of color through the art. I think a space can start to feel sterile if it’s too neutral. Our Toogood Roly Poly chair adds a hint of pink, and the art and accessories add color to our otherwise neutral living space.

L

I think art is key. We’ve invested in a couple of pieces, and we keep an eye out for local artists. Friends have made a lot of our art which is special to us.

People often see Japanese and Scandinavian, or “Japandi” style in our references. But coming from New Zealand, everything is really about bright, light interiors and natural textures.” —  Karie
What does quality mean to you?
K

Something that lasts. You can spend five times as much on a piece that’s not from IKEA, but then you know it won’t break, and you get the benefit of a beautiful patina. Our Blu Dot lounge chair was a higher-ticket item. We were a bit worried about it because it’s suede and weren’t sure how it would hold up with so many guests, but it’s aged beautifully.

L

I think it’s important not to fall into the trap of buying lots of trending pieces. You can avoid that by trying not to buy everything at the same time, from the same place.

What’s your go-to for unique furniture pieces or one-of-a-kind finds?
K

I love 1stDibs, a curated marketplace for secondhand items. I find it to be a bit easier than eBay for shipping. I got the app on my phone, and that was dangerous. The vintage scene in Portland is not as large as in cities like LA or New York, and I miss that. We do have Midnight Sunlight Shop, which is rad.

L

We also get a lot of pieces from the HAY store that recently opened in Portland. We love HAY for their good price points and color palettes. Their designs are also quite sturdy.

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Three words to describe River Cabaan?
K

Tranquil, curated, and cozy.

Routines or rituals you love when you spend time at the cabin?
K

We love everything outdoors. Most of our time revolves around eating and entertaining. If it’s warm, we’ll go down by the river and make pancakes in the mornings. Drinking our coffee there is the best way to start the day.

L

We try and cook on the open fire as well.

If River Cabaan was a scent, how would the fragrance smell?
K

I think fresh rain and pine trees. Very woodsy. It rains so much here that the river comes up to the deck sometimes. Every summer, the landscape changes as the water pans back out. It’s a wild and beautiful place.

Favorite candle?
K

We use the Aesop room spray, and we love to burn the incense cones from a local shop, OLO Fragrances.

We keep it neutral in the bedroom to create a calm and restful space to retreat.

The cutest kitchen shelfie. We stocked the cabin with some of our favorite tableware brands.

We love to give our guests small luxuries during their stay, like these ultra-soft towels.

If you grab groceries ahead of your stay, the kitchen has everything you need for a home cooked meal.

If you grab groceries ahead of your stay, the kitchen has everything you need for a home cooked meal.

Setting the mood.

Setting the mood.

We wanted River Cabaan to feel like a little boutique hotel, so you’ll see the candles and sheets we choose are things we want to enjoy personally.” —  Karie
Dream dinner party guests?
K

Probably Charles and Ray Eames.

L

But at their home in LA.

K

They’re our favorite designers and such innovators.

L

After a year like this one, I also can’t wait to see our family back in New Zealand.

We see a mix of vinyl records in your collection. Any favorites for a Friday night?
L

I think starting with something like James Blake or the Beatles is a go-to. You want to begin with something a little bit more chill. I always try to sneak in some hip-hop and rap, a little bit of Lil Yachty or 21 Savage. I don’t get a lot of time to play that stuff with Lolo here.

K

For Lolo, it’s probably Billie Eilish.

L

And the Moana soundtrack.

Sunday morning?
L

This one was hard, but we will always love The Cars.

K

We also put the High Fidelity soundtrack on often.

There are few spots around the property to relax and unplug in nature. The hammock is one of our favorites.

There are few spots around the property to relax and unplug in nature. The hammock is one of our favorites.

Wild daisies dot the path to the riverbank.

Wild daisies dot the path to the riverbank.

We’re traveling to Portland for 36 hours. What’s your go-to travel guide for visitors?
K

Start your day at Proud Mary Café. It’s an Aussie-owned coffee shop and a two-minute walk from our house in town. Our favorite restaurant is Ava Gene’s, in the Southeast part of Portland. Go there for a beautiful, fancy Italian dinner with fantastic wine. There’s also an incredible Japanese restaurant, Afuri Izakaya. And I can’t forget Montelupo Market, our new favorite for low-key Italian.

L

Les Caves is a great wine bar not far from our place as well. We go there pretty often.

K

And Angel Face. That’s one of our favorite bars. There is a restaurant next door from the same owners, Navarre—highly recommend that duo. Also, get outside as much as possible. Our favorite beach is Short Sands, which is about a 40-minute drive from the city. It’s gorgeous. You have to hike 10 minutes to get to it, but it will be worth it.

The green on green outdoor lounge area blends in effortlessly with the surrounding landscape.

Mother-daughter moment by the river.

Mother-daughter moment by the river.

Lolo taking some behind-the-scenes snaps during the photo shoot.

Karie and Lee’s Design Tips —

Lolo taking some behind-the-scenes snaps during the photo shoot.

Bright, light interiors and natural textures can help you bring the outside in and create a neutral base to build on.

Space out your home purchases over time from different brands and retailers to find your style. Don’t be afraid to mix in vintage with new.

Karie and Lee’s Portland Guide —

Proud Mary Café — This Aussie-owned industrial-chic cafe serves Proud Mary craft coffee, breakfast, and smoothies.

Short Sands Beach — Follow the trail through an old-growth forest of Sitka Spruce, and you’ll arrive at “Shorty’s,” one of Oregon’s most popular surfing and boogie boarding destinations.

Angel Face — Enjoy custom cocktails at this classic, French-inspired bistro and bar. Floral pink hand-painted walls and a horseshoe marble counter create a timeless and quaint dining environment.

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