Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Mirza Dickel grand dame of design in Portland died

Mirza Dickel, photographed in 2005 in the Case House she and her husband, Wallace Huntington, restored. Photo: Oregonian

Portland interior designer Mirza Dickel  — known as the grand dame of design in Portland — died Dec. 8. She was 90.

Dickel, born Mirza Jane Baumhover on Oct. 30, 1922, to Janet and Lee Baumhover, worked alongside the region’s great architects and designers such as Pietro Belluschi, John Storrs and John Yeon.  She designed the interiors of prominent Portlanders’ homes, and was one of a select group of national designers invited to create rooms in the Pavilion of American Interiors at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York. 

A graduate of Portland’s Grant High School, Dickel went on to the University of Oregon where she graduated in 1947 with a degree in architecture. 

“Calculated looks and fashionable imitations were not in Mirza’s vocabulary,” says Portland author and family friend Sara Perry. “Classic design and craftsmanship were the words she lived by.” 

Perry, who met Dickel through Perry’s husband’s medical practice, said the first time Dickel and her husband met, Dickel said to him: “ Doctor. You really need better hangers in the waiting room.” 

Perry says that sort of directness and sure-footed sense of what is right or wrong in design, was the essence of Dickel. 

“Everything was in the details for Mirza,” Perry says. 

Designer, home furnishings creator and HGTV host Joe Ruggiero called Dickel “the Sister Parishof the Northwest,” referring to the legendary American interior designer and co-founder of the illustrious New-York-based firm, Parish Hadley. 

Dickel’s son, Paul Dickel, an architectural designer in Dallas, says to understand his mother’s drive and pursuit of excellence was to know her mother. His grandmother, he says, was extremely strong-minded, setting the pace for young Mirza, who willfully followed in her mother’s footsteps, “just fierce to do a better job,” says Dickel, Mirza Dickel’s son from her first marriage to George Dickel.

After she worked with noted Oregon landscape architect and historian Wallace Kay Huntington on the restoration of the Bybee-Howell House on Sauvie Island, the two long-time friends joined forces to restore the 1859 William Case House Huntington had bought near Champoeg Park. Their work, along with that of architect Gil Davis, paid off in 1979 when the American Institute of Architects awarded the project its preservation award.  

Huntington and Dickel married and lived together in the house for more than 30 years. 

Dickel, who suffered dementia in her later years, had recently been moved to an assisted care facility. 

She is survived by her husband, Wallace Kay Huntington; her son, Paul Dickel; her sister, Nancy Lee Andersen; and a nephew and numerous nieces. 

A graveside service was held for immediate family. Plans for a memorial service have yet to be finalized. The family asked that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art. 

-- Bridget A. Otto

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