An Open Invitation to Create Awaits at The Portland Studio

Nicole Mason and her studio manager Annie in front of the plywood backdrop at The Portland Studio
credit: Nicole Mason

Where: Portland, Oregon

Style: Modern industrial

When photographer Nicole Mason (who contributes photography for many Hunker tours) returned from almost a year living out of her custom van roaming around the western United States, she had a vision of creating her very own studio. "I wanted it to be a blank canvas, yet inspiring and playful," Mason says. So, she signed the lease on a light-filled, 700-square-foot space with original hardwood floors, 14-foot ceilings, a white brick wall, and huge windows. And then, she set out to make it her own.

The corner space was added to provide a work top and storage.
credit: Nicole Mason

Working with her friend Rico Castillero, the goal was to make the most out of the relatively small space. "We really needed more organization and counters, so we created a corner with cabinets, a floating shelf, and work bench," Mason explains. These additions made a world of difference in overall functionality. "Having the room to set your camera or coffee down and have a couple friends sit to work and edit has been wonderful. Not to mention the ability to hide away paint tools, cleaning supplies, etc. in the cabinets below."

Cabinets for supplies and a surface for coffee breaks.
credit: Nicole Mason

Another bit of functionality that was a must for Mason was having rolling backdrops. They now have two 9-by-8-foot walls that provide four backdrop options. "Dealing with seamless paper rolls can be painful, so having the ability to have choices that can flip within seconds is amazing," Mason says. "We even have a plywood option, which is a favorite."

The two backdrop walls on wheels.
credit: Nicole Mason
The popular plywood backdrop.
credit: Nicole Mason
Light fixtures from Cedar and Moss.
credit: Nicole Mason

Although it's a natural-light studio, Mason still worked out a trade for ceiling lights with Cedar & Moss for some photos. "I didn't want anything that would hang down too low and be distracting in the space or in photos." From a fresh coat of white paint, to plants, photo equipment, and some props, it took about five months to complete the whole overhaul from start to finish.

Plants and equipment in the studio.
credit: Nicole Mason
A grouping of in-house props.
credit: Nicole Mason
The studio at work.
credit: Nicole Mason

Yet things continue to evolve. Earlier this year, the studio partnered with Backdrop, a New York-based paint company, to paint their backdrop walls two different colors every month to keep things interesting. And they capture these changes to create more content for their ever-increasing social media presence, all overseen by Mason.

Changing out colors on backdrops.
credit: Nicole Mason
Different backdrop colors each month provide flexibility.
credit: Nicole Mason

As she looks to the future, Mason envisions a second studio or an even larger space. But she always keeps herself grounded. "You don't need a huge budget or the biggest place to create an inspiring space," she says. "If you feel a heart tug to do something, do it! It's OK to start small or minimal and build from there."

Keeping things simple and functional at the studio.
credit: Nicole Mason

For Mason, The Portland Studio is an extension of her life view, "I just want to create and inspire people to do the same, because it's the best feeling to use your heart and mind to bring ideas together, bring people together, and imagine and make something that didn't exist before. I always think of that as the 'magic' to all of it: creating something that didn't exist before."


Siobhan Murphy

Siobhan Murphy

As an Emmy Award winning creative director, writer and producer I have worked on content for brands like Disney, BravoTV, TBS, Universal, E! and MTV. But I mostly love rearranging furniture and repotting plants at home.