Regina Winkle-Bryan • Photography by Mikael Lundblad •
March 25, 2020
It all began with tea biscuits for hotelier Kristinn Vilbergsson. The first Kex, which means biscuit in Icelandic, opened in 2011 at the site of an old biscuit factory in Reykjavik. Fast-forward to 2019 and Vilbergsson was ready to launch a second Kex, this time in Portland. “I moved to Vancouver BC in 2012,” explains Vilbergsson, “and fell in love with everything about the Pacific Northwest—nature at my doorstep, all the friendly people, and of course all the food and beer!”
Vilbergsson worked with former Hollywood set designer Hálfdan Pedersen on the first Kex outpost and tapped him again for the Portland iteration. Pedersen’s vision necessitated a month-long shopping excursion to Europe, which produced two shipping containers of artwork, furniture, and unique objects.
From these behemoth treasure troves, Pedersen pulled Egyptian tiles to create an oval bar—the centerpiece of the hotel’s eatery, Dóttir. “The tiles are from the mid-1960s, previously installed and walked on for decades. That is a rare find. The appeal was their soft pastel color, subtle tone variations, and naturally worn patina,” says Pedersen.
Along the restaurant’s walls stretch creative banquette seating fashioned from old factory conveyor belts and upholstered in green canvas sourced from Vietnam war army tents. Pedersen explains that the conveyor belts are “a chance to offer a tired object a place to finally relax and be still after decades of hard work in constant motion.”
Resembled Egyptian storefronts from the 1950s frame the open kitchen and guests relax in a bar-lounge composed of vintage furniture, including leather sofas in tan and black. An outdoor area proffers a few tables bathed in the glow of the original Music Box neon sign from a now-shuttered Portland theater.
Inside, a light sconce plucked from a Dutch palace glows in an oversized aquarium. “Instead of wall mounting the lamp, I thought it would be more playful and odd to place it inside a glass cabinet…it is also a small personal statement on how Jurassic the whole monarchy thing feels in our day and age,” says Pedersen.
Rooms at Kex are shared or small. Fourteen deluxe hostel rooms in earth tones boast bunk beds with privacy curtains, reading lamps, and organic mattresses. Private rooms feature fireplace mantels reimagined as headboards and warm wool Geysir blankets with traditional Icelandic patterns. Bathrooms are a simple affair, all with showers tiled in white. With beds priced as low as $38 a night, guests are saving big bucks.
“People are traveling more for experiences,” explains Vilbergsson. “In Portland, there is access to nature and so much to eat and drink, and people are looking for ways to save their money for those experiences. We wanted to offer a comfortable, well-designed option for those travelers.”
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