An Australian Cafe Filled With Handcrafted Details Comes to Portland, Oregon

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By Linda Knittel
Melbourne's famous Proud Mary has come stateside, and the space is as thoughtful as its coffee.

While Nolan Hirte is well-known for the role he’s played in transforming Australia’s coffee culture, his design acumen and furniture-making skills are talents he’s kept close to the vest—until now. Countless details inside the new Proud Mary cafe in Portland, Oregon, were painstakingly designed and handcrafted by Hirte himself—with a little help from his mom and dad. He also worked with Harka Architects and Butler Built Construction to bring his vision to life.

Aptly housed in what was once the studio of a furniture maker for stars like Liberace and Frank Sinatra, the 2,700-square-foot restaurant exudes a unique balance of earnestness and glamour. From the marble-tiled wall, the 1970s sound system, and the oak-lined skylights—to the exposed old-growth beam, communal tables, and 30-foot coffee-making bar—the design is equal parts exceptional and accessible.  

An Australian Cafe Filled With Handcrafted Details Comes to Portland, Oregon - Photo 1 of 7 - Large communal tables, sound-absorbing ceiling tiles, and street-side seating create a cozy atmosphere. 

Large communal tables, sound-absorbing ceiling tiles, and street-side seating create a cozy atmosphere. 


An Australian Cafe Filled With Handcrafted Details Comes to Portland, Oregon - Photo 2 of 7 - The serving line of Proud Mary’s large, open kitchen was created using handmade maple shelves and the building's original 1920s brick.

The serving line of Proud Mary’s large, open kitchen was created using handmade maple shelves and the building's original 1920s brick.

"Every detail is here for a reason," says Hirte. "When designing the space, I constantly asked myself if what I was creating had a functional purpose or would make the customer feel something. If not, I took it out." -Nolan Hirte

An Australian Cafe Filled With Handcrafted Details Comes to Portland, Oregon - Photo 3 of 7 - Red chairs lend a pop of color against rich oak walls and walnut-and-leather banquets. 

Red chairs lend a pop of color against rich oak walls and walnut-and-leather banquets. 


An Australian Cafe Filled With Handcrafted Details Comes to Portland, Oregon - Photo 4 of 7 - Handmade walnut stools were crafted by Hirte’s father Bob, and upholstered using locally sourced leather by his mother Josie. 

Handmade walnut stools were crafted by Hirte’s father Bob, and upholstered using locally sourced leather by his mother Josie. 

Set smack in the middle of Portland’s artsy Alberta Street, Proud Mary’s details reflect the warmth of the neighborhood and the bounty of the Pacific Northwest. A giant open kitchen, walnut-and-leather stools, and handmade oak window frames all impart an organic, welcoming vibe. There’s even natural light in the walk-in cooler, thanks to a special window installation. 

"Just when we got a design element ‘good enough,’ we’d go one step further," says Hirte. 

While the kitchen is busy juxtaposing flavors that both surprise and delight, the design of Proud Mary does the same with materials and textures. Where most restaurants would use stainless-steel shelving on the serving line, Hirte used maple, and when the wall running the length of the space required support beams, he decided to showcase them alongside the original 1920s brick and raw cement tiles. "The goal was to simply infuse the beauty of the old bones with clean, modern ideas," he says.  

An Australian Cafe Filled With Handcrafted Details Comes to Portland, Oregon - Photo 5 of 7 - Exposed brick and a 1970s sound system add to Proud Mary's homey vibe.

Exposed brick and a 1970s sound system add to Proud Mary's homey vibe.


An Australian Cafe Filled With Handcrafted Details Comes to Portland, Oregon - Photo 6 of 7 - The simplicity of handmade oak tables showcases the beauty of Proud Mary’s breakfast and lunch offerings.  

The simplicity of handmade oak tables showcases the beauty of Proud Mary’s breakfast and lunch offerings.  


An Australian Cafe Filled With Handcrafted Details Comes to Portland, Oregon - Photo 7 of 7 - The 30-foot cement-and-maple bar is the focal point of the space. Perched there, diners are treated to a bird's-eye view of Proud Mary’s exquisite coffee program. 

The 30-foot cement-and-maple bar is the focal point of the space. Perched there, diners are treated to a bird's-eye view of Proud Mary’s exquisite coffee program. 

Project Credits:

-Architecture: Harka Architects

-Builder: Butler Built Construction

-Interior design, lighting design, sound engineering, and cabinetry design: Nolan Hirte (owner) 

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