There are those for whom practicality is mere distraction, aesthetics all. Their houses are the 3-D equivalent of graphic-design geek Tumblrs that fill endlessly, bottomlessly with “inspiration.” These stores are for them.
380 NW 13th Ave., 209-8349, cargoinc.com.
Perhaps they should’ve just called it “Crap From Everywhere!” Essentially a giant warehouse stuffed with imported goods from around the globe, Cargo has the Technicolor glow of a few dozen foreign bazaars crammed inside a single building. Its wares are primarily of Asian origin—that includes antique Chinese furniture, framed portraits of Chairman Mao, Tibetan headdresses, J-pop 45s, Kabuki dolls and, of course, an entire shelf of Lucky Cats—but hidden among its overwhelming sprawl is everything from African tea sets and Russian nesting dolls to old Lebanese newspapers. Is any of it practical? Not really. But casually dropping a few Buddhist singing bowls on the dining-room table is a great way to convince guests you’ve actually left the house at some point and haven’t just spent the last few years meticulously organizing used ketchup packets by expiration date.
1. Buy this: Burmese umbrellas ($28), perhaps. Or a 4-foot-tall, 26-maiden-deep Russian nesting doll? ($690).
3300 SE Belmont St., 235-0078, shopnoun.com.
“A person’s place for things” is a cute tag line for a store called Noun, and it reads like an open invitation for the kind of consumer who just wants stuff, regardless of its usefulness. With Belmont neighborhood confectionery Saint Cupcake serving as its lobby, the tiny retro-curio boutique carries an inventory as general as its slogan implies, the items linked only by a design aesthetic best described as “American quaint.” Some of it is genuinely old (canceled stamps, 1930s sports pennants, hardtop suitcases), some of it is new (locally made jewelry, artwork and ceramics), some of it is new but made to look old (Edison lamps, a coffee-table book compiling ’50s educational charts), and all of it is utterly superfluous. Nobody actually needs vintage flashcards or an antique adding machine...but what if you do?!
2. Buy this: Forged bar tools ($16).
4204 N Mississippi Ave., 719-4508, paxtongate.com.
Any self-disrespecting hoarders should have plenty of animal bones scattered about their domicile already, but digging them out from underneath the mountains of old newspapers and soiled diapers is such a pain. Besides, who has time to wait for that lost pet to decompose, anyway? Cut out the middleman with a trip to Paxton Gate. Also an ideal stop for mad scientists and eccentric billionaires, the store—an offshoot of the original San Francisco outpost—is basically the Nature Company if it were owned by Vincent Price, stocked with often surprisingly beautiful pinned insects, carnivorous plants, laboratory glassware, jarred puppy fetuses, framed emphysematous lung specimens, millipede dioramas and all manner of taxidermal creatures, from peacocks to jackalopes. It carries the traditional science-store staples as well, like geodes and shark teeth, but if you’re shopping for the person who has everything and needs none of it, you know they won’t be satisfied until there’s a dolphin skull displayed atop their refrigerator.
3. Buy this: Mummified cat ($750). Victorian pheasant raccoon ($420).
1040 E Burnside St., 231-1444, hippohardware.com.
Anal-retentive neatniks are likely to start hyperventilating the moment they step inside this three-story Portland institution, but for those already living in chaos of their own design, Hippo Hardware is not just a fun place to visit but a utopia worth aspiring to. (In fact, there very well could be a few people squatting among the old doors and panes of antique glass in the basement.) Established in 1976, the city’s pre-eminent junk emporium has packed its 20,000 square feet of retail space to bursting with used hinges, pipes, lamps, sconces, bathtubs, an entire floor of light fixtures, the odd steel thermal-liquid carrier and drawers full of other doodads and knickknacks, perfect for people looking to complete a DIY home remodel, put together a steampunk art project or just fill the last remaining area of open space in her living room.
Buy this: A toilet (prices vary), in case the piles of candy wrappers, Life magazines and empty pill bottles are so high they’ve made the regular bathroom inaccessible. Or a shitload of doorknobs.
2500 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 224-8100, ilovevintagepink.com.
Just down the road from House of Vintage, Vintage Pink sets itself apart from other secondhand shops in town by actually being navigable. Arranged not unlike an IKEA showroom, the store manages to create an accessible browsing atmosphere without eliminating the treasure-hunting aesthetic essential to any vintage dealer worth its shag carpets and surfboard coffee tables. Although the emphasis is on midcentury furniture, the random ephemera hidden among it is what makes Vintage Pink a gold mine for the hopeless collector in your life, from the unintentionally hilarious framed cigarette ads (“My throat appreciates Lucky’s!”) to the giant portraits of Elvis to the random beer memorabilia. A spirit of fun permeates the place—though the box of found photographs offering “Instant Relatives and Memories!” is oddly depressing.
4. Buy this: Resin grape cluster swag lamp ($129).
105 NW 13th Ave., 221-4500, storables.com.
What’s the difference between a hoarder and a harmless pack rat? Organization. No one would care about all those cotton swabs, nail clippings and TV Guides you refuse to throw out if they were arranged tidily, and not just piled willy-nilly from floor to ceiling. That’s why the ideal gift for anyone with an appetite for accumulation can be found at Storables. A Portland-based chain, the franchise’s Pearl location sells containers of all shapes, sizes and materials. Whether it’s compact discs, food, toothbrushes, Legos or just plain garbage, if there’s shit that needs to be put in something, Storables has the thing to put it in. The first step toward a cleanlier, more orderly life begins here.
Buy this: Milk crate ($9.95). Big changes have cheap beginnings.