Paul Forrest has always been ahead of the curve. Case in point. In 1993, before the busiest stretch of Southeast Belmont Street became home to vegan cafes and chic boutiques, his oddly named furniture store, Sit, Babe...Stay, attracted a cool-hunting crowd in search of mid-century modern furnishings. Forrest and his shop were also there for the late-'90s boom when every dot-com yuppie in Christendom simply had to have a vintage Case Study day bed. During those gravy years, Sit, Babe not only sold chic pieces to Portlanders in the pink but also supplied dealers with choice specimens to sell in bigger markets like Seattle and Japan.
When he opened the neighboring Aalto Lounge in 1999, Forrest was finally able to provide a living environment for his prized pieces--customers sipping cocktails rest their elbows on Eero Saarinen teardrop tables and kick up their feet onto Corbusier chairs. Though he's shuttered Sit, Babe and has since sold the bar to like-minded modernist Peter Bro, Forrest's legacy (not to mention his stylish seating) remains.
But now it's almost '04, and the bottom has all but dropped out of the market for Eames fiberglass chairs--due in equal parts to market saturation and the fragile nature of fads. Those ravenous bidders who once would pay massive sums for handpicked finds have either discovered Ikea or sated their Saarinen cravings forevermore.
What's a modern man to do?
Open another shop, naturally. With his new store, Splinter, Forrest does things differently. Unlike Sit, Babe's seemingly haphazard heap of ottomans and end tables, Splinter's neat-and-sleek interior houses a select inventory, suggesting that everything has been chosen with care. There are a few vintage pieces (including those worrisome Eames fiberglass chairs), but they share space with slick merchandise manufactured by new names in modern furniture--curved wood stacking tables by L.A.-based Boom and shelving by Blu Dot. Rarest of all, Splinter offers custom pieces by local furniture designers, including some of the superstars last seen at last summer's Show 2003 furniture exhibition. Christopher Douglas' clever cutout screen, made from tilting birch plywood panels, looks right at home amid the vintage veterans.
So if no one's going ape over Eames anymore, what's selling? "I think people are now willing to spend their money on well-made new pieces that have modern flair," Forrest says.
When asked what he thinks of a retailer like the Pearl District's Design Within Reach, whose showroom format treats home furnishings like they're luxury automobiles, Forrest said, "I think DWR is fabulous, but I don't shop there."
Though DWR's pedigreed reproductions are high-quality, not all retro is created equal. Modern furniture is also like Louis Vuitton handbags--there's a brisk trade, on the Internet and elsewhere, in shabby simulations.
"You don't know where a lot of that stuff is coming from or whether it's real," Forrest says.
Never mind the Knoll, then. Better to focus on those contemporary manufacturers creating approachable, affordable pieces. Them, and the local luminaries--at Splinter, that impeccable compact sofa is strewn with embellished throw pillows by Portland artist Lisa de John ($65), and the walls are hung with Joe Futschik's decorative paint-striped and veneer panels ($300-$500).
None of that sissy showroom stuff for Splinter.
Says Forrest, "I want people to be able to come in, buy something and put it in their car."
4747 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 230-9675