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August 20th, 2008 12:00 am RICHARD SPEER | Featured Stories

Walk Art

Hot design is everywhere. Here’s 11 places to spot it.


Admit it: You’re a design whore. Your wedding registry was at Design Within Reach. Your mantra is “In Eames we trust.” When you watch TV or DVDs—even pornos—you’re apt to exclaim, “Wait! Is that a Swan Chair behind them?” and hit pause. We feel your pain. We’re design hos, too. In art, architecture and utilitarian objects, our eyes scour every surface for pleasing lines, curves, spheres and planes. In our beloved Stumptown there are scads of beautiful details, and we’re not just talking about ogling the usual public-art suspects like Portlandia or that creepy deconstructed phallus across the street from Powell’s. No, there are smaller gems—entry gates, wallpapers, even corporate lobbies (gasp!)—worthy of attention. Here are 11 of our favorite under-the-radar spots to get your design fix. Even better, try hitting multiple spots in the same day, like a walking (or biking) tour that’ll exercise your legs as well as your eyes while the sun’s still shining.



(District, 232 NW 12th Ave.)

Juxtaposing old with new, the chandeliers at the elegant Pearl lounge District steal the show. A stately crystal chandelier hangs above the bar, imparting a sense of Old World elegance, while a suite of deconstructionist-chic chandeliers hangs nearby as a perfect counterbalance—clear Plexiglas and polished nickel glowing red on the inside. Designed by Italian maestro Bruno Rainaldi for the Florence-based design house Terzani, these ultra-cool chandeliers meld postmodern rigor with pure romantic whimsy. District’s designer, Bryce Amato, says: “The lighting is the whole inspiration for the space…. Combining old elements with new things adds character and brings up questions about memories and nostalgia.” If you want one of these Plexi beaut’s for your own lounge, Amato sells them for a $2,250 a pop at Amato Johnson Design (amatojohnsondesign.com).


(M Financial Plaza, 1125 NW Couch St.)

Now this is corporate cool: Barcelona chairs and sofas by Mies van der Rohe set a sophisticated tone in the soaring lobby of mega-money firm M Financial Group HQ, just east of P.F. Chang’s in the Brewery Blocks. Long and narrow, this immaculate space feels more Manhattan than Portland. Look up: Those are Artichoke Pendants by the late Danish designer Poul Henningsen dangling from the high ceilings. As the name suggests, the pendants resemble the unfolding leaves of an abstracted artichoke. Locally, they’re available at Design Within Reach in different sizes, ranging in price from $7,692 to an arty, choke-inducing $16,900.


(Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, 147 NW 19th Ave.)

We’re going to burn in hell for this, but there’s something sorta diabolical about this Gothic-style cathedral—and it’s because of the doors. Yes, the Episcopal Church has a tradition of red doorways (the color symbolizes the blood of Christ and is meant to protect parishioners from evil), but there’s something about the deep red hue and the pitchforklike iron hinges that makes us want to hum “Tubular Bells.” Check ’em out for yourself, see if you agree—and join us later for a dip in the Lake of Fire.


(Corner of Northwest Glisan Street and 5th Avenue)

Wisdom comes from strange sources, especially in the case of this funky giant hand sculpture at the edge of a parking lot in Old Town. The origins of this sculpture are obscure, but its contours are hard to miss: a 15-foot forearm and hand, its fingers raised in the Vitarka Mudra position of Hindu and Buddhist traditions. Made out of fiberglass, the giant hand is simultaneously quaint and monumental—in a Burning Man kind of way. As you drive by during the middle of a stressful day, it seems to say: “Stop! Breathe! Become one with your inner nirvana! OK, now back to work.”



(The Mosaic Condominiums, 1410 SW 11th Ave.)

In a town filled to the gills with butter-bland condo buildings, the Mosaic stands out. Just south of the downtown Safeway, the building, by Myhre Group Architects, glitters green, orange, and teal, its multicolored cubes stacked one atop the other. Gloriously Dutch-looking, this building is like a 21st-century vertical version of the classic Rietveld Schröder House in Utrecht. If only the drab slabs on the Southwest Waterfront had the panache of this baby!


(PSU Native American Student and Community Center, 710 SW Jackson St.)

Opened in 2003, Portland State University’s Native American Student Center is a nuanced distillation of Northwest native design elements. The sliced conical sculpture that is its visual signature resembles an abstracted teepee. Local architecture firm StastnyBrun worked with Albuquerque architect David Sloan to combine Klickitat basket motifs in the center’s brick patterns with Long Narrows petroglyphs in the rusted steel columns. Outside the building’s west wing is a marker pole, designed by local treasures Lillian Pitt and Ken Mackintosh, which illustrates the life cycle of the salmon. In architecture at large, eclecticism all too often equals mishmash, but not here. The building is diverse and beautiful as the traditions it celebrates.


(Lou Stafford Insurance, 4330 SW Barbur Blvd.)

With its earth-toned exterior and woozily faceted entry gate, this 35-year-old structure looks like Yoda’s hut on Dagobah, as redesigned by Antonio Gaudí. Architect Marvin Witt, 81, has been building commercial and industrial spaces in Portland since 1958, and he’s still working. Of the building’s signature steel gate, Witt says: “We were looking for something that would give the building a kind of recognition, and an entryway is important. How do you make an entry that says, ‘Come in, come through, right this way’? So we were looking for something decorative and interesting in that arched shape, and it just sort of happened.”



(The Fontaine Condominiums, 1220 NE 17th Ave.)

A stone’s throw from Lloyd Center Mall, the Fontaine has been a Portland fixture since it was opened as an apartment building in 1963. Converted to condos in 1972, the building’s lobby (visible from outside even if you’re not a resident) has to be the most chintzy, tacky, Vegas-style room this side of Zsa Zsa Gabor’s cedar closet. Don’t miss the golden-teardrop exterior and fountains and the view through the gilding to the crystal chandelier. Bravo, daaah-link!


(Joan of Arc statue, Coe traffic circle, Northeast 39th Avenue and Glisan Street)

Some people loved this World War I memorial sculpture when it was still muted and grimy (former WW critic Steffen Silvis eulogized its tarnished patina in a 2002 review)—but the more garish among us love its eye-blinding glint post-2002 refurbishing. Created 84 years ago by sculptor Emmanuel Fremiet, the old bronze girl looks all the more glamorous for her 24-karat gilding, which was funded by the National Endowment for the Arts as well as private and corporate donors. Is the bright luster decadent? Hell yeah! The economy has tanked, gas is through the ceiling, and we’ll all be lucky if we can afford a Thanksgiving turkey—which means the perfect aesthetic antidote is gold: oodles of it! In the aftermath of our own Gilded Age, we think Ms. d’Arc is the perfect, blazing emblem as the U.S.A., like Joan herself, goes up in flames.



(Beauty Sleep, 3625 SE Taylor St.)

A cross between a bed-and-breakfast, an extended-stay hotel and crashing at your BeDazzler-obsessed friend’s house, Portland’s Beauty Sleep (beautysleep.org) features fancifully themed rooms to help even the most jaded hipsters get their kitsch on. The two-room Peacock Suite ($1,260 for a monthlong stay), in particular, is so chock-full of over-the-top 1950s furniture it feels like Liberace’s guest house on steroids. This and other suites come stocked with a collection of vintage nightgowns, robes, boudoir slippers, costume jewelry, fur stoles and wigs so you can play dress-up and lounge about languidly, double martini in hand, as Perry Como serenades you on the vintage LP player. With all of these distractions, who could sleep?

THE WALLS HAVE EYES (Dots Cafe, 2521 SE Clinton St.)

Sure, the black velvet paintings, multicolored pendant lights, and to-die-for Grilled Cheese Deluxe get most of the ink when we write about this quintessentially Portland bar-restaurant, but don’t forget about the wallpaper. Metallic gold with raised velour floral patterns, it glows green, red, blue and orange in the light of the aforementioned fixtures, imparting a deliciously seedy ambience that screams, “My arteries need clogging—now!” Touch it, caress it, run your fingers along its contours—you know you want to. This wallpaper is the stuff of retro-loving design whores’ wet dreams, timewarped onto Southeast Clinton Street via Norma Desmond’s sitting room and most definitely ready for its close-up.


(The Chesterfield, 1101 E Burnside St.)

Much of the buzz that surrounds the Kevin Cavenaugh-designed Rocket Building centers on the rooftop garden above the Rocket restaurant. We could take or leave Rocket, but we luvs us the Chesterfield, the lounge on the building’s ground floor. And our favorite spot is upstairs in a cozy circular enclave that feels like a womb—as designed by Marilyn Manson. Mark Annen designed the space as a riff on the lowest rung of hell as imagined in Dante’s Divine Comedy. He calls the upstairs VIP room “The Hive” and says it’s inspired by “the genie’s bottle in I Dream of Jeannie, space pods, and the back seats of limousines.” The seating is perforated black leatherette, which glows red with concealed LED lights. Hell never seemed so heavenly.

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