Two days after I visited Midnight Sunlight, a vintage furniture shop and boutique on Southeast Stark, I was $300 lighter and in possession of a beautiful gray-and-black linoleum dining table from the 1950s. This doesn't often happen when I head out to research shops for this column.
Many of Portland's vintage furniture shops collect great pieces, restore them lovingly and resell them to a sophisticated market of buyers who know their Jacobsen from their Eames. Yet, browsing these spots is tough. Warehouse-sized showrooms don't let you see the couch or credenza of your dreams in a place that resembles an apartment or living room.
Sunny Preston, proprietor of Midnight Sunlight, seems to agree.
"As furniture enthusiasts, my husband and I have surveyed the market of what shops in Portland offer," Preston says. "Without going to a negative place, we found it lacking in a lot of ways. We maybe didn't feel like it understood who we were as a customer, or what we were interested in besides finding a couch. You couldn't really get a sense of how something might work in your space. We want people to come in here and say, "This is kind of what I want my apartment to look like."
When I wandered into Midnight Sunlight, I was surprised to find a cozy space with art arranged neatly on walls—an endearing rendition of two toucans sitting on a branch next to an abstract piece from an heir to the Pabst Beer fortune—faded rugs underneath a strikingly restored walnut Danish modern dining table, at which matching mod chairs were tucked in. Lamps and decorative baskets were nicely arranged atop polished credenzas. In the back, a fat rack of Pendleton and Woolrich flannels sat tucked in a corner, across from a shelf of perfectly distressed vintage denim.
"I was taken to antique stores as a kid and eventually grew to really like old stuff," Preston tells me as we sit atop an enormous modular sofa in the style of Vladimir Kagan. "In high school, my best friend and I would go to furniture stores to hang out, not the mall or the video place. Thinking back on it, it was pretty weird we were looking at fabric swatches and wallpapers. I guess I always really enjoyed the process of collecting or finding these things."
Preston grew up in Homer, Alaska, spending the 2000s bouncing around Los Angeles, Portland, New York and Texas as a vintage dealer, first in clothing, and later in furniture. She settled in Portland in 2014, vending at Vintage Pink before quietly opening Midnight Sunlight in October 2017. She's self-taught, picking up furniture restoration and curation techniques from years in the business.
"My grandfather is basically a self-taught carpenter. I hung out with him as he built a 40-foot wooden sailboat," says Preston. I'm the type of person who learns by doing, so I've just kind of figured out how to do things over the years. I know a little bit about a lot of things, and if I don't, I have a community of people I can ask."
Midnight Sunlight is one of a handful of vintage shops in Portland arranged so intentionally that it looks like someone's apartment. There, I visualized that table I bought in my apartment, and it looks even better now that it's home.
"I just look for good stuff, I guess," says Preston. "I know what I like. The fact that it's turning out that other people like it is so wonderful."
GO: Midnight Sunlight, 2857 SE Stark St., Instagram: midnightsunlightshop. Closed Tuesday.