As I watched folks fawn over Christopher Douglas' "Knock-Down/Drag Out" table, I heard one woman say, "I love this! Oh my God, I love this. If we get the house, this will go great."
Douglas' beloved work was just one of 30 pieces selected and splashed across Design Within Reach's conspicuously well-lit showroom last week for a two-day event called Show 2003. Portland's second annual furniture design exposition ("It's not a competition," insisted curator Chris Bleiler), the Show drew more than 60 entrants from various disciplines, including architecture, woodworking, fine art and structural engineering. It was a display that, in its sleekness and sophistication, might convince you that Portland has vaulted itself into the modern furniture vanguard.
From the stark (Nathan and Angela Roelofs' white oak "Four Quarter Chair") to the exuberant (Alexander Bravo's romper-room-ready "ne'o'"), Show 2003's range of entries provided a core sampling of what local hands are creating in the studio-bunkers that dot our city. Many of the boxy coffee tables and swank settees (like David Boyd's walnut daybed) would look right at home in international furnishing catalogs for Cassina or, for that matter, DWR.
For many of these designers, that's surely the dream.
Getting your work picked up by DWR is the design world's equivalent of a major-label record contract. Several of the entrants acknowledged that the privilege of having Show 2003 in DWR's very own showroom was something of a coup (DWR's founder, Rob Forbes, was also one of Show's jurors). And if the business cards and "commissions welcome" signs scattered around were any indication, most of Show's designers aren't above making a buck--or at least an impression.
Brendan R. Budge, on the other hand, is content with small-scale production. Retail fixture designer by day, furni-dork by night, Budge produced his material-intensive Necco stools (which use maple, birch, leather, aluminum and neoprene) in just under two weeks. "I understand the point of designing something that can realistically be reproduced," he says, "but the idea of handing off my work and losing control over it doesn't really appeal to me." Budge adds, "That's what typically happens in my day job."
Bleiler, who owns Fix Studio and co-curated the show with a who's-who list of local designers, is proud of Show's eclecticism. Repeating the cliché about Portland having lots of creativity but not enough community, Bleiler hoped that this year's event would provide an example of how individual local talent can coalesce into a larger collective phenomenon.
"We went from having virtually no dialogue between designers a year and a half ago to this," said Bleiler, surveying the bustling crowd manhandling the goods at Show's Wednesday-night preview.
Although many pieces whispered chic salability louder than anything else, a few did catch my eye. Hannes N. Wingate's "Nest/Basket/Chair"--a plain, Platonic seat shaped from recycled aluminum blinds--was humble in conception and execution. No exotic hardwoods needed here. Wingate's Design 101-type idea had sound principles and Portland soul by taking some pernicious post-consumer waste and transforming it into a beautiful object.
Conversely, the "Best of Show" winner, Joseph Chaijaroen's "Soy Madera #7759 1-4," was more fun than fundamentals. The series of metal and Formica low tables was printed with personal ruminations on gardening, trees, wood and weeds. On losing the battle of the flawless green lawn, Chaijaroen wrote: "Trust me dude, you're screwed. It's all about the hardscape." Designed at a Blonde Redhead show at the Aladdin in June ("The concert was okay," each piece reads), the tables themselves weren't amazing. But they possessed humor and humanity--qualities that perfectly sanded birch plywood and impeccably brushed aluminum don't always communicate.
Got love in your lathe? Think your handsaw has heart? Stay tuned for Show 2004--Bleiler is already planning for next year.
Design Within Reach, 1200 NW Everett St.,
To check out
, visit showpdx.com.