I think I'm in love.
Devoted as I am to the Bay Area in general and to Oakland in particular, I could easily be seduced by Portland's charms. (Don't worry, Mom: We're not packing up the moving truck. Yet.)
I was there for a whirlwind two days last week. I've never traveled alone before, and it was weird and a little lonely. But it was also liberating: I could be totally selfish, going wherever I wanted and doing whatever I felt like without having to keep the kids reasonably happy or making sure to hit the items on Nick's travel agenda. My own agenda was simply to shop, wander, and soak up as much of Portland's vibe as I could.
Populated in seemingly equal numbers by pierced-and-tattooed art students, scruffy musicians, bearded hikers, dreadlocked skateboarders, upscale professionals, and Lycra-encased mountain bikers -- and with seedy strip clubs, funky thrift shops, and rough-and-tumble taverns cheek-and-jowel with high-end restaurants, yuppie wine bars, pristine brick lofts, and chi-chi boutiques -- Portland is eclectic, arty, mellow, a bit gritty, and wonderfully down-to-earth.
I didn't have a lot of time to explore the residential areas, but I did drive through the Westmoreland, Laurelhurst, and Irvington neighborhoods, and found them all equally lovely, with tree-lined streets and one cozy Craftsman bungalow or shingled foursquare after another.
I worry that the winter damp and cold there would eventually get to me, but I was blessed with perfect weather during my short visit -- the gray morning mist giving way to the crisp, sunny Autumn days that I love. (I swear to god, I've never seen so many people sporting knitted caps in my entire life. Clearly, one of those plus a thrift-store sweater and well-loved brown cords is the official Portland uniform.)
And even though I'm hopelessly "directionally challenged," I found central Portland -- roughly divided into four gridlike quadrants, one northerly and southerly on each side of the Willamette River that snakes through town -- really easy to navigate and very manageable in size. I didn't get lost once!
Nick had made a reservation for me at the uber-trendy Jupiter Hotel. But it was obvious from the moment Hipster Barbie checked me in and pointed out the onsite tattoo parlor and the sex toy and fetish-wear shop -- just in case, you know, I had a sudden urge to get inked or, um, buy some accessories -- that the Jupiter was way too cool for me.
My room was small and basic, with none of the awesome wallpaper murals shown on the Jupiter's website, but the hotel is centrally located, clean, and chicly (if cheaply) furnished. Between the neverending techno that was piped throughout, the late-night courtyard revelry, and the roofers stomping around over my head at the crack of dawn, though, I didn't get much shut-eye. Lesson: Book a room at the Jupiter if you want to party, but not if you want to sleep.
Still, everyone at the hotel was very nice. There were lots of struggling-musician types about, in town to play the adjoining Doug Fir Lounge or other local venues. The Doug Fir itself (above) was gorgeous -- like a Pacific Northwest lodge-cum-industrial club -- and I loved that crystal moose head. Whether you stay at the Jupiter or not, the Fir is definitely worth a visit for a drink, and meal, or to hear some live music.
I'd really wanted to stay at McMenamins' Kennedy School, which was sold out, but I did stop by to check it out in person and to grab a bite to eat. What a fantastic place. Located in a quiet neighborhood in NE Portland, the hotel is a converted 1915 elementary school and has a friendly, funky, and low-key vibe that I loved.
There are four different bars (including the Honors Bar and Detention Bar); a casual restaurant with simple, stick-to-your-ribs-style fare; an onsite microbrewery; $3 movies with pizza, beer, and couches in the converted auditorium; amazing artwork lining the hallways; and a dreamy-looking heated soaking pool in the former teachers' lounge. Next time, we're definitely staying at the Kennedy School.
(Click here for more on Portland lodging.)
OK, on to the really important stuff: Shopping.
As soon as I picked up my car at the airport, I made a beeline for the vast Rejuvenation flagship store before it closed for the evening. Rejuvenation made its name by reproducing vintage lighting and house parts, and most of its stuff is very "old-house-y" -- perfect for places like Portland and Seattle, with lots of older homes and lots of time spent indoors with the lights aglow.
I was surprised to see that a fair amount of Atomic Age lighting, furniture, and accessories have crept into the Rejuvenation aesthetic -- it's a fun addition to the company's more traditional wares.
I also enjoyed exploring Rejuvenation's large salvage department -- even if I didn't find any bargains there.
After a not-very-rejuvenating night at the Jupiter, I spent my first full day in Portland wandering around the Pearl District, which is filled with handsome converted lofts and trendy, upscale shops.
First on my list was the spare and elegant Maison, Inc., which has so much to drool over -- not least of which is the totally delicious deep charcoal wall color. (I've been thinking about painting a room a similar hue, but worried that it would be too dark. Seeing how incredible it looks in person has given me the courage to go for it.)
There are custom sofas, chairs, and chaises covered in Kelly Wearstler and David Hicks fabrics, a gigantic antique French mirror (I was afraid to check the price), delicate blown glass candlesticks ($125 each), a pair of luscious large yellow vases ($170 each), a gorgeous overscaled tripod lamp ($725), metal faux bois campaign tables ($300), and -- the only thing I could conceivably afford -- a bowl full of smooth onyx eggs ($25 each).
JD Madison is lovely and tasteful -- if a bit "safe." I adore these fiberglass pendants ($295 to $995) from Tay Lighting, though.
Cielo Home has a gorgeous collection of lighting, designer textiles, home accessories, and yummy soaps and lotions. Unfortunately, they wouldn't let me snap any pictures inside to show you. But the sumptuous wares on display -- coupled with the store's motto, "Life is Short, Live Luxuriously" -- can definitely put you in the mood to part with some serious cash.
If you're a papergoods addict, don't miss Oblation, where you'll find paper, notebooks, calendars, and other pulpy goodness from Jill Bliss, Lotta Jansdotter, Snow & Graham, and dozens of others. You can also watch employees make paper and operate the vintage letterpress machines in the back.
Relish is a small, well-edited boutique featuring Scandinavian and independent domestic designs. Here you'll find Marimekko bags, mugs, trays, and textiles; goods from Normann Copenhagen and Tonfisk Design; pottery from Sara Paloma; and bedding from Dwell and Amenity.
If you're a "lamp tramp" like me, Lux Lighting could be dangerous. The store carries the full line of Modernica's reissued George Nelson Bubble Lamps (above) and the funky molded Le Klint lights, as well as hundreds of other fanciful chandeliers, sconces, pendants, floor lamps, and table lights. I was taken with the flower-like Astree Light, $3,400 as well as the jewel-toned Geometrix lights, $350 and up (below).
Other Pearl pit-stops: EWF Modern, which stocks a selection of "organic modern" furnishings made from sustainable materials, as well as colorful graphic bedding and KleinReid porcelain; French Quarter, with super-luxe (and super-expensive) European linens; and Bernadette Breu, where you'll find antiques, architectural salvage, and other ephemera.
Next up was Cargo, which was like an Asian antiques store, SoHo's Pearl River mart, and Cost Plus rolled up into one -- lots of colorful and inexpensive Far-East imports.
(I had to stop and pet Cargo's two shop corgis, Ella and Rupert, who made me miss my own Welsh Pembroke, Bonnie, terribly. The children in the store, however, did not make me miss my own kids. Sue me.)
Hive doesn't have anything you couldn't find online or at any number of modern furniture showrooms in any major city, but the sleek, light-infused space itself is breathtaking, and I oohed and ahhed over the glossy, carrara marble-topped Cassina sideboard on the showroom floor.
I was getting pretty tired by this point, so gave the big Pearl District Design Within Reach a pass, since it seems there's a DWR in every city now.
But I did summon the energy to pop into the cooperative Blackfish Gallery, where I was drawn to the work of Pacific Northwest artists Tori Bryer (whose monoprints are $1,525 each), Liz Tran (whose poppy, mixed media creations are $1,300 apiece), Jason Sobottka (who works on reclaimed wood and whose pieces run $450 to $750 each), and Kate Sweeney (whose large graphic works cost $2,000) -- none of which, of course, I could even dream of affording.
Finally, I'm ashamed to admit that I skipped Powells Books -- unthinkable, I know. I had every intention of visiting, honestly. But by the time I got there, I was beat and the idea of a "city of books" just seemed really overwhelming. Next time, I promise.
The Pearl was, well, a bit too polished for my taste, so I was excited to hit some of Portland's independent and secondhand shops during my second and final day there. Portlanders obviously love their thrift, and it was hard to narrow down the list of vintage and secondhand stores that I could easily visit in the few hours I had left.
My first stop after checking out of the Jupiter was Hippo Hardware just down the street from the hotel. I almost skipped it in my rush to get to some of the must-see stores on my list, but I'm glad I didn't. Hippo turned out to be a treasure trove of salvaged hardware, lighting, plumbing, and architectural elements -- all at great prices.
I snagged a complete set of vintage lavender porcelain towel holders, soap dishes, and the like, for instance, for a grand total of $20. I've been hunting down these pieces for years for the Deco-era lavender-and-black bathroom remodel we'll eventually tackle, and know from experience that similar items would cost several times as much on eBay or at places like Berkeley's Ohmega Salvage, Liz's Antique Hardware in L.A., and even Rejuvenation's salvage department. Score!
Next on the list was Shag, in NE Portland's Hollywood area, which specializes in Danish and midcentury modern pieces with a bit of Seventies kitsch thrown in for good measure.
Again, great prices -- especially compared to what I'm used to seeing this stuff sold for in the Bay Area. Shag has vintage Blenko blown glass vessels for $25, Danish rosewood armchairs for around $120, and solid walnut tables for as little as $55.
Then I was off to Office in the Alberta Arts District. Housed in a converted brick garage, Office stocks papergoods from companies like Egg Press and Little Otsu, chic office accessories from Blu Dot and Russell + Hazel (fittingly displayed on vintage Steelcase furniture), and Portland's own Acme Made messenger bags.
Office also exhibits artwork by locals such as Amy Ruppel (above), Trish Grantham, and Heather Amuny-Dey, who currently have originals and prints for sale at the shop for $40 to $600.
Another store I almost skipped -- since it's in an industrial area just east of downtown that doesn't seem to have anything else of interest nearby -- but am glad I didn't is Look Modern. This huge warehouse is filled to the brim with pristine Danish and midcentury modern furniture and accessories from the likes of Hans Wegner, Fritz Hansen, Ib Kofod-Larsen, J.L. Moller, and others.
If you're looking for minty, signed MCM, this is the place you'll find it -- though it will cost you. The pair of teak lamps above, for instance, is priced at $400, while the original George Nelson clock is $985, teak dressers are $700 to $900, dinette sets start at about $800 and go way up from there, and rosewood sideboards are around $3,200.
It's all way out of my budget, but I could have stayed there all afternoon, fondling Look Modern's beautiful wares and learning about classic modern design in the process. (If you're a serious collector and you're not in the Portland area, don't despair -- Look Modern has an extensive website and ships internationally.)
With just a few hours left before my flight home, I headed for SE Portland's Hawthorne area (home to the McMenamin Brothers' Bagdad movie palace and pub, above). After reviving with a slice of yummy artichoke-and-onion pizza at the Oasis Cafe, I stopped in at the Powells Books for Home & Garden outpost and a couple of cute but run-of-the-mill gift and housewares shops. The real draw, at least for me, was the street's many secondhand stores.
Visiting Lounge Lizard is like hitting the motherlode of great garage sales. It's pure kitsch -- and great fun.
You'll find retro furniture, black velvet paintings, Tiki barware, pastel-hued tableware, Seventies shag rugs, sunburst clocks, a celestial display of colorful vintage lights, and, yes, even that mirrored disco ball you've secretly been craving -- all of it very reasonably priced.
If you're a thrifter at heart, a trip to Portland won't be complete without a visit to Lounge Lizard.
It's 1974 all over again at the equally kitschy (though slightly less curated) House of Vintage, where you can chuckle at the beaded plastic room dividers, gold Syroco wall hangings, and light-up Sixties oil paintings as you keep your eyes peeled for some genuine treasures. The payoff for wading through the jumble is great prices: I spotted a pair of vintage Eames-like shell chairs for $25, a beautiful wood-and-brass Buddha table for $80, a nice Danish teak cabinet for $72, and a pair of shagadelic aqua velvet chairs (above) for $79. You'll find tons of vintage clothes here, too.
Home Ec is Portland's ground zero for colorful, Atomic Age tableware, home accessories, vintage art and lighting, Fifties dinette sets, and even mint-condition early Playboys. I'm kind of kicking myself for walking away from this swanky teal cocktail shaker set ($35).
There was lots more to see, but I was so tired I could barely stand up and I had a plane to catch, so all the places I missed (Canoe, the big Powells, Lucid, Merrimac Ironclad, Deco to Disco, 1874 House, Era ... ) will have to wait for a return trip.
And, since my suspicion that Portland is a great town was more than confirmed during my short visit, there will absolutely be one.
P.S. Considering that I'd just finished a marathon 48-hour shopping trip, I actually bought fairly little: The salvaged lavender bathroom stuff from Hippo Hardware and a Markimekko Kaiku tea towel for the house from Relish, a handmade vinyl tote from Portland's own Queen Bee Creations, a Kennedy School t-shirt for Nick, a Doug Fir t-shirt for Austin (because he's the coolest 7th grader I know), and a $7 hot pink hanging pom-pom from Cargo for Laurel's room. So much shopping, and so little credit-card shame! I think I did well.
P.P.S. Apologies to the foodies who may be reading: I know Portland is supposed to have some great eats, but food was sort of an afterthought in my quest to hit as many shops as possible. (Plus, I kept the dining very casual so as not to feel like even more of a loser than I already did, chowing down with a book as my only company ... ) But Katie, I did grab some Stumptown Coffee and it was, indeed, delish.
P.P.P.S. My husband is so sweet. He arranged the whole trip as a pre-birthday surprise for me, took care of the kids and the pets and the house (and even made some progress repainting our bedroom) while I was gone, and left this on the camera I took with me:
I love you, too, honey. But next time, you're going with me.