Saturday, September 11, 2010

Perfect Imperfections

People often ask me, after having spent some time in my store, what my house is like. "You must have some amazing things", they say. To which I respond, "well, yes and no".

Here's the thing. We have a 3-year-old little boy and a cat - neither of which, despite both of their relatively good behavior, are particularly conducive to keeping "museum quality pieces" around the house. Our stuff gets USED, which, more often than not, means that it's more utilitarian than fancy-designer-y. Plus there's the fact that most of the time, when I find a "really great thing", I'd rather sell it and make the money than hold on to it. After all, I'm a dealer, not a collector.

However, there are a few exceptions. For some reason, I'm drawn to flawed pieces - or, as the title of this post implies, "perfect imperfections" (apologies to my friend and colleague Kirk Albert, from whom I've shamelessly nicked this phrase). Part of this is because they are more difficult to sell and inherently worth less than their perfect counterparts, but part of me really does see a certain beauty and accessibility in these flaws.

Some examples: the big, beautiful Robert Sperry bottle form vase that has a broken (albeit professionally repaired) neck. Or the Tapio Wirkkala Jakala bowl that has a barely-perceptible "occlusion" that caused the dealer I bought it from many years ago to sell it to me for half the price of the other, much less interesting, but "perfect" example of this form that he also had for sale.

Or...this Bruno Mathsson Eva armchair.

This chair was a fairly recent buy, acquired from the estate of a sales executive for Artisan House (the maker of Curtis Jere products, among other things - more on this in another post). This was a whole-estate buy. I went to the house, looked everything over, told Karl, the executor of the estate (and the deceased's son) which pieces I wanted and how much I was willing to pay, then let him chew on the figures for a bit.

Not too long after, he called me back and agreed to the prices I had proposed. However, what with one thing and another, it ended up being a few weeks before I got back out to the house to pick everything up. As I was going around the house figuring out how I was going to cram all this stuff into my van, I noticed that the Eva chair, which was previously pristine, had acquired some rather ugly stains.

The ensuing dialogue went something like this.

Me: "Karl?"
Karl: "Yeah?"
Me: "I don't remember this chair having these stains on it before".
Karl: "That's because it didn't".
Me: "Ummmm..."
Karl: "About a week ago, I moved it to that corner where it's sitting right now. Then the roof decided to spring a leak. Right there, in that corner, onto the chair".
Me: "Son of a...."

Karl ended up giving me the chair for half the price we had originally agreed on, and I decided that it fit in quite nicely with my collection of beautiful-but-slightly-damaged pieces. I didn't really have a good place to put it, but I decided that I needed a chair in my office in which to sit and play my guitar. This would be that chair.

Unfortunately, as good looking and comfortable as this chair is, it is a TERRIBLE chair for sitting in and playing guitar. It's way too reclined, the arms do nothing but get in the way, and if you sit forward enough so that you're upright enough to play comfortably, the chair wants to tip forward because it's so lightweight. So, as much as I wanted to make this chair a part of my collection of perfect imperfections, it is now up for sale for someone else to enjoy. Just don't try to play guitar while sitting in it.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Beyond Repair

When people ask me "can this/that/the other thing" be fixed, my standard response is "anything can be fixed, it's just a matter of how much money you want to spend". Well, anything except this chair.

This, my friends, is the definition of "Beyond Repair".

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Almost a Pair of Jens Risom Chairs, A Funny Story, and an Apology.

First: an apology. Hi! We're still here! Alive and mostly well on our little corner of N. Mississippi Ave, just a few blocks down the hill from all the action. The past few months have been difficult at best, but the worst is behind us and we're more than ready to start a-blogging again - in fact, now more than ever. There are ideas percolating about a special dedicated "vintage stuff" blog with its own URL - but more on that later.

Today, to get things rolling again, I would like to spiel about a funny thing that happened the other day. I pulled into one of my favorite little consignment/thrift store haunts, and I immediately spied a pair of lounge chairs sitting outside that looked an awful lot like they were designed by Jens Risom. Here they are below:

Of course there were no markings on the chairs, so I plopped myself down in one of them (comfy!) and proceeded to consult the interwebs with my handy-dandy smarty-pants phone. A bit of digging revealed that a) they were the wrong kind of wood - if they were real Risoms they would have been walnut, but these looked like lower quality mahogany, or something else; and b) on the real Risom chairs, the arms point INward, whereas the arms on these point OUTward (kind of hard to see in the photo, but take my word for it). The real Risom lounge chair that I was hoping these were is pictured below:
So, having thusly determined the INauthenticity of these chairs (which, regardless of provenance, were still a pretty good deal for someone at the low, low price of $38 each), I went into the store and browsed for a few minutes, and sadly emerged empty-handed. As I was walking back to my car, I noticed a woman giving the chairs a once-over, and taking out her phone to snap a picture. I struck up a conversation with her, mentioning that while they were pretty cool chairs, they weren't the fancy designer chairs that I was hoping that they were.

She said "well, I really like them, but the fabric is hideous and needs to be redone". I said "absolutely. You should buy them and then give them to me to restore", explaining who I was and what I did for a living. She thought for a second and said "wow, that's great, but I don't have a way to get them home - I just live a few blocks away and was on foot". I said "well, why don't you buy them, we can throw them in my van and bring them to your house". She agreed, and the long and the short of it is that they never made it into her house, they stayed in the van and I brought them back to the shop to refinish the frames and have them reupholstered!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A Chair for Mr. Adler

We were pretty excited when Jonathan Adler's design assistant called us up and said that Mr. Adler wanted to buy our large bronze lounge chair by Warren Platner for Knoll. Excited for one, because, well, it was a pretty expensive chair, and for two, there's a certain cool factor in saying that Jonathan Adler himself owns a chair that we provided and restored!

About that restoration - we found the chair as a bare frame with no upholstery whatsoever, as seen in the above picture. In order to furnish the chair with the appropriate cushion, Mario, our ace upholsterer, had to cut a template out of stiff cardboard so he would have something rigid to attach the foam to. Every stitch on this chair is hand sewn, because there's not a straight line on the entire chair! Mario said that this was one of the most challenging chairs he'd ever done, right up there with an Arne Jacobsen Egg chair.

We can see why - there's nothing about this piece that's straightforward! However, he totally came through and did an amazing job, and the luscious bright orange mohair that Mr. Adler chose to upholster the chair in might have been the perfect choice!

Mario brought the chair over on Tuedsay, and Plycon showed up first thing on Wednesday to pick it up, at which point I realized that I hadn't taken any pics of the finished product! So, while the Plycon guys stood around, I quickly snapped some shots. Apologies that they are not up to our usual standards, but as they say, they're better than nothing!

The chair is currently on its way to Mr. Adler in NYC, here's hoping that he's as pleased with it as we were!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Janus Home is MOVING!

Yes, you read that right - Janus Home is packing its proverbial bags and boxes and hitting the road. Don't worry, we're not going far - to a different quadrant of the city, yes, but only 10 minutes (OK, 15 in traffic) from our previous location. So, where are we moving? And, perhaps more importantly, WHY are we moving?

To be honest, the main motivating factor is a reduction in overhead. After some serious thought, we decided that we didn't really need all the space that we are paying for in our current location, and that overall, the business needed a re-org. After looking at several potential new spaces, one in particular kept our attention for longer than the others. For one, it's half the price of our current space (and less than half the space, but more on that in a minute). For two, it's located on N. Mississippi Ave (for those of you non-Portlanders reading, N. Mississippi is a hip, happenin' little shopping district that has become extremely popular over the last few years). The best part is that it's not in the busy retail core of N. Mississippi (there's no way we'd be able to get a decent sized space for the price we want to pay anyway), but in the slightly more gritty, still rather industrial area, 4 or 5 blocks south of the main retail core. If you're wondering, the actual address of the new space is 911 N. Monroe St, which is located on Mississippi Ave, 3 blocks south of N. Fremont St.

Now, about that whole "less than half the space" thing. Our current space, counting the upstairs mezzanine, is about 6000 square feet. The new space is...(drumroll, please!)...about 2000 square feet!! Yes, that's 1/3 the space! So, how are we going to fit our entire operation into a space that's 1/3 the size of the old one? Well, truth be told, we haven't really made terribly efficient use of all that square footage in the current space. The upstairs balcony - well, we never really knew quite what to do with it. And the back warehouse? Well, it's certainly been convenient, but it also made it just a little too easy to buy things that maybe we shouldn't have bought, with the thought - "oh, we'll do something with it someday - and in the meantime, it's not like we're short on space!" This has contributed to us accumulating a whole bunch of stuff in the back room that has lots of potential, but that we haven't actually been able to sell!

Plus, our current location on SE Grand Ave, while very centrally located and relatively easy to get to (that is, when the city isn't busy tearing up the entire neighborhood with construction projects, which it has been for the last 6 months or so), was also very hard to see, and for some reason didn't stick in people's mind very well. I don't know how many times people came in the door saying "I've been driving around for 10 minutes trying to find this place!" Hopefully this will not be the case with the new location, as the building is very visible from the street, and we will have good signage on the building as well as sandwich boards out on the street when we're open.

So, apart from the fact that it's much smaller, how will the new location be different from our present one? Well, the main thing is that due to the obvious space constraints, we are going to be MUCH pickier about what we buy! This means that we will be buying fewer things, and consequently, the things that we do buy will have to carry that much more weight! This means that we will no longer settle for buying a piece that's "just OK" (and not totally fabulous) just because it's cheap. This means that, to a much greater extent than we already have been, we will be doing what I refer to as "exercising our 'NO' muscle" (as in, saying "no thank you" to something that someone's offering to sell us if it doesn't quite meet our standards).

In addition, the new shop will operate more as a working studio than a retail store. We will only be open 2 or 3 days a week (yet to be determined), and other times during the week by appointment. There are several reasons for this. First and foremost is that the new space is not actually a retail space. There are no windows to Mississippi, and it's zoned industrial. One enters the building from the rear (facing Monroe St), and rings a buzzer to get in (the entrance is shared with another shop that is strictly a workshop with no retail at all), except on days when we are "officially" open, when we will likely have the door propped open during business hours. Also, we've always felt that operating on a limited retail/by appointment basis would allow us to spend more time consulting with each client without distraction, and helping them to realize the best pieces for their specific situation. We will, of course, continue to grow our online sales as well, focusing more on our own newly re-launched website and less on eBay.

IN THE MEANTIME, please make some time to stop by our CURRENT location, as we have lots of stuff to get rid of before the move! All warehouse "as is" inventory is currently out on the showroom floor, priced as marked, and all regular priced inventory is 25-50% off regular prices! Maybe best of all, we have hundreds of yards of upholstery fabrics that we have reduced to only $5/yd! The sale will continue through at least June 15th, and possibly for the week after that. If you want to keep apprised of everything that's going on with the move and the grand opening of the new space, please go to our website via the link above and sign up for our newsletter! In the meantime, we hope to see you at the sale in the coming weeks!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Great Things are Afoot

So let's just say it's been a crazy couple of weeks. I had eye surgery. Our new website launched (still needing some revisions, but perfectly functional right now). My trusty assistant, Jared, gave his notice in order to accept his "dream job" at Laika Animation. In interviewing folks for his position, I not only found Clea, my fabulous new assistant (who comes to Portland and us directly from ABC Carpet & Home in NYC), but possibly a skilled upholsterer who might move into our store upstairs, as well as several designers who have expressed an interest in establishing an office in our shop. I couldn't be more pleased to have made the association of all these great new folks, and I feel like it all spells the beginning of a new & exciting chapter of the Janus Home book. Keep a lookout here and on our Facebook page for the play-by-play updates. In the meantime, expect a new, real (i.e. not stopgap, like this one) blog post within the next week. Or two.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Ridiculous Things that People Do to their Perfectly Good Furniture

Critiquing people's design choices sometimes involves treading on thin ice. Something that I might think is a great idea might be anathema to someone else, or vice versa. Just because I in my infinite wisdom think that something is great doesn't necessarily mean that anyone else will, and likewise, just because I think something is god-awful doesn't necessarily mean that anyone will share my distaste.

However, having said that, there are some things that people do to their furniture that I really feel would make anyone with any aesthetic sense whatsoever smack their heads and say "what were they thinking??" Case in point: this beautiful Danish teak dining set that we recently acquired, which was...painted...yellow. Sort of a light custardy yellow. Below, you can see some "before" pictures of the chairs. We don't have any "before" pics of the table because we pretty much started stripping it just as soon as it got into the shop.

The person in question must have really HATED the sight of beautiful, glowing teak wood, because while putting paint on is definitely easier than taking it off, painting a big dining set like this is still quite an endeavor. In total, it took us about a week and a half to strip the whole set (for perspective, the table took about a day, the chairs took over a week).

However, it was more than worth it, as thankfully, the teak was in almost perfect condition under all that paint. The only downside is that it was virtually impossible for us to remove all of the paint that had sunk down deep into the pores of the wood, the result being that there are still a few flecks of yellow paint remaining here and there. However, this really doesn't distract from the beauty of the set, as you can see below!

There are several details that I'd like to point out about this set that distinguish it from your "standard" Danish teak dining set. Although it was made by a rather obscure company (Funder-Schmidt & Madsen? Anyone? Anyone??) and I have no idea who designed it, the fact is that some serious thought and consideration was put into the aesthetics of this set. Let's start with the table - note how when the leaves are tucked into the table, the apron of the main table top completely conceals them so if you didn't know any better, you would have no idea that the leaves were even there. Also note how the corner of the table top kicks out at a very subtle angle, and how the leaves are beveled to match that angle exactly when the leaves are pulled out. Nice.

Now, on to the chairs - apart from the obvious fact that some really nice quality teak was used in the making of these chairs,

my absolute favorite detail about them is the fact that the bottom rung on the side of the chairs, in addition to being artfully and seamlessly sculpted into the leg of the chair, actually TAPERS a subtle 1/4" from the back to the front of the chair. At first I thought it was an illusion, but then I measured, and sure enough, the rung measures 1" at the back of the chair, and 3/4" at the front.

Now, this may not seem like all that big of a deal, but in practical terms, it means that each rung of each of these chairs had to be shaped by hand to ensure the accuracy of that detail. These were not chairs that were haphazardly slapped together in some factory - these were lovingly created by some extremely skilled craftsmen.

It always brings me more than a little bit of joy to be able to take great pieces like this that have suffered such indignity and abuse, and restore them to their original glow and beauty (or, as close as we can practically get). This set will always have those few little flecks of paint buried in the pores, but that just adds to the story - or, as we like to say in the business, "it makes it better"!