Thursday, November 29, 2007

Taking the Custom Furniture Plunge

I've noted that our place is small at around 800 square feet, so it presents some design challenges. It is, for the time-being, a vacation destination and that influences our process as well. So we've been working with Amanda and Emma at Montgomery Kalsh Interior Design to get it right. As part of the process, we met recently at the showroom of Design Furnishings International in Northwest Portland to have a fitting for our new sectional. We picked the fabric with Emma and Amanda, and the team at DFI will manufacture the piece to Emma's design specs (image). So Emma, my partner Lupe and I gathered to meet with Mathew, DFI's showroom manager and resident wit.

I had thought the art of pithy conversation to be lost until I began to chat with Mathew. Not only did we all learn more about human anatomy than we probably needed to know, but we also had a delightful conversation in the process. Thrust and parry, rejoinders and repartees, the kind of conversation that requires attention and rewards it with insight and humor.

DFI builds high-quality, custom furniture for the design trade right in Portland. The firm uses solid Alder frames paired with hand-tied springs or Sinuous Arcs, and in-house craftsmen add unique character with hand carved elements that can reflect a variety of classic or contemporary styles. What's not to love? High-end fabric, custom manufacture with quality components, and personal fitting. We're excited to see and chill on our new piece.

So what's involved in a sofa or sectional fitting? Depth, seat height, over-all scale, seams, angles and feet can all be adjusted to best fit our needs. We sat in a variety of pieces, at a variety of heights to get things started. Since we're not ginormously tall, okay, even average height, we selected an appropriate height and depth for our piece. Then we checked-out arm rest heights and arrived at a suitable measurement. We chatted about seams, and discussed the over all look. After this bit of work and quite a bit of enjoyable conversation we left happy. Following the meeting, we made one adjustment on the seaming based on feedback from DFI and the consent of our designer.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Why We Love Portland

Though my family lives in rural southern Oregon, my partner and I are spending a lot of time in Portland at our new condo. Even though it is not yet fully furnished. Maybe it's because we need our regular city fix, or maybe it's because both of our adult daughters are camping out at home as I write. In any case, we're both involved in a serious and on-going love affair with the Rose City. I'm cross-posting this article to my regular blog, Pop Impulse, where I regularly hold-forth on all things interesting.

As west coast cities go, we've discovered Portland is rather an unknown to many of our out-of-state friends. And we like it that way. People mention San Diego, Long Beach, LA, San Francisco & Seattle without so much as a nod to Oregon's biggest burg. So let me fill in the spaces for the uninitiated. Portland is the city that Googles "Impeach Bush" more than any other in the country. It is the country's "greenest" city, with well over a million trees and 25% of the city covered by canopy. There are over a quarter million trees on roadsides in Portland.

The city has a number of downtown highlights: The trendy Pearl District with its abundance of lofts, galleries and high-end furnishing emporiums and the formal Chinese garden, walled and compact with a charming tea house in the center - nestled in the heart of the city. The city's famous rose and Japanese gardens at Washington Park are totally fabulous, and the Tom McCall Waterfront Park along the Willamette river is close to everything and provides a great venue for the city's many parties, like the now famous Cinco de Mayo bash. And of course, the Tri-Met & Max is an excellent example an efficient rapid transit system. We're very pleased there's a stop on the same corner as our building.

Portland is known for its open and progressive attitude and politics; its green hillsides and cityscape; great views; good food and the quintessential Northwest state-of-mind. And of course, for the Suicide Girls, Pink Martini and the homegrown Burnside Skate Park. We are especially fond of the food and wine. I'll be posting extensively on the this blog about our favorite restaurants; events, and art exhibits. We are members of the Portland Museum of Art and plan to attend major exhibitions.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Room with a View

So I raved about the view over Portland from the new condo, so here it is. The condo has a south-facing wall and an east-facing wall - with a lot of windows on both. From the south windows we see Portland State, and look over buildings trees toward the south waterfront. On the east, we look across downtown - from our perch on 11th & Clay.

Just last weekend, the trees started dropping their leaves - after a serious show of color. So the city has a wintry look-and-feel about it now. Keep that umbrella close to the door.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Condo Spaces Are Small

Our family home in southern Oregon is a spacious, ranch-style with a lot of space. So we have had no experience with small spaces.

We learned in short order that the scale of everything needs to be smaller. Slender legs, non-bulky designs and no clutter. That means not an extra piece of furniture or whimsey to make it really work.

After visiting too many furniture stores and facing daunting choices, we engaged the services of a designer. Another lesson, that. Our first experience was not a satisfying one. The designer turned out to be more accurately a window-covering specialist - though she professed to deliver the whole nine yards. We paid her for an hour or two and parted company, after she revealed she couldn't draw and offered some suggestions that did not fit with our expectations. In retrospect, our interviewing process was flawed. Real interior designers have degrees in design, professional certification, and most can render their ideas in some sort of draft layout.

With that ephiphany, we went back to the data; did some more interviewing, and hired Amanda Klash & her partner Emma Davis at Montgomery Kalsh. We have developed a good relationship with these two professionals and our project is moving forward at long last. Amanda helped us select and order the appropriate window coverings, a woven-wood product, and her installer just got them up a few days ago. Working with Amanda, Emma designed a layout for the space, speced-out some furniture pieces and deisgned us a sectional for local manufacture when we couldn't find an appropriate retail product. We'll have that piece in about three weeks, with any luck at all.

Portland Condo

We took the plunge last year and reserved a condo in one of Portland's newest towers. After more than a few delays, we took possession in July. But our excitement was tempered by the myriad problems the building owners were obliged to address. About five weeks later, we reached a rapproachement with managment (they fixed about 80 percent of our issues) and began the process of furnishing the small space. And that, I can tell you, has proved to be a challenge. More about that later.

We chose the Benson Towers as our Portland outpost. Though "The Pearl" district is very popular right now and offers some fine loft spaces, we wanted a "greener" neighborhood that was closer to theaters and museums. The "Cultural District," where the Benson Towers is located, is across Market street from PSU, two blocks from Park Street with it's towering canopy and downtown greenbelt. The Schnitzer Center for the Performing Arts is just around the corner, as is the Museum of Art. And, we're on the Tri-Met line, which runs in front of our building. Doesn't get any better than that.

We've got a one-bedroom, corner unit on the 8th floor facing southeast. Lots of very large windows, and a small balcony that accomodates two chairs and a table with a couple of plants. The unit has two baths, which is a convenience; and a washer/dryer in a closet off the master bath. The kitchen is quite complete, though the appliances chosen by the builder are overkill.

The building is one of the few in Portland to be exempted from the ground-floor retail requirement. Most residential buildings have retail outlets on their ground floor. The Benson Towers was exempted because designers included a substantial water feature in the front of the building that was judged to be an asset to the city and a waiver was granted. I confess to being distressed when I discovered that the building was also the first high-rise in the city to be completed without union labor. That information would have influenced my decision. As it is, I'll just have to make a substantial contribution to a local labor temple's PAC and light a candle to Dan Gardner to atone for my sin.

That said, we love the place. Local architects are evidently impressed as well. The building is a true tower, with a core of support and lots of concrete, steel and glass. Just what we wanted. And the view is spectacular.