Next up in our Local Alternatives series is Crate & Barrel, known for reasonably priced yet modern and attractive home furnishings ranging from fun little kitchen gadgets to complete living room furniture sets. The company was founded in Chicago in 1962 by a young couple who despaired of ever finding in the Windy City the affordable yet smart contemporary furnishings that were available just about anywhere they went on their European honeymoon. Back to Europe they went on buying trips, and then they used the crates and barrels in which their merchandise was shipped as their shop’s décor (hence, the name).
There are now nearly 120 Crate & Barrel stores throughout North America. They’re no longer as rustic as that first store, so you won’t see crates and barrels stacked in the windows. Another change is that the products are not exclusively European. The mix is 20 percent from Europe, 40 percent from Asia and 40 percent from North America.
Because Crate & Barrel is a one-stop housewares shop, no one Portland business completely fills the bill as an alternative. But we found three Puddle City emporiums that sell similar merchandise. Read on and let us know your suggestions and comments.
You might say Kitchen Kaboodle was present at the revolution. When the local kitchenware shop opened in 1975, Portland was on the cusp of a food awakening. The store operated its own cooking school. Back then, the now common idea of a kitchen store offering cooking classes was out of this world.
Over the years, its offerings expanded so that comfortable, attractive, modern furniture for the discerning Northwesterner became part of the inventory. Since 1982 John Whisler has been a co-owner, and he likes to think he has his finger on the local pulse. “We don’t have to think about styles and colors that are popular in Miami or Phoenix,” says Whisler. “We can buy things that look good in homes here.”
At the Northwest 23rd Avenue store, as well as at most of the four other metro-area stores, you’ll find on the second floor a welcoming scene with various sets of living room furniture made up to look like you could simply drop them into a Portland home and get comfy. There’s also art and accessories, including Portland-made Lonesomeville Pottery.
The main floor offers Kitchen Kaboodle’s raison d’être, the whole kit and caboodle of kitchen- and bathware. There are the standbys for every well-equipped kitchen, including KitchenAid mixers, offered in appetizing hues (pear, tangerine, green apple, among others); colorful Le Creuset cast-iron cookware; multiple types of dinnerware, flatware, glasses and cutlery; and an enticing array of kitchen gadgets.
There’s not much in kitchenware that’s made locally, but what there is happens to be the best. Literally. Best Manufacturers of Portland makes stainless steel wire whisks with chrome handles ($7.95 - $12.95), a brand that’s in demand in home and professional kitchens alike.
Interested in a new fire pit or stylish yet durable table and chairs to grace your patio? It’s true that Crate & Barrel has a balcony area that’s devoted to outdoor furniture, but their assortment doesn’t hold a torchiere to Fishels. Not only is Fishels a local company (operating since 1921), but it boasts the largest selection of outdoor furniture in the entire Northwest. We’re talking about more than 140 collections, from both domestic and international manufacturers.
Fishels is hardly a dark and musty furniture store. Enter the store at the east end of the Burnside Bridge and you’ll find yourself in as much natural light as cloudy Portland affords. An open area directly in front of you is where the design consultants can be found to steer you around the living room, dining room and bedroom sets of contemporary furniture.
But if you’re on a quest for furniture that will hold up to the weather, your consultant will guide you down a flight of stairs to a vast cavern. Yes, it’s weird that the outdoor furniture is all underground and nowhere near the sun. Think of it as your mission to set some of it free in your own backyard.
You’ll find classy propane fire pits and dining and lounging sets made from teak, cast aluminum, iron and wicker. An attractive Ipe table and chairs made from plantation-grown ironwood from Bolivia will set you back about $4,000. You’ll want to eat outdoors all winter long.
Fishels, 5 SE MLK Jr. Blvd., 503.235.8941
There’s mass-produced modern furniture, and then there’s sleek and exclusive modern furniture that no one else can claim. That’s the kind you’ll find at the Pearl District’s EWF Modern, where individual pieces and entire rooms bear the stamp of owner Renee Russo’s design-driven aesthetic. They’re easy on the environment, too, made from sustainable materials.
Take, for example, a six-foot-long console with horizontal bars of reclaimed hardwood and harvested mahogany covering the surface. As Russo points out, the wooden bars cover each surface, unlike pieces from some furniture manufacturers who tend to relax their efforts for areas less likely to be seen. The same attention to detail extends to the hardware. The console’s doors open effortlessly, thanks to the top-of-the-line German hardware.
Yet the price, $2,495, “is comparable to what you’d find in a chain,” says Russo.
Open since 2007, EWF Modern also features a fun assortment of accessories including pillows, ceramics, framed mirrors and quirky items like the alarm clock on wheels that jumps three feet from your bedstand and beeps until you get up.
EWF Modern, 1122 NW Glisan St., 503.295.7336
It’s all about mixing and matching when finding local alternatives to the myriad merchandise under Crate & Barrel’s roof. But keep in mind that shopping at locally owned businesses means you’re supporting every local person who contributed to that store’s success—that means architects, contractors, bookkeepers, clerks. In the words of Kitchen Kaboodle’s John Whisler, “That’s an act of economic development!”