A Visit to Woonwinkel

Design Store(y) is back on the West Coast this month for a tour of Woonwinkel in Portland, Oregon (next month we break out of bi-coastal mode for a trip overseas). The shop is light and airy, and it’s contents equally as refreshing. Woonwinkel owners Erica Essink and Kristin Van Buskirk label their look as “warm, inviting, tactile, quirky,” asserting it as “a departure from the hard, slick modern aesthetic of the past.” Essentially, it’s modern with soul, and we’re loving it.

Where did you get the whimsical (and unusual!) name for the store?

Kristin was living in Amsterdam and learning Dutch while we were cooking up the idea of the shop. “Woonwinkel” means “home shop” in Dutch. For a while, we just used it as our placeholder name, but then we grew to have so much affection for it that it stuck. It’s a good fit for the store: it’s a nod to Dutch design, which we love, and it’s also pretty straightforward and functional, but with lightness, warmth, and humor.

What’s the neighborhood like?

We love the West End neighborhood. It’s slowly becoming known as the shopping and culture destination of Portland. It has a great collection of independent shops, restaurants, and cultural organizations, including the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art and Portland Arts & Lectures. We overlook one of the city’s famous food cart pods and we’re a hop, skip. and a jump from another Portland landmark: Powell’s Books. There’s lots to do in the neighborhood, but it also has a bit of an edge. The people watching from our corner window is fantastic.

How has the store evolved in the year that you’ve been open?

We still have a Dutch influence in our product assortment. We carry some of our favorite Dutch designers like Hella Jongerius, Dick van Hoff, Scholten & Baijings. Qualities that Dutch designers are known for carry through all of our products: natural materials, warmth, cleverness. We’re constantly expanding our collection of regional designers.

What’s one of the challenges you have with the business?

Kristin’s a color designer and Erica used to teach first grade, so learning all the basics of retail has been our biggest challenge. We learn something new every day. But taking on new challenges is part of what we enjoy about running our own business!

Did you work in other stores before opening this one?

Aside from some short stints working at the mall in high school, this is our first adventure in retail. Although we both probably learned a thing or two about retail as designers—Erica had a small jewelry line that was sold in boutiques around the country and Kristin works as a color designer for Nike.

What’s your favorite item in the store right now?

We love the Mega Doily Rugs by Ladies and Gentleman. Definitely not your traditional doily, they’re hand made in massive scale out of cotton rope. They look great on the floor or on the wall, which is how we display them in the shop. Maybe we’ve got a thing for oversized accessories, because another favorite item is Studio Gorm’s Shed Shelf, an iconic house-shaped storage cabinet, which most people say looks like a giant doll house. It’s a conversation piece that we never get tired of looking at it.

What is this season’s story?

Our story is a more consistent one. While we vary products and continually bring in new things, our focus is always on well-made, handcrafted pieces by independent designers or small companies. We are big fans of color! We have a lot of yellow in the store right now.

Are you carrying any new products and/or undiscovered gems you’re particularly excited about?

Our favorite new product right now is probably a good example of our style. It’s the Perrette vessels by Y’a Pas Le Feu Au Lac, which are inspired by old buckets like the ones you’d find on farms in the Upper Jura region of France. They’re made of a light-colored lime tree wood, and the handles are painted in cheerful, bright glossy colors. We have a new product that’s a little different for us: Sögreni bike bells. They’re awesome minimal bike bells that have a different “ping” sounds depending on the metal. They’re going to be a great fit in Portland—we definitely like our bikes here.

What’s been a consistent bestseller?

The Pack Racks by Steph Mantis have been very popular. She mounts little plastic toy animal heads on wood for hanging necklaces, keys, whatever. And then she makes the back half of the animal into magnets—we love her “use all parts of the animal” approach.  The brass necklaces by Seattle-based Iacoli & McAllister have also been really popular. Rocking Votives by Portland-based Pigeon Toe Ceramics, and the Chalk It To Me Piggy by Ladies and Gentlemen (out of Seattle) have been really successful as well. We love that our regional designers account for many of our bestsellers.

Any special events or collaborations on the horizon?

We just celebrated our one year anniversary! Our first year was focused on laying a foundation, but in this next year we’ll be doing more temporary shows around a theme, as well as featuring one designer’s work. We want to balance our more commercial product assortment with experimental pieces. We have in mind avant-garde quilts for the holidays and an outdoor theme for next spring.

Does the store have its own line?

Not yet, but we’d love to be collaborating on products with some of our favorite regional designers in the next few years.

Do you have anything from the store in your own home?

Oh, the dangers of being surrounded by beautiful things. Yes, we’ve both managed to bring a few things home. Kristin’s new favorite is a dark teal Canvas Utility Quilted Throw that she keeps folded up inside a bright red basket. Erica is currently obsessed with pink, so she recently brought home a pink Driftwood Wall Hook by Kiel Mead, and a Button Man. Thank goodness we get to be surrounded by these beautiful pieces in the store every day or we would have to bring home a lot more.

Marni Elyse Katz is a Contributing Editor at Design Milk. She lives in Boston where she contributes regularly to local publications and writes her own interior design blog, StyleCarrot.