Meet the Next Wave of Portland Furniture Designers—and Take a Look Back

How ShowPDX created a stage for a new community of makers. Retrospective open at the Museum of Contemporary Craft through January 31.

By Randy Gragg October 1, 2014 Published in the Design Annual: Fall 2014 issue of Portland Monthly

The Whorl Table by Neal Aronowitz, featured at ShowPDX 2014

Jennifer Jako recalls precisely the time she first used the word “maker.” She and her husband, Chris Bleiler, were labeling items for the second installation of their local furniture exhibit, ShowPDX. The monthly rent on their 5,000-square-foot warehouse in the Central Eastside Industrial District was $2,000, or about 40 cents per square foot. Neighborhood parking was plentiful. “You could clear-coat a piece of metal on the sidewalk and not block anyone,” she recalls. Jako and Bleiler needed to call the designers who also handled their own fabrication something. “Designer/maker” she wrote under some exhibitors’ names. 

The year: 2002. 

Central Eastside rents now crest $1 per square foot. Open parking spots are rare, and the district’s sidewalks are busy with a booming workforce and a new café culturati. And as ShowPDX readies its ninth show in 13 years—along with a concurrent retrospective of past exhibitors at the Museum of Contemporary Craft—the word “maker” describes a nationwide movement, complete with its first New York Biennial and a President Obama–declared “National Day of Making” (June 18, in case you missed it). 

“It’s now the word,” Jako notes with a laugh. “It sure wasn’t back then. We’re like the old guard.” 

ShowPDX 2014 will include David Nebert and Scott Schiesel’s Cirrus; Don Faris’s Core Dining Table; ; Todd Isaacs’s Utility Pole Table; Jordan Millar’s Silvia Chair; and Adrienne Allaert and David Abouaf’s Tete-a-Tete.

ShowPDX sprouted from an even earlier Portland furniture show: Table Lamp + Chair. Both initially chased the same grail of exhibiting furniture designs for mass production. Some designer-makers succeeded: Matthew Bietz of Quartertwenty launched his Giddyup Stool and Wall Stirrup shelf brackets, for example, and Kari Merkl developed her popular Merkled coat and pot racks. But ShowPDX’s more lasting impact has been in connecting Portland’s burgeoning pool of design and custom-fab talent. 

“It became our own version of an incubator,” says Bleiler. 

Indeed, the work of ShowPDX alumni is ubiquitous locally, from Bo Hagood’s live-edge tables in the restaurant Roman Candle to Tom Ghilarducci’s hanging ceiling installation at the Doug Fir Lounge. But exports abound as well: Jako and Bleiler’s own environmental design business, Fix Studio, recently completed six new restaurants for an as-yet-undisclosed West Coast casino.  

Last year’s ShowPDX opening party drew an impressive 1,500 people to the Pearl District. For this year’s show, 60 designers and makers have been selected to display their work throughout the month of October, in addition to an opening-night reception, a two-day conference, and, of course, a party where you can “Meet Your Maker.” Now everybody knows exactly what they mean.


Design Week Portland

From a new geodesic-domed hub in Pioneer Courthouse Square to a Ziggy Stardust rock-and-roll gala to a calendar of national names, open studios, workshops, and interactive events, the third annual citywide celebration of design offers tantalizing treats for admirers of design and professionals alike. Oct 4–11


This two-day conference at the Portland Art Museum will explore aspects of the buzzy world of experience design—or, “making experiences people love.” Speakers include leaders from Zappos, Uber, XPLANE, Intel, and Google, all working at the creative crossroads of business, design, and technology. Oct 6–7

Find more fall design events here!

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