How to Rent Retro Chic

A new Portland business offers old-school cool, by the hour

By Rachel Rasmussen February 20, 2013

Top: The “Johnny” Chair & Antique Dessert Servers
Middle: A Vintage State Plate & Old-Time Lanterns
Bottom: The “Kristin” Desk & “Above the Clouds” Dessert Tray

Problem: Your hip new boss commands you to stage a product-launch party. (Never mind for what; in this town, it could be an iPhone app or a line of wooden bow ties.) He wants a neo-vintage spectacular worthy of an Anthropologie catalog. Possible solution: Commonwealth Vintage Rentals, a rental and event-planning operation that has turned Portland’s love of all things old and perfectly weathered into a business model.

Launched last year, the four-woman firm offers vintage, salvaged, and repurposed furnishings for short-term rental. Whether clients need full-blown event planning or just some toasting glasses, Commonwealth aims to make a particular Portland aesthetic available by the hour. “It’s not shabby chic and not midcentury,” cofounder Liz Michel explains. “We wanted a classic look that stands the test of time, that isn’t overly trendy.” 

It’s a look in demand. Averaging five events a week (10 during wedding season), Commonwealth also recently provided props for a photo session for high-end teamaker Steven Smith, whose company insists that even its foil packaging look just so. “The shoot wasn’t fussy,” Smith says. “It showed us as being thoughtful and creative, which is exactly who we are.” 

To achieve this mix, the Commonwealth team scours shops, flea markets, Craigslist, and free-stuff piles. They also build their own faux-old furniture, from salvaged-wood tables to Pendleton-clad ottomans. To the right, six choice items from the Commonwealth collection—all of which speak to a very postmodern fascination with the past.

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