I had the pleasure last week to attend Kush Rugs‘ Resource Portland event. The team at Kush invited me to join a number of designers from mainly outside of Portland as they toured and met with a number of Portland, Oregon based product design companies. It was an amazing day filled with so many wonderful people! I learned so much about the various companies Kush chose to feature and today I’m going to share the highlights of the day with you!
First, a little about Kush Rugs who sponsored and organized the event. Kush was founded by Rebecca and Brian in 2005. Both had a passion for quality rugs and sourced from around the world. Since then they’ve built an amazing team of people with incredible knowledge of all things rugs.
I met the Kush Rugs team back in 2016 when I first moved to Portland and one of my first projects in this new city was to design a complex custom stair runner. I’d never even designed a rug before. I’d selected them, sure, but never worked to create a custom one. The stair runner project was intense since the runner was huge and the stairway complicated, but the team at Kush taught me so much about rugs along the way. I actually rounded up some basic rug info I learned during the project in a blog post way back in 2016. And, in the end, the runner turned out amazing! Here I am standing with it in the Kush showroom. You can see how it was truly giant!
Anyways, let’s get back to last week’s event! I arrived at Kush Rugs in the late morning and met up with their team and a bunch of designers from around the country. After some time mingling and introducing ourselves, we hopped onto a tour bus to drive to our next stop of the day. The bus was a pretty awesome and unique party bus though! I’ll be posting some videos of the interior to Instagram later today, so be sure to check it out there. Basically the whole bus was lit up inside with multi-colored lights, sparkly floors, and red faux-alligator leather seats. Maximalism at its best!
We arrived at Schoolhouse Electric just a few minutes later. One of the nicest things about Portland is almost everything is within a 20 minute drive away! We were given time to wander the showroom a little bit before going on a tour of their factory. One of the cool things about Schoolhouse is they are vertically integrated, meaning the whole company is located within this same building, from design staff, to engineering, to assembly, and finally, to the showroom, it’s all here. Not only is that pretty interesting, it also makes for a pretty sustainable business plan with so much less shipping and commuting all over the world.
I wasn’t able to take any pictures of the tour since they were about to launch a ton of new products they wanted to keep under wraps, but I can share some other details! Schoolhouse was founded in Portland, Oregon in 2003 by Brian Faherty after he found a collection of old cast-iron glass shade molds in a warehouse in New York. Originally the company launched in Portland using these molds to bring some of these old world glass shades back into the modern vernacular.
As the company has grown they’ve introduced new lighting designs as well and now have a few different design branches: heritage, mid-century modern, and contemporary. They showcase all their work on the first floor of their huge, old factory building and it’s an amazing site. I snapped this pic, not only to focus on the fun lighting, but to also to appreciate all that old woodwork! Just look at those beams!
The showroom is giant and the architecture of the building really works well to showcase not only Schoolhouse Electric’s designs but also their roots. The whole space vibes so well, I wanted to curl up on this bed and stay the night!
Speaking of that bed though, Schoolhouse has expanded heavily in the last 16 years gaining more and more traction in their upholstery, bedding, and homegoods lines. It’s easy to see why, they’ve set up some awesome vignettes in their showroom. We were able to see some of their factory team sewing upholstered goods on the tour too. I’m pretty obsessed with that 48″ ribbed velvet bolster pillow on that yummy camel leather tufted sofa below.
The showroom was so good at displaying everything from lighting to small homegoods like this to full furniture vignettes. A ton of thought and care has been taken to showcase these designs.
Everything they’re producing is of obvious quality. The pieces are heavy and feel solid in your hand. A lot of that quality comes from their A-Z model of design => manufacture => sell. They’re doing everything in house and in this very building!
It was super interesting to see how pieces like the metal bases of those stools were produced in their factory upstairs. Pieces that are powdercoated are actually magnetized and then the paint powder is sent in and it sticks to the magnetized metal piece before the powder is then melted on under heat. I had no idea that’s how powdercoating worked!
Schoolhouse also has a ton of natural metal finish pieces like brass. We got some insight on those processes as well. The brass pieces are all sandblasted with 1000 beads of sand per second to even out the finish after they are formed. Then they have a 6 dip process for finishing. The whole dip line is operated by hand too! It was very cool to watch.
By the time each piece leaves the Schoolhouse factory, it’s been touched by four or five pairs of human hands. The factory relies on good old fashioned man power to bring this quality of goods to the market, which I find pretty amazing in today’s automated factory world.
This reliance on human touch and efforts to bring quality pieces, really was the theme of the Kush Rugs Resource Portland event though!
After our tour of Schoolhouse, we had a Q&A session, and then a bunch of the designers did a little shopping in the showroom before we hopped back on the bus to return to Kush.
There the designers had the opportunity to flip through Kush’s collection of rugs, learn more about their custom program, and mark things for current projects. I always love breezing through the pieces at Kush. The textures of all their pieces vary so much and they have every thing from antiques to newly made. As the rugs are flipped to show a corner, they create the coolest piling effect, I couldn’t help but snap a few pictures of!
One of my favorite pieces in the Kush Rugs showroom is also one of their boldest pieces. They’ve got it up on the wall right when you walk in. I love the fuchsia and teal mix! It looks amazing against the old brick walls of their showroom with the afternoon sun streaming in the huge windows. Natural light is so important when it comes to reading color.
At the Kush showroom we also got to meet with three local product designers who’s work was on display. The first was Fix Studio. They’re an interior design company based in Portland who have begun a foray into product design. They have some really cool and unique pieces. I loved this chunky cocktail table.
They also design a number of different stools which can be customized. I loved the raw metal finish of this one, but it would be super fun powdercoated an unexpected color too
I was drawn to Fix’s lights the second I walked in! How fun are those coffee pendant fixtures? I was too busy fawning over these to take a proper picture, so I nabbed this better shot from their site. At Kush they had them in black, yellow, and red too! Of course, Fix said they could also be customized in any color.
After I was done drooling over these lights, I spent some time with Juju Papers, a PDX local wallpaper company founded in 2010 by Avery Thatcher. They design here in Portland. They’ve recently started producing tile too! Their tile is all handmade in Mexico and then imported into the US. Their designs are so fun! They had a few boards up in the Kush showroom.
Finally, I had the pleasure of meeting Alice Sergeant of Alice Sergeant Textiles while we were at the Kush Showroom. Alice — in addition to being one of the sweetest people I met all day — is an incredibly talented textile artist. Her newly launched collection of fabrics are all printed on natural linen.
She is clearly a wonderwoman with color and I love the intricacies of each of her designs! That center print fabric left me in awe. It’s teal, pink, and yellow, yet doesn’t read little girl at all, instead it’s incredibly sophisticated and statement making. Can you imagine drapery in that print?
I want pillows in this beautiful teal, navy, and cream print for my house too!
Her whole collection is pretty inspiring and I’ve definitely added her to my ones to watch list! A lot of her textiles are chameleons that can go from traditional to contemporary which is just so fun!
Soon, it was time to head out of the Kush Showroom and on to our next adventure: Clayhaus Tile. Their factory is located in SE Portland so we hopped on our new favorite bus once more and zipped over the Willamette River.
Clayhaus was such a fun place to tour as they let us totally invade their factory and walked us closely through the tile process. Founded by Jason and Meghan Coleman, Clayhaus came to be in 2010 after a few other tile ventures. They started, like all the best companies, in a 400 squarefoot garage before moving a few times and landing where they are now in a 4,200 squarefoot Southeast Portland warehouse building.
Now they’re famous for a lot of their 3D ceramic work, wide array of colors, and fun shapes! Their tile is all made with a low fire, white, talc clay body and is primarily rated for residential use, but can work in some commercial wall applications too.
They walked us through their process of creating their 3D tile work which involves first making a rubber tile 3D printed by their in house artist, Kristine Morich and from there plaster molds are created and replicated before these rubber urethane molds are made.
All their 3D tiles are made with a RAM pressing machine that uses air and molds to create identical tiles. Eventually the molds need to be remade as each press wares them down. It was super interesting to see and we even got a demo of the RAM pressing! Look how cool this negative of their signature cassette tape tile is.
They hand operate a series of machines and walked us through the process of their tile from raw clay on. Here’s a shot of recently cut tile drying and waiting for firing.
They have a number of kilns and it was cool to see how many tiles they could stack in each one!
The geometry of how they get as much to fit in each firing as possible is really interesting and clearly takes a lot of thought.
Tiles are glazed here in the Clayhaus warehouse in this spraying booth and the glaze is measured to the gram weight so each tile comes out exactly identical in tone.
With 125 + different glaze colors and customization available, each order can be completely unique. They also offer things like custom mixes! We got to see one of their employees putting together mini-hex tiles in a 4 shade random mix. Sorting by hand, each section of tile was completely unique and oh so fun! Another thing I totally loved? Rather than the typical mesh backing on mosaics, they use these clear sticker sheets on top. That way the tile installer can better see the pattern and spacing! How cool is that?
They have about a million different shapes as well as their 3D tiles, so the possibilities with Clayhaus are endless! As a designer, the ability to play with unique shapes like this is the best way to make a design statement.
I left Clayhaus so impressed by their selections. The possibilities are truly endless! I can’t wait to use one of their fun tiles in a future project.
After our Clayhaus tour, we piled back into the bus once more. Kush generously treated us to cocktails at Rum Club and then dinner at Nostrana. I ended the day so full. Full of inspiration, full of ideas, full of new knowledge, full of awe at all these amazing Portland resources, and full to the brim with food and drink! Living in Portland I tend to take for granted all the unique design resources we have at our fingertips. It was perfect to take a step back and really explore and appreciate the local companies that produce these awesome products. There is so much work that goes into these small companies and that results in some really unique and high quality pieces. The opportunity to get behind the scenes, meeting the people behind the products, and visiting these factories was invaluable! A huge thanks to Kush Rugs for inviting me along on this fun day!