In downtown Portland, Oregon, CANOE is a mix between a corner store and a design museum. Founded in 2005 by Sean and Craig, CANOE has set out to provide simple, beautiful, and functional objects that can be enjoyed every day. Items that perform their function so well, are built to last, and offer a timeless design aesthetic. The mix of furniture, home goods, jewelry, and many other product categories are offered at a range of price points making CANOE a great shop for finding gifts for others or discovering that special piece you never knew your own life was missing. We were lucky enough to have an opportunity to speak with Craig about the CANOE and their unique curation of products.
Can you tell us about how CANOE came about?
Both Sean and myself come from professional retail backgrounds, our previous employers include national speciality retailers and museum stores. We had a desire to strike out on our own, and selected Portland as an emerging market to launch our concept for an approachable, design driven retail brand. We started with a brick and mortar store in downtown Portland in 2005, and added our website about a year later.
What sets your store apart from the others in Portland?
I think our strong design focus is different from other stores that pursue a more typical lifestyle direction. I have a degree in product design and we both have an appreciation for design and architecture. We highlight the design origins of the products we carry by designer name (if available) and the country they were designed in. A lot of story-telling is involved to convey the significance of the products in the store, and why we chose them. Other stores often chase product trends, but we aren't really interested in short lived trends.
You describe modern as an approach, not a style. Can you elaborate what you mean by that?
Modern to us means a way of thinking about products and it is closely related to our criteria for choosing products. It involves thinking about how people really live, and how the right products in your home can really enhance your life. It isn't about superficial "modern" styling that is often trendy, flashy or eye-catching. Sometimes the best products have a very quiet presence.
What unique characteristics are you looking for when choosing products for CANOE?
Key characteristics for us would be simplicity, longevity, quality, and authenticity. Sometimes product design is treated like fashion design—very trend driven, producing products with a short shelf life. We pretty much reject that outright. Our favorite products have a timeless appeal. We are really attracted to products that aren't defined by a specific time period—when looking at them you might not be able to determine when they were designed. We don't lean too heavily on messaging our brand partners as heritage brands but we do like companies that have a certain degree of specialization and a history of producing high quality goods for a long time. Honesty in materials is important too. In general we prefer natural materials like wood, stone, metals, cotton and wool, leather, and glass for the way they age gracefully.
What drew you to Tivoli Audio products?
The Model One BT is a customer favorite because it performs very well and blends into almost any setting effectively. The styling is simple and direct, and the overall product footprint is small so it can be put almost anywhere. I think it's a great example of a design that stays relevant over time.
What are some of your other favorite products in your shop right now?
We are fortunate to work with many small producers from all over the world that make special products. Kaikado is a Japanese producer of hand made coffee and tea canisters in copper and brass, they're beautiful and functional. Production is limited so we always sell out of them quickly. The same family has owned and run the company for generations. Pidat is a new Finnish design company that designed and produced a new kind of bird feeder, it's simple and effective and has an interesting form. David Mellor in England is a cutlery producer—they make both kitchen knives and table flatware that is great quality, modern, and timeless. We have always strived to have a wide variety of price points so that everyone can enjoy a well-designed product no matter what their budget is. An example is wool felt drink coasters that we get from Parkhaus in Berlin. They're $6 a piece and work great—the wool is new lambswool so it contains natural lanolin to help repel stains, and the felt is so dense that virtually no moisture can get through it. It's a nice little piece of good design to use every day.
See more of what CANOE has to offer at canoe.design.
|SHOP THE LOOK
|Model One BT