October 14, 2011

Inside the Showrooms: Vanillawood

A while ago, I met (virtually) Kricken Yaker, who, with her husband, James, own Vanillawood, a design/build business in Portland, OR. I was immediately intrigued, since I'm a native Oregonian, and so is Kricken—and you don't find too many of us. Fast forward several years of computer-friendship, and we finally met face-to-face while she was LA. We had a blast chatting about what she does, what Entra does and reminiscing about Portland back in the day. Her showroom is a testament to how much the city has changed. When we were growing up, the neighborhood where they've set up shop was pretty desolate, save for the legendary Powell's and the omnipresent smell of beer from the Henry Weinhard's brewey. Now, the area is known as the Pearl District,  it's one of the hippest spots in town, and the brewery houses lofts.

All photos Ty Milford/Courtesy Vanillawood

I love what Kricken and James are doing—putting their business into a storefront where customers can immediately see their aesthetic and interact with the duo. Plus, it's bright and poppy and fun and serves as a great antidote to the grey days in the Pacific Northwest. Kricken kindly answered some questions for us about how Vanillawood came about and what they're up to now.

How did Vanillawood come about?
 After buying our first house in Venice, CA, we fell in love with the process of renovating and designing together. We realized that this is what we really wanted to be doing for a living and not just as a hobby. Portland, Oregon, where I'm from, seemed like a better place to be buying and selling homes (this was at the height of the real estate market, mind you) and we were looking to slow the pace down for our growing family. We sold that beloved house and moved our family to Portland to launch Vanillawood. 

We started the business doing spec houses, and, after being approached by several people to design and build "our style" for them, the client part of our business was born. About two years ago, we were expecting our third son and looking to move our business from our home office. We stumbled upon this amazing location in Portland’s Pearl District. This location begged to be a retail store and showroom and our working studio. 

We opened our doors in July of last year, and it has become a great space where our clients, as well as people who happen upon us while walking by, can touch and feel our work, ask questions and get inspired.  The fun part about having this store is often people will come in to look at our retail wares and end up hiring us for our design, build or interior design services.  

How would you define your style?
Organic contemporary with a touch of Hollywood glam. Life is nutty enough and we are all running at a break-neck pace with work, kids, obligations, so home is where we unwind, decompress and refuel.  At Vanillawood we create homes and spaces that are livable and approachable, that make you feel good every time you enter the room. It’s what “design, build, live” is all about. 

What's the design scene like in Portland?
Portland has got a lot going on!  I left at 18 thinking I would never live here again and, boy, has it changed. I've lived in New York, LA and Italy, and I love seeing this city attract so many people for the creative culture and lifestyle.  There are a lot of extremely talented people. Sustainability is obviously a huge part of what Portland design is all about.  At Vanillawood we use a lot of really interesting reclaimed materials in our custom furniture and case goods and our design and build projects. It lends a great story to the finished product.  Function and design are critical, but it’s also important to feel good about how things are made.

How has the web changed your business?
Gosh, how has it not? Design is so much more accessible with the web. Inspiration can be found a click of a button—there’s a global marketplace at your fingertips. That can be amazing but also potentially overwhelming for a client faced with so much information. Part of a good interior designer’s role these days, I think, is to help their clients sift through all the choices out there and help define and curate what’s really right for their lifestyle and their home. The web also means that it’s not enough to just be a good online store or showroom. You need to offer an aesthetic and a service that’s about more than just the merchandise you are carrying. You need to set yourself apart and really communicate the passion and perspective you bring to a job. 

If you're in Portland drop by and say hi. If that's not in the cards, check out Vanillawood. They've got a portfolio up, and you can shop!

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