By Midge Pierce
Design is as important inside as out. It’s no surprise that furniture stores are among the beneficiaries of Portland’s building surge.
While furniture trends come and go, some things stand the test of time. Quality is one.
In SE Portland, two long-standing stores have delivered quality furnishing for several generations.
In a town that takes buying local to heart, the family-owned Kuhnhausen Furniture in the 2600 block of E. Burnside is a time-honored establishment.
Founded in 1919, it may be the last family-run furniture store in Portland. Siblings Neal, Jan and Shelley share a commitment to customer service and the mission that “everyone deserves to live in their ideal space.”
What started as a small appliance store is now an eclectic mix of old and new design – much like the Portland of today. In the showroom where matched sets once reigned, mid-century modern side tables and coffeetables mix with classic armchairs.
One thing that hasn’t changed is a focus on quality, local dealers, and family. For very nearly a century, the store has survived booms and busts, wartime and depression, and the opening and closing of satellite stores along the outer edges of town.
Showcasing inventory from local distributors like Biltwell or Castellano is important to brother Neal. The most popular items are upholstered sofas, chairs and sectionals. Neal, the first sibling to join the business, recalls why the store changed from appliances to all furnishings.
“Fixing appliances was intensive and required specialized labor,” he said, adding that the family never had enough time for each other.
Since learning the business as a teen from his father and grandfather, Neal has witnessed enormous transformation in Portland shoppers and stores. He says Kuhnhausen’s clientele is long-established but growing as the city expands.
“Ikea has its market position. We get the young people who have grown tired of putting it all together. They want grown-up, real furniture.”
Jan Stewart says today’s shoppers are savvy. “They come in focused, knowing what they want after researching online and watching home improvement shows.”
For Shelley Howard, well-proportioned furniture that is neither too massive nor too scanty is important. “Not everyone gets to play house in a furniture store every day.”
Something that never goes out of style is wood. The Natural Furniture store on Stark St. in Montavilla draws in customers with that clean, new wood smell and keeps them there with its craftsmanship and variety.
From Adirondack chairs to dressers, tables, bookcases and custom media centers, all items are solid wood, ready to be stained with a selection of low VOC finishes or simply left unfinished.
“High quality from local craftsmen withstands the test of time,” says owner Rick Slagter.
His clientele has a can-do DIY spirit that comes from custom-designing wall units, bookcases, chest of drawers or other items “any way clients want” and staining them any colors they like.
“You can save a lot of money by doing your own design. Normally, if you hire a designer they develop the idea. Here, your idea is custom-made for a tenth of the cost. What a designer charges you $10 – $20 K, costs $2000 here.
He too has noticed that clients come in well prepared with exact specifications and line drawings of what they want a project to look like.
After 40 years on Broadway, Rick Slagter loves Montavilla’s resurgence and ambience. He particularly likes his store’s juxtaposition being across from restaurants like the Country Cat, Ya Hala, and The Observatory. “A lot of new homeowners in the area are from California. They know good wood.”
The eco-friendliness of quality wood products that lasts a lifetime is important. For those with allergies against glue and stains, Slagter says that natural furniture – like natural foods and eating healthy – are all quintessential earmarks of Portland.
At least for his clients and staff, the smell of wood furniture never gets old.