West Elm Paper Flower Market
Image: Kristin Belz
Flowers at West Elm's Paper Flower Market: long-lasting, low maintenance (no watering required). They might even inspire you to try some DIY versions.

The common denominator of much of what the national home store chain West Elm has to offer is that it is fun, but functional. Not frivolous, not froufrou. Things you need, like a sofa, a chair, a table, a bed, a lamp, sheets, plates, flatware and glasses. All in good solid basics that don't quite fit a particular style but seem contemporary and up-to-date without being too trendy. And affordable enough that they don’t have to be passed down from one generation to the next.

Now, the household furnishings and decor that West Elm supplies is supplemented by their "Market" section. It's one-stop-shopping, but not quite Fred Meyer style.  Yes, in their Market you’ll find food, and tools, and cleansers for sink or pots or clothes, for doing mundane chores like laundry and dishwashing.  But instead of countless brands to choose from, West Elm has one of whatever you need, either their private label or a national company they like.

This is definitely a store that assumes you don't have a staff of servants to do all this work for you. They hope that, if you have the right things around you, these chores will not be so onerous. And they're probably right. Some of the products are packaged so nicely, it makes you want to stay home and do chores:

Image: Kristin Belz
Will these tools really "make work wonderful," as the box promises? West Elm says yes.
  • Dry-erase board made of bamboo (and magnet-backed for easy fridge application)
  • Scrub pads made of corn cobs, peach pits, or walnut shells, from Goodbye Detergent (for different sorts of scrubbing – metal cookware; wood and scratch-prone materials; exterior decks, walls, and flower pots)
  • Chef’s Knife – one of the “Tools to make work wonderful.”
  • Greenpan non-stick cookware
dog plates
Image: Kristin Belz
In a city of dog lovers like Portland, these West Elm "dog plates" practically run out of the store.

West Elm is a Chuck Williams creation (he's the 97 year old founder of Williams-Sonoma). The chain began as a catalog in 2002 and launched its first retail store in the DUMBO neighborhood of Brooklyn (NY, that is, not the Brooklyn neighborhood of Portland), and they try to retain a local focus. Some of their new Market products are offered in collaboration with small(ish)-scale Brooklyn producers. Which brings up such tricky but important questions as:

  • Why support makers from Brooklyn, NY going national, when we have small-scale purveyors of many or most of the same sorts of products here inside the Urban Growth Boundary of Portland?
  • How do Portland’s small-scale creative-class designers and makers produce enough to achieve a sustainable level of business, enough to live reasonably and raise a family?
What do you think? Is there room for all of us? I tend to think yes. West Elm is also interested in having each store (they have 38) reflect its unique regional character. Which leads us to the most important question:
  • Which local makers should West Elm carry at its Pearl District store? Let's generate a list of Portland products they could or should carry; please offer your suggestions.

WEst Elm
1201 NW Couch Street
(Corner of NW Couch St and 12th Ave)
PortlandOR 97209
503-224-4480

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