Setting-Up Shop is an ongoing series of conversations where we get to know some our favorite retail partners. We recently caught up with Kristin Van Buskirk of Woonwinkel to learn more about her experience as a shopkeeper.
Tell us a little bit about the concept behind Woonwinkel. When we first opened the shop we thought our "thing" was independent designers and small companies – and it still is! – but somewhere along the way we realized what really sets us apart is our love of color. It makes sense because I did a good long stint as a color designer for Nike, and before that I was an art student, so color has followed me along the way. That's not to say you can't find some great neutrals in the shop (our white Bank in the Form of a Pig is totally the store mascot), but we do love some good, bold color. Thinking about our relationship to color totally re-energized our business and has given us all kinds of creative inspiration.
Have you had past experiences with shopkeeping? No! I'd say I learned a good bit about the art of merchandising and branding at Nike, but neither of us had shopkeeping experience outside of some basic sales associate jobs in college.
What is your background? I spent 23 years as a color designer at Nike. Lately I've been drawing on my color background more. We're both design and color lovers! Erica was a teacher, then she spent our first 5 years in business as the main manager – and now she's back to teaching fourth graders full-time and has passed the baton to me!
Is there anything extra Woonwinkel does to get involved in the community locally? We just collaborated on a Design Week Portland event with a small collective of local businesses (IG: @goodcolorcollective) in which I spoke about the Power of Color in Design and we introduced the brand new Portland chapter of Project Color Corps, a non-profit organization that brings color and pattern to communities who need it (usually to schools or community centers). Woonwinkel has been talking a lot more lately about the power of color to brighten your mood, calm your nerves, and help you live a fuller, more energized life. It really can change your outlook! It was an immensely popular design week event with a long waiting list (more than we ever could have imagined! We were thrilled!), so we're thinking about how to bring more of this kind of content. Here are some photos from the event.
What is your customer looking for? What will they find? We've got a couple of key customer types. Tourists are really important to us and to Portland these days. We have people from all over the world coming to check out our easy-going, progressive Portland lifestyle, our amazing food scene (for which I give thanks every day), and the vibrant creative scene. People come to our West End neighborhood in downtown because it has a high concentration of local, independently owned shops which all have their own really unique point of view. The local business owners work hard to be different from each other, sometimes even collaborating in person to ensure we don't end up with too much crossover. This makes it exciting for customers to check out each and every shop. They come to our particular shop for our own special mix of simple objects and for our sunny outlook. The shop is cheerful and colorful and so are our products. We're serious about good design but not especially serious overall. Areaware's puzzles and pig fit right in with Brian Giniewski's drippy-glazed, pastel ceramics and Soft Century's Playscape Pillows.
Our second customer type is our local design lover. They might come in for an item for their home like a luxurious Hawkins New York linen quilt in a great color, or special design object like a Hella Jongerius vase, or some simple and practical Scandinavian-designed Dot Hooks by Muuto.
What sorts of thing inspired the shop’s assortment? How do you decide what to stock? We love simple, contemporary forms, and gorgeous color! When I was working as a color designer I had the amazing good fortune to shop all over the world so that I could stay on top of color trends. I also had the wonderful experience of working at the Nike Europe headquarters for a couple of years. This exposed me to some really wonderful European designers and small companies and I was always sort of "collecting" them along the way. When it came time to build that first Woonwinkel assortment I combined that wish list with some intensive research on independent North American designers which led me to folks like Ladies and Gentleman Studio and Iacoli & McAllister, and of course I had to pull in some Portland makers as well like Makelike, Juju Papers....this mix formed our first assortment and we've been drawing from similar places ever since. We tend to love Scandinavian design but we're always, always on the lookout for North American makers that fit our aesthetic. (Calling all North American designers – we're still lookin'! Send us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org).
Did you build the fixtures? If so tell us about that process. Yes! We really lucked out to to find Dan Anderson and Chris Held of Vontundra (a now defunct studio). They built some amazing fixtures for us that still get comments because of how well-crafted they are. They make modular tables and pedestals with light, open frames that we move around constantly.
Tell us about the interior design of the shop. We have an amazing corner spot with lots of windows on both corners. This is both awesome and challenging for a small operation because we've constantly got two window displays in rotation (that involves lots of planning and moving!) and it actually limits our shop-able space a little since we can't use those walls for fixtures.
photo via Remodelista
Where do you go for lunch around Woonwinkel? We are ridiculously lucky and spoiled for good choices. The shop is right across from the main downtown food cart pod, plus we have great little independent restaurants around us like Maurice, Grassa, Shalom Y'all. Even the simple, nondescript lunch counter in our building, Cafe Voila, is wonderfully delicious. That is truly one of the amazing things about living in Portland. Life's too short for bad food.
If we were to stop by, what else would you recommend in the neighborhood? Our whole block is packed with great locally owned shops like Backtalk, West End Select Shop, Wildfang and so many more. Powell's, the famous giant independent bookstore is a hop, skip and a jump – I can spend hours there. No matter what, make time for a sweet snack at Maurice, the pastry luncheonette that's all sun-filled and friendly. Grab some of the best coffee downtown at Courier and appreciate that it's truly no-frills environment means you're getting a good price on some amazing coffee.
Seen any good movies lately? I'm slightly obsessed with A Star Is Born. I keep watching the "musical moments" over and over. That part where Lady Gaga sings on the big stage for the first time "I'm off the deep end, watch while I dive in..." gives me chills every time and IT'S HOW I FEEL AS A BUSINESS OWNER sometimes! Not to be melodramatic but this business can be scary and hard! It's full of adventure, but also risk, and sometimes I feel like I'm standing at the edge there with her – but when I can channel my inner Lady Gaga I take a deep breath and I say to myself, "'Crash through the surface,' girl! You got this!"