Beam & Anchor opened recently. Robert Rahm had an idea. Then with his wife, Jocelyn Rahm, they made it happen. They’re my friends. Along the way, they teamed up with Currie Person who has a store in Austin, TX called Spartan. Beam & Anchor is a store in a warehouse at the corner of Interstate Avenue & Knott Street here in North Portland (2710 N Interstate Ave, Portland, OR 97227 to be precise). The storefront faces Interstate Ave, but up the stairs in the back of the building people are making beautiful things.
Phloem Studio shares the woodshop with Bren Reis and his company Earthbound Industries and Robert Rahm. There are a lot of machines and noise. It’s very dusty. If you walk through an old green, sliding fireproof door, on the other side you will find even more action. There, Matt Pierce is busy working away on his Wood & Faulk line and Leland Duck is making the old new with his upholstery magic for Revive Upholstery & Design. The people with the amazing view of the Fremont Bridge in the front of the building are Maak Soap Lab – Nori and Taylor make the building smell delightful. Jocelyn has her painting studio in the front as well. When we’re not making things, we drink coffee, talk shop, and support each other here in our little warehouse in the shadow of the Fremont Bridge. After a particularly LOOONG day, Robert, Jocelyn and I poured ourselves a bit of Basel Hayden and had a chat.
Ben Klebba — How did the idea for Beam & Anchor come about?
Robert Rahm — It had a lot to do with reading design blogs like mad and my own personal desire to have a place that was different than any other place in Portland, to have a community that was making things. I felt inspired by that, but I never saw it. I wanted a place that had some aspect of it. I didn’t think I’d be able to do it.
BK — But you didn’t have any business models you were looking at…?
RR — I’ve always been a person that takes pieces from things and tries to put them together. I’ll take a piece of something that I think is really genius… just tiny pieces from all these different businesses… and melding it with my own personal experiences and how Portland had influenced me… the people, the aesthetic, what people valued here. Plus, where I grew up in the country had influenced me. And Jocelyn… our relationship had influenced me a lot. It’s hard to boil it down to one thing. I’m just trying to follow what feels real to me.
BK — You once said to me that you wouldn’t sell anything in the store that you wouldn’t have in your own home.
RR — When I’m out picking (Robert repurposes and reclaims and reinvents treasures that he finds out in the world), that’s all I think — “would we have this in our home?” And when I look at blogs… like when I look at jewelry possibly for the store, I think “would I buy this for Jocelyn?” That is the foundation for what we choose. It has a lot to do with what is the person (maker/manufacturer) doing… do we like what they’re doing? I mean, is it a small enough company, is it American made, there’s all that stuff that’s important… but all that stuff down in the store — I cannot think of one thing I wouldn’t be proud to have in my own home.
BK — You juxtapose old and new in the furniture pieces you make. How did you get into that? What makes you create that way?
RR — I think it’s because of where I come from. Coming from the country and then living in the city. They’re so different, and I’m really drawn to both. And with our relationship, we’re complete opposites aside from aesthetics. It’s the things I’m always drawn to. I think what those things do to one another is that they make each other more beautiful.
Jocelyn Rahm — For me, if you want to whittle down old vs. new, I think of it as history vs. innovation. I think they inform one another. When innovation references history in some meaningful way, it makes it that much more resonant.
RR — She’s got better soundbites. (laughter)
JR — There’s a really powerful relationship between history and innovation. In the old you have history, texture, and wisdom. And in the new design you have that beautiful new energy. They’re both exciting, especially in tandem.
RR — I wanna do it my own way, but I love what’s happened before now and I don’t like the idea of erasing the past and the beauty of history and time and relationships and scars. And at the same time, I love that people are making their own thing that will stand the test of time…like your chairs will still be kickin it in 80 years and they’ll have those scars. That’s really beautiful.
BK — I like that a lot.
JR — It’s COOL to picture your chairs in 80 years, right?
BK — Robert once said to me that there was a cool thing about a worn piece of furniture… it’s like jeans — you can’t fake that.
RR — You can try. (laughter)
BK — Like the “whiskers” on jeans — you can’t fake this sofa… (we’re sitting on a gorgeous, ancient leather Chesterfield sofa Robert found that serves as home base in the B&A communal area — you can see it in the picture above). I have no idea how old this is, but it feels good. It feels better than it did brand new.
RR — That’s why I feel they go so well together — they’re really the same thing… it’s just different times. Yours will be the same for your grandkids as your grandfather’s chair is for us now.
BK — I want someone to stand on my chairs and sit in them and lounge in them and use them and not be precious with them.
RR — Something that was really important to me was when I worked in wilderness therapy I worked with lots of kids that had tried to commit suicide… and/or (had done) lots of cutting.
BK — How old were the kids typically?
RR — 14 to 17. And we would talk about it point blank… just have conversations about it. And a lot of the times they would say how embarased they were of their scars. I learned to talk about it by referencing furniture a lot and how I love the idea of a scar on a piece of furniture, and hiding it doesn’t make any sense because it’s part of its history. A lot of times it makes it more beautiful because it speaks to what it’s been through. We would talk about pottery in Japan. They will highlight the pottery once it’s broken because they think it’s more beautiful afterwards because there’s this history to it. And NOT that I was trying to say “you should cut yourself” or anything like that…
BK — But it’s alright.
RR — It’s ALRIGHT. You are who you are and you’ve been through a lot and you can’t hide that.
JR — Battle wounds. We all have them in different forms.
RR — It was really interesting. Kids that had been harmed in different ways that you couldn’t see would say “I wish I had that scar, so someone could see the scar I have inside.” Which is a really interesting thought process.
BK — That’s beautiful. And sad.
RR — Yeah, it’s all those things. In our culture we erase our history a lot. And we relearn the same stupid things. You’ve probably learned so much from seeing sofas taken apart and seeing how someone else did it. (I’m currently making two sofas with Leland)
BK — I would say one of the most eye-opening, valuable experiences I’ve had so far being in this building is the amount of stuff Leland brings in that I get to look at and see it pulled apart. All this mid century stuff and how it was constructed…you get to flip it over and say “they built it like that?!” And I know 97% is factory made, but it still intrigues me.
JR — I love that we’re moving into a stage in which we’re honoring the things that we coexist with more. Maybe I’ve been in the Portland bubble too long, but it seems like there is more care and emphasis on how things are made now.
BK — Well, there should be.
JR — And where they come from.
RR — I think the recession had a big part in that.
JR — Yeah. We just care more about the legacy of things and the genesis of things. It’s healthy.
RR — I think it has a lot to with people realizing that it doesn’t make sense to buy something that’s gonna last 2 years. When the recession hit things changed. People think about a well made thing versus a thing made quickly overseas with crappy wood and crappy glue and whatever. A big part of me is super thankful for the recession in that way. It made us reset our values to some degree. Or at least look at them.
BK — What do we hold true?
RR — Right. That’s where I connect with the Americana movement. I truly do believe in someone putting their hands on something and making something. That’s pretty cool.
JR — For me, I love beautiful things and appreciate good design, but the heart of all of this is that we wanted to create a space that was a catalyst for not only things being created, but things being created collectively. And what does that mean? It means people working side by side and leaning on one another and supporting one another and being in community with one another. I think that that’s where the growth is and that’s where the meaning is in terms of the creative process. It’s not about just making things in a vacuum — it’s about creating things together and learning from that process and the dialogue and the challenge of that. My favorite part of this project so far has been the community piece. And it’s just starting. What we knew all along was that if we got really good people in here who cared about one another, that would be the foundation for everything else and I think that we’re just starting to reap the benefits of that in terms of the energetics of the space. People collaborating, and caring about each other, and just having each other’s backs. THAT’S what we wanted.
RR — People feel it when they come in the building.
BK — It’s a good vibe.
Coolest planter ever. By John Sardari.
Table made from a gorgeous old laundry press and reclaimed Douglas Fir by Robert Rahm. Stools found by Robert.
Nadine Loungers by Phloem Studio in Walnut and olive strap and rift sawn White Oak and navy strap.
Northwesterner Bag in murder black by Wood & Faulk.
Cue that Pixies song…