Canoe ~ photo by Christine Sisson
How do you evaluate a city that’s new to you? Do you size up its public transportation? Scope out its top-rated restaurants? Hit the check-list of must-visit attractions recommended by your know-it-all neighbor?
We all have that benchmark for a city’s cool factor, be it the architecture, live-music scene or street food. My husband can make a snap judgment about a new city based on the number and quality of record stores. For me, it’s all about the design shops. I could name dozens of them from the cities I’ve visited, but for the purposes of Les Trois, I’ll limit the list to one from each “coast.”
1) Canoe, Portland, OR ~ Before Powell’s and an extensive tour of Portland’s breweries (but, admittedly, after a bacon-maple bar at Voodoo Doughnut), I beelined for this store. I had read about it in Lucky and already knew I would love it, and it did not disappoint.
Canoe is all about meticulously selected items, great merchandising and–above all–a singular commitment to good design.Items here have a noticeably Scandinavian-slash-Japanese bent, noted for that distinctive hybrid of functionality and style. But for a design store with museum-like placards labeling every item, Canoe is refreshingly accessible. The owners are nice. Many of the items are irresistably charming. Truly, every piece for sale, be it an art object or a bottle opener, feels special. (Heck, they probably could have found a dazzling garbage bag if they tried.) And the range of categories–from office supplies to toys to kitchen goods–and price points means there’s a lot for everyone (everyone with elevated taste, that is). Favorite find: Endearing, elegant Kristian Vedel birds
2) Lille, Chicago ~ It’s dangerous when you live so close to a place like Lille. I used to, so I know. It’s nondescript from the outside, just a narrow blip on a retail-dense block in Wicker Park. But inside, it’s marvelous–accessories, furniture, tableware and personal items that, paradoxically, drip with style in the most subtle way (if that makes any sense).
You know when you meet that person who share so much in common with that it’s almost a bit unsettling? That’s how I feel about whomever does the buying for Lille. Each plate, vase, necklace and trinket is carefully curated, resulting in an eclectic mix of modern minimalism and fanciful one-offs (like the roly-poly Caillard guineas–who doesn’t need one of those?). I also love that there isn’t too much of one look. Tableware, for example, ranges from classic (Heath Ceramics) to borderline avant-garde (Laura Zindel’s super-cool bug plates). Favorite find: Lacquered wood stacking boxes in every color combination (I’ve had my eye on them for years.)
3) Good, Boston ~ I remember that Thanksgiving weekend in Boston, if only for this: After a truly raucous night at Bukowski’s, P and I spent the next morning wandering around Beacon Hill. My half daze didn’t prevent me from spotting the store sign from across the cobbled street. Good. I could get behind anything labeled as Good. Not that it mattered; it was clearly something cool, and I was like a fly to the design-store honey.
This is what we affectionately call a “Tine store.” As in, it has my name written all over it. The shop’s tiny space belies its expansive mix of fresh home decor and accessories. And everything has its place: Creamy pottery resides next to small, buttery leather goods and jewelry. The occasional piece of furniture somehow makes sense alongside rich soaps and fragrant candles. The limited square footage means there’s only room for the, well, good stuff. Favorite find: House of Cards, by Charles and Ray Eames — the chicest deck of cards I’ve ever seen.