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The Pacific Northwest design boom by Jaime Gillin

The Pacific Northwest design boom by Jaime Gillin

The seven Seattle-based companies exhibiting together at WantedDesign spent months visiting each other’s studios before coming to New York. The goal was to make a cohesive exhibition, but in the process they gained a deeper understanding of the current state of Pacific Northwest design.
“We realized all our work shared some common traits,” says Sallyann Corn of fruitsuper design, a product and industrial design consultancy. “We’re not hiding anything in our designs—when it’s wood, all the joints are obvious, and there’s a minimal use of materials. All our pieces have an honesty and straightforwardness.” Whether it’s a spun brass light or an heirloom-quality walnut console, “we’re designing products that help you celebrate the small moments and details in everyday life.”

The studios at WantedDesign—Chadhaus, 16th workshop, urbancase, Standard Socket, fruitsuper design, Seattle Design Bureau, and Piano Nobile—represent just a small cross-section of the talent in the region today. But their work epitomizes the high-quality handmade production for which the Northwest is renowned. More 

Seattle has a long legacy of innovation, creativity, manufacturing, and entrepreneurship; the city has spawned a fleet of game-changing companies, not least Microsoft, Starbucks, and Amazon. There’s a ripple-out effect for designers, beyond just the benefits of a healthy economy. Due to the presence of Boeing, for example, Seattle shelters a wealth of smaller machine shops and fabricators—useful resources for local design studios. Thanks to outdoor companies such as REI and Filson, the city is riddled with softgoods suppliers. There is also easy access to wood and other natural resources, and local sawmills and foundries to process trees and metals into raw materials for design

large urbancase1 copy

The Northwest’s reputation for craftsmanship also comes from the fact that the local design community is small and tight-knit. The atmosphere is supportive and collaborative because designers feel a sense of shared responsibility for maintaining a high level of quality—for the good of the group. “We’re all really open with our resources, vendors, press contacts. There’s no protectiveness or competitiveness,” says Darin Montgomery, founder of the furniture and lighting companies urbancase and Standard Socket. “There’s real camaraderie. The attitude is, ‘lets get us all on the map.’ We’re all in this together.”

Piano Nobile 4
Piano Nobile

Jaime Gillin is the editorial director of GRAY (graymag.net), the design magazine for the Pacific Northwest. A bimonthly print and digital magazine, GRAY spotlights the most exciting design talent—from architecture to interiors, and from fashion to furniture—in Washington, Oregon, British Columbia, and beyond. GRAY and seven Seattle-based design studios are exhibiting at WantedDesign 2014.