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Five on Friday with Alexander Frane

We sat down with Portland native and beverage writer extraordinaire, Alexander Frane, to get his take on all the essential information home-seekers need about Portland libations.  

1. In your time covering local restaurants have you seen any places that have had a big enough impact to change the dynamic of a neighborhood? 

When I think about that, what I really think about most is Mississippi. That change was around ten years ago. Restaurants and bars opening in that area happened along with a major shift of the demographics of homeowners in the neighborhood. It has been a big topic of conversation in Portland; I don’t want to comment too much on that shift other than to say that it occurred in tandem with these new food and beverage businesses taking up residence. I love that neighborhood and I love those bars and restaurants - I think they are amazing - but it is indicative of how the city has changed.

Woodstock seems to be going through some of those changes Mississippi went through with a new Double Mountain Brewery and other attractive businesses moving in. I wonder if it is kind of a chicken and the egg thing. I’m curious whether these new restaurants change the neighborhood or if the neighborhood starts changing and new restaurants come in as a result. Woodstock still has many long-term residents but I also feel like it is attracting new people and the street itself is starting to look different.

I think Pok Pok on Division was successful and lead to that area being more developed as other restaurants followed suit. I imagine that had an impact on the housing and rental market in the area.

Also, Coquine. It’s such a nice area but there is less directly around it so it might be bringing people into that area that haven’t been there before.

2. On the other side of things, any restaurants you are familiar with that have struggled because the neighborhood wasn’t a good fit?

There are some restaurants in town that are great, but in areas that have continued to feel quiet and residential. The main street of restaurants in Beaumont continues to have steady but a quieter turn out which is unfortunate since some highly-underrated restaurants can be found there. Like Bang Bang, which has a great, creative menu but doesn’t seem to get lines out the door like some very comparable restaurants in other neighborhoods. Smallwares was well liked and had an amazing reputation but closed after inconsistent levels of business. There is a complex relationship between food and beverage venues and the neighborhoods they live in and influence.

3. When people are looking for a home, they might find there are certain local amenities they can’t live without. When it comes to having a neighborhood bar, what requirements should a prospective neighborhood fulfill?

I think you should have one of every variety of bar: a dive bar, a neighborhood bar, and a cocktail bar. Some people group neighborhood bars and dive bars together but I think there is a distinction there. If you have one of each of those within walking distance of your new home, you will be all set.

4. One of my favorite things you have shared are the best places for dog owners to drink in Portland with their four-legged companion in tow. Since you have perspective on this topic, which neighborhood in Portland do you think is best for drinking with dogs?

That would be Mississippi. Everyone loves dogs on Mississippi and there are a lot of dog-friendly places. Prost, Interurban, and Bar Bar are all dog-friendly. Further up when Mississippi St. turns into Albina there is Victoria which is one of the best dog-friendly bars in the city. The owner loves dogs and the patio is set up well to host them. Alberta is good too for dogs, but really Mississippi hands down though, it’s not even a question, if you want to take your dog out drinking with you.  

5. If you were to buy a home based on its proximity to your favorite bars in the city what neighborhood would you choose?

Buckman. It has the highest concentration of the best bars at every level. It is the best eating and drinking spot in town. With all the stuff on Sandy and Burnside and all the stuff in lower Buckman into the lower industrial area. Even if you are just in the inner-industrial area just by the Morrison bridge you could probably go to a different wonderful place each night. It may be difficult to find a home right there since it is less residential, but if you head east a few blocks there are more homes. My dream house would be off Stark anywhere between 15th and 20th right over near Buckman grade school, where I went. That is my favorite part of town. You can walk anywhere from there to all the best bars and half the best restaurants and it’s beautiful. I think the Division/Clinton neighborhood would be my second choice. 

Check out Alexander's articles on ThrillistThe Daily Meal and Drink Nation's Drink Portland; and follow him on Twitter and Instagram for Portland insider libation locations! 

Five on Friday: Ross NW Watergardens

This week we are excited to share out conversation with local landscape designer, Ben Bowen of Ross NW Watergardens. Ben is a third generation landscaper and part of a family-owned business.

1. How do you consider the architecture of a home when you are designing a landscape?

It really depends on the client. Some people want a landscape very true to the style of their home; if they have a craftsman, then they want something classic. While other people may not care at all. They may have a very traditional home but they want a modern design for their yard that may not necessarily fit the style of the house. Sometimes the fit between the landscaping design and the house is seamless; other times you get a little more creative to make the styles work together in a way to make visual sense. If you do that well, it seems like you can make almost any style you want work. Whether the styles merge easily or not, there's usually things about the house that you're trying to accentuate or hide.

2. Can you give an example of what techniques you use to accentuate or hide parts of a house?

Sure; ranch style homes can have nice windows but will also have some long expanses of just bare wall. It's a great backdrop for some plantings, so picking where you put those involves some strategy. A lot of the newer homes that infill homes are too tall for some of the lots they are on. It can feel like they are looming over you as you approach the house when you have a two-story house eight feet from the sidewalk on a 4000 square-foot lot, the proportions can seem off. You can help soften that transition by utilizing tall, narrow plants. It goes the other direction too. Plants can also be a wonderful way to edit what you can see looking out from your house. Tall plants can be great for neighbors because they give a lot of privacy. Bamboo is usually the answer. 

3. How do you balance a client’s lifestyle with their landscape ambitions?

 Modern landscape and design-build project by Ross NW WatergardensAs far as maintenance goes I try to get a good sense of how much time they spend in their yard, including how much they want to be leisure versus working in the yard. Knowing their lifestyle helps to figure out what is the most sustainable design for the customer. When clients are planning to pay for someone else to maintain the yard, I design whatever they want and don’t weigh the two factors [leisure vs maintenance]. If they are going to do the maintenance themselves, then there are a lot of compromises that need to be made between beauty and labor. I find most people want to spend their Saturdays enjoying their landscape, not working in it. It helps that most people are realistic about how much work they will put into their garden, which really guides all those complex decisions.

4. Do you use edible plants in landscapes?

There is a lot of interest in edible plants in landscaping. I get asked this question often. There are lots of ways to work edibles into the landscape and I always try to do it in a way that works with everything else that we have chosen. I love to use blueberries because the shrub itself, even without the fruit, is very attractive. We plant quite a bit of persimmon; it's a beautiful tree and even if you don’t use the persimmons, they look so cool in the fall. In the fall, the fruit stays after you lose the leaves so it looks like a bunch of miniature pumpkins. If you were so inclined you could plant it just for that reason.   

5. How do you balance budgets and requests?

I try to balance the budget, climate, and style. For a lot of people, the budget is the most important. Depending on exactly how important budget is, I can make decisions about how to balance everything else. I feel like over time I have become good at reading people’s priorities. As we adjust the plan, I work with them to find their priorities and educate them about the costs and benefits of the different directions we could go with the design. It’s a very collaborative process and it is really rewarding to see the final product and hear client feedback about how they enjoy their outdoor space.

Bonus Question 1: The climate in Portland has been more extreme lately. How has that influenced your designs?

There have always been some plants that have been borderline evergreen for Portland but if we have more winters like this last one, they'll no longer be evergreen options. Hebe is an example of that; it’s a very popular plant that used to be considered an evergreen in Portland. I now must be more careful with what goes dormant during really cold winters. Hot summers just mean more water and more work, which is ok. It’s much more disappointing to have spring come around and think that your plants are dead - but they aren't.  

Bonus Question 2: Are you seeing any changes in your client's requests recently?

Portland is experiencing a lot of growth which is leading to some shifts in the demographics. People are moving from Seattle and San Francisco and bringing requests for modern homes and modern landscapes to go with them. These designs are really low-maintenance and attractive with clean lines, plantings that are function first, and a lot of hardscapes. As they get more popular I expect to see the effect snowball and we will get even more requests for these types of projects.

Bonus Question 3: What are your favorite Portland neighborhoods to look at landscaping?

Portland is a city where people really enjoy the outdoors and use their yards. All over Portland, there are more specific homes, not areas, I’ve noticed and really like. I enjoy the mid-century modern style and the landscaping that goes along with it. I think it can be distinctive and interesting. There are some great neighborhoods in Southwest Portland for those styles. It’s amazing how one person’s landscaping can influence and inspire the landscaping for the homes around it. There’s a six-block stretch of homes on North Flavel Drive where people have taken their landscapes and done interesting things with them, and they coordinate as a neighborhood. I don’t know how these things catch on but it is cool to see and I could imagine it spreading.

If you find yourself in need of some expert landscaping design or if you are looking for some inspiration be sure to check out Ross NW Watergardens on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, Houzz, and their Website!

Five on Friday with Abbasi Fine Rugs

This week we sat down with some local entrepreneurs, Omar Abbasi and his partner Alexandra Brennan, who recently started their own business, Abbasi Fine Rugs.                                                                                                              

1. In your bio, you mentioned that your dad has inspired you to start this business. Can you elaborate on that? Is your father in the rug business as well?

He is, he owns several businesses in Latin America that specialize in antique Persian rugs. He also sells furniture that my brother and I have helped him import from India and Indonesia. He has been doing that in Guatemala for 30 years. As I’ve grown up, I’ve realized that I really admire his work and his philosophies about helping people find this important feature for their home.

My dad always did this advertisement that I thought was kind of cheesy as a kid but have grown to realize is true. The line is “people always spend a lot of money on copies of Persian rugs but they could afford to have the real thing for less.” Working in the mainstream rug business for the last six years, I really see that to be true. I want to continue my dad’s approach here in Portland to help people connect with a better product.

2. How will you be finding your rugs? Will you be following your dad’s lead when it comes to sourcing?

Initially, the plan was to go to Iran and purchase a container, but the recent political climate has forced us to change our game plan. The new plan is to use the connections I have made throughout my lifetime doing business with my father as well as my own experience in the rug industry. We will still be sourcing directly from our contacts in Iran and the Middle East, we will just have to go about it a bit differently.

There are not a lot of people sourcing directly from Iran. Most stores are buying from wholesalers, so they must add more of a markup to make a profit. I have a very different business model, where I will sell a higher volume at an excellent value and not have to pay a wholesaler. The other benefit is that I get to personally select the rugs and find things that I really like and that my clients will be excited about as well.

All the rugs that we sell are hand knotted pieces which I have acquired over the last ten years of collecting. I’ve also found rugs in thrift shops and online, but that takes a lot of patience. You must know what you are looking for and be persistent. We hope to alleviate some of the headaches for our clients but still get them the great result of a beautiful, one of a kind piece.

3. How long have known you wanted to start this business?

About four years ago, I became way more serious about what I wanted. I started kicking around the idea that I could have my own business and I thought maybe it would be an antique store with all sorts of found objects everywhere. Not a lot of my friends thought that was a successful idea so I never did it.

In the last year, I woke up and decided that if I had a store that specialized in rugs and sold to my friends and their friends and had decent foot traffic, then it would be successful. I think there are many parts of my business plan that appeal to a newer type of consumer. There is a push for long lasting quality over disposable quantity.

I think this is relevant for younger generations who are emphasizing reducing waste. Instead of buying something that’s just okay for now and replacing it when you have the money and drive to find something better, take the time you need to find something you really love, that is timeless and you can keep forever. Our goal is to make that an affordable option by working with consumers to find just what they want. It may take longer but is so worth it and less wasteful in the long run.

Buying a rug is a really grown-up purchase. It makes your space feel like home. It increases your seating and is luxurious to walk on. It’s a physical and emotional change to the room.

As the population in Portland continues to increase, there can be other upsides to rugs as well. They are amazing for sound insulation. If you live in a condo or an apartment it can really cut down on the noise for your downstairs neighbors and help stifle some of the sounds you may hear coming from them as well.

4. Your business is offering a unique service based on requests. Can you tell me a little more about that? Do you know anyone else who does this?

Nobody that I know of really asks people what they want. People come in and start shopping around and if they’re not seeing exactly what they have in mind, a salesperson may come in and try to sell them on something else. They may get talked into purchasing something that they don’t necessarily want.

I want to help people find what they are looking for. If they have a clear idea of what they want, they can show me examples, draw it out, bring color swatches, let me know the size and their price range and I can find the rug that fits. It may take a little bit but it will generally be faster than if they look themselves, as I know the market and where I am most likely to find what fits their needs.

When you are rug shopping, it is a clever idea to explore your options. All store owners have different tastes and you may be limited by their inventory. That being said, if something grabs your attention, even if it's not what you thought you wanted, give it a shot. It might end up being great in your space. We offer a 24-hour trial period prior to purchase. Take it home. Feel it out. You shouldn’t have to keep something you don’t want to live with forever.

5. What would you say is the goal of your business?

I think my goal is to make the prospect of purchasing a rug more approachable. It’s important for people to know that at any stage in life you can have a home you love. Comfortable furnishings are not out of reach. If you just spent money on a home purchase, that initial anxiety and sticker shock can make it feel like you don’t have the money to nest and customize your home. Having an affordable option like a rug to upgrade your home is a great first step.

I think the overall assumption of Persian rugs is that they are expensive and out of reach. My goal is to set the prices so that they are attainable. The same amount of money someone might spend on a rug that is just tolerable from a department store could buy them something unique and timeless.

These rugs are made to last. They are handmade with fibers that age beautifully. We want people to know that these heirloom pieces are not out of reach just because you may be at a point in your life where you don’t have a big budget for decorating your home. You can own nice rugs and not go broke. Alexandra came up with a great catchphrase for the business “Rugs for Everyone”, and we have a new one, “You Can Afford It”. Now that we have a brick and mortar, I want to put that on the windows instead of “Sale” or “50% Off.” I want to have statements that invite people to feel welcome and know that they can leave with something they will love without stressing their budget.

Persian rugs are full of history and can be functional art. A quality Persian rug will become even more attractive as it ages. We even use old rug remnants to frame and hang on the walls. Even when they cease to be comfortable they can still enhance your space.

Bonus Question 1. Are there any significant changes coming up in your company that customers should be aware of?

Yes! Ahead of schedule, we’ve opened our brick and mortar!!

We opened April 1st at the corner of SE 32nd and Belmont (3150 SE Belmont, across from Cricket Cafe) and we’ve been working hard to broaden the spectrum of products we carry. In addition to gorgeous one of a kind rugs, we are now offering unique vintage furniture, handmade pottery, and crafts, and have been collaborating with a fellow small business owner in vintage dresses, jewelry, and accessories.

We’re so excited to host everyone for our GRAND OPENING EVENT tonight (April 21st) from 6 - 9 pm. Stop by for a toast to the future!

Thank you for this interview and the opportunity to talk about our passion. To all the readers, we hope to see you soon!

To find the perfect rug for your home be sure to follow the adventures of this new rug shop on Facebook, Instagram, and of course be sure to check out their website! I also recommend browsing their social media for some serious design inspiration! Definitely, check out their brick and mortar when you are in the market for a rug (Paris Group Realty blog readers mention us for a 15% discount from now until May 15th) and be sure to tell Alexandra and Omar we say hello!