PRESTON FROM SALVAGE WORKS EXPLAINS A WHAT-NOT
Salvage Works in North Portland’s Kenton area falls nothing short of extraordinary. Preston Browning and sister Rachel have joined forces to create the ultimate architectural salvage – among other things. With a remarkable amount of creativity and imagination supporting this business, you are guaranteed to leave with a one-of-a-kind “what-not.” As far as what we mean when we say “what-not,” you’ll just have to check out what Preston has to say about it.
To call Preston an expert salvager is an understatement. His original talent in not only rescuing useful materials but also revamping them to create a stylish new product is blatantly apparent upon entering Salvage Works. His genuine love for what he does shines through not only in his demeanor but in the shop itself. The bottom line is, you know those miscellaneous parts living in your attic? The old coffee table sitting aside the dumpster outside? Your old screen door? You will never look at them the same way again.
E+E: What brought you to Portland and inspired the concept for Salvage Works?
Preston: I followed my sister Rachel out here from Virginia in ‘93 with the intention of finishing a degree at OCAC. After quickly realizing a degree in ceramics wasn’t going to get me very far, I started working in a cabinet shop and have worked in related fields since. As far as inspiration for Salvage Works, it’s been culminating for a long time. I started dumpster diving and making furniture from cast-offs when I first moved to Portland. Since then I’ve worked at the rebuilding center, restored four houses and worked on deconstructing houses in New Orleans after hurricane Katrina. I knew that Portland was a good market for a more specialized salvage store, with an emphasis on reclaimed lumber and custom built furniture. Plus, at 42 I’ve finally realized I can only really work for myself.
E+E: What’s your favorite thing about Portland?
Preston: My favorite things about Portland all revolve around the awesome sense of community that we have here. The amount of creativity all over town is really inspiring, whether its music, food, design or art. Portlanders always seem happy to support new endeavors, and there always seems to be people out there doing something awesome, like a bunch of drunk Santas or forming a marching band with like 40 people. What it comes down to is that people in Portland like to have fun, and that just makes me happy.
E+E: Do you have a favorite neighborhood?
Preston: Right now I’d say Kenton is my favorite neighborhood. I live and have my shop here, and the community has been hugely supportive of Salvage Works and other businesses here. The shop would not have survived the first year without the support of the neighbors. It has a nice small town feel, and everybody knows each other. Plus, the tavern on Denver is awesome.
E+E: How would you explain the overall aesthetic of Salvage Works?
Preston: That’s a tough one – dandy dirtbag? To be honest, I’m sort of wary of retail, and really just set up like I would my own house. I’m a junker by nature and I like to share my appreciation of everyday items from the past. A pile of junk is just junk until it’s cleaned up, repurposed or just displayed properly. I’m also really fond of collections. I think I might have about a hundred cheese graters, just waiting to be incorporated into a wall or a fence. We try to be really welcoming and want the experience here to be special. We often have a fire going, and encourage folks to linger, maybe have a cup of coffee or a beer. Today we’re offering our customers fruit cups!
E+E: If you could build or make anything, regardless of price or scarcity of materials, what would it be?
Preston: A couple of months ago Salvage Works built out the new Animal Traffic store on SW 10th and Tom, the owner, gave us a lot of artistic freedom in the build. I’ve been building these funky walls with all sorts of small pieces of weathered and/or printed wood. It’s done free-form and puzzle-like, and I just keep a pile of parts on the floor and pick stuff sort of randomly. I usually like to lock myself in a space, have a couple of beers, and just get in the zone. I think right now if I could build anything it would be a similar project but I’d like to cover a WHOLE space, floors, walls, ceiling, doors, and furniture with everything like, yardsticks, rat traps, fruit crates, piano parts, old photos and whatever else might be lying around the shop.
E+E: What creation would you consider your masterpiece? Your Sistine Chapel? Your Mona Lisa?
Preston: For years I’ve been making small things from yardsticks, like frames and mirrors. I once made this small box covered inside and out in the choicest yardsticks, all perfectly weathered and well-used with great text. It was really aesthetically pleasing and just made me feel good. It’s definitely the coolest thing I’ve built and now a friend of mine has it as part of his collection of boxes.
E+E: On your website you state “assorted what-nots.” What’s your definition of a “what-not?”
Preston: What-not: doodad, geegaw, curiosity, whatchamacallit, doohickey, bric-a-brac, tchotchke, collectible, keepsake. Basically, I use the term broadly for items that I like.
E+E: How did you, Solabee Flowers and Boys Fort meet and decide to share the space?
Preston: Solabee started their shop around the corner at the same time I started up Salvage Works. The guys at Boys Fort are Kenton neighbors and were early supporters of our business. We instantly started collaborating with Solabee to make these awesome, funky super organic planters that they’d plant with gorgeous air plants and succulents. When Jake and Rolf were planning Boys Fort they asked us to contribute. Not only were they interested in our handmade and vintage items, but they also wanted help building the temporary walls for the store. They also gave us artistic license, and I thought it would be cool to build a “fort wall” sort of like a bunch of kids might make, with whatever was handy. I built this sweet wall with barn wood, crates, furniture parts and of course yardsticks. I incorporated shelves and spots for art, and it was used to display retail items. It was the first wall I’d done on such a large scale.
Just this spring Boys Fort wanted to open a spot in Kenton, and Solabee needed a bigger space in the neighborhood. When neither could find a space that worked for them, we invited them to temporarily share our space, until we could fix up a space adjacent to Salvage Works. It turned out to be better than we expected; with the addition of plant life and some good designers, the place has been transformed into a sort of wonderland mix of the organic and the man-made. Also, the creativity around here now is just out of control. I think we all feed off of each other, and we all know how lucky we are to be doing what we really love.
2030 N. Willis St.
Portland, Oregon 97217
Hours: Mon-Sat 9-5pm Sun 11-3pm