Portland Day 11: Everyone is Going to Hate Me.

Sometimes, what starts as innocent curiosity can turn into manic obsession. It was around my second day in Portland that I initially laid eyes on a parking lot full of depressed-looking furniture. It was dark outside and we drove by it quickly, but I could have sworn I saw an Eames shell chair out of the corner of my eye. I quickly looked around for street signs so I could privately catalog the location of what looked like a club meeting for neglected chairs. That’s a club I would readily join.

We passed this parking lot a few times before I was able to actually remember the general location, and a few more times before I realized that the lot belonged to a dumpy-looking thrift store not much bigger than a trailer. The promising parking lot, I realized, wasn’t really the store at all, but the store’s vomit. Its overflow. I know some people like slam dunks or field goals or holes in one, but for me, such a scene is essentially the most exciting thing in the world.

On the morning of Day 11, I woke up a few hours earlier than our normal regimen called for (wake up at noon, work n’ stuff, go to bed around 2, repeat), feeling restless. That thrift store was calling my name. So I threw on some clothes, stole Chandler’s keys and drove there myself, cackling maniacally on the way as the wind lashed through the car, wafting in the sweet aroma of going rogue.

I got there around 9:30. The sign sporting the name “Grandma’s Funky Furniture,” featuring a buck-toothed painting of an elderly woman, said they opened at 10. There were two shell chairs sitting in the fenced-off parking lot, both looking pretty rough but it was hard to tell from my distance. I parked the car across the street and walked the perimeter of the lot, scoping the place out a bit. Then I sat in the car and waited. And waited. And waited. 10 came and went. Then 10:30. Then I looked up the store on my phone, promptly called, and got connected to a super whacked-out answering machine. Around 11 my stakeout was getting boring and my bladder was about to burst, so I drove to Starbucks. Then I came back. Still no signs of life.

Some might say you know you’ve hit rock bottom when you’re practically holding vigil outside a thrift store, slurping coffee while your bloodshot eyes remain fixated on the door lest somebody should spontaneously appear, but I would urge them to consider that they should shut the fuck up and leave me alone. Which is essentially what I told Chandler, in gentler language, when she called wondering where the hell I’d gone and when I was coming back so we could go get some breakfast.

“But they have to open sometime,” I reasoned. “Sure their sign says 10, but loads of people are late to work everyday. That doesn’t mean they never come. They just struggle with punctuality.”

Eventually, the store owner’s father drove by, wondering if I wanted any help. After his calls also went unanswered, I convinced him to let me have the guy’s cell number, trying to look as sane and rational as possible as I programmed it into my phone with all too much excitement. A lead. After leaving a message and heading back to Chandler’s place, the owner called me back. We agreed to meet two hours later.

As Chandler drove me back to Grandma’s Funky Furniture later on that afternoon after we ran a few errands, I began to wonder if I was wrong all along. There I was, perched in the front seat like a spoiled child, so excited about the possibility of getting my grubby paws on things I undoubtably don’t need that I’d hardly considered that this thrift store might be terrible. Maybe my radar was off, and it would actually be as junky as it looked, like some glorified yard sale that had gone on for a few too many weekends.

Luckily, I am almost never wrong when it comes to thrifting. Put another way, I am nearly always right.

Chandler found this great little two-tone dresser for her bedroom for $45. It was filthy but is in pretty good shape under all the gunk.

We also found this cool woven shade that will make a perfect light fixture in the hall (we have other plans for the current light, don’t worry!) for $10.

And I found some treasures of my own. These babies are coming back to New York with me, even though they have to be shipped. I don’t care. I love me some shell chairs. Also, I’ve never had an armed one before and always wanted one, so I deserve it.

The kicker? I talked down the prices so we got it all for $100. Which puts my chairs at around $25 each. Sure they’re completely filthy and nasty now, but I’m so excited to clean them up and make them all sparkly and wonderful.

On the night of Day 11, with my two new shells sitting in Chandler’s second bedroom awaiting their trip to the opposite coast, suddenly painting miles of wood trim didn’t seem so bad after all.

Thank you, Grandma. Whoever you are.

About Daniel Kanter

Hi, I'm Daniel, and I love houses! I'm a serial renovator, DIY-er, and dog-cuddler based in Kingston, New York. Follow along as I bring my 1865 Greek Revival back to life and tackle my 30s to varying degrees of success. Welcome!

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  1. 1.19.11
    Girly said:

    I bow down to your tingling thrift-store-sense.

    LOL! I don’t even know you in real life. But the moment I read the title I immediately thought “That boy done found himself more eames chairs!”

  2. 1.19.11
    Marie said:

    I just found your blog and am loving it! You are doing amazing things with your friend’s home and I am blown away by what you did with your own home (that bed….that desk….those shelves!)

    Can’t wait to read more.

  3. 1.19.11
    Marie said:

    and I LOVE Eames chairs ….one day

  4. 1.19.11
    kim said:

    you’ve got the thrift sense!

  5. 1.19.11
    Mom said:

    Nothing like a good laugh before bed. You crack me up. Love the chairs but love quirky you even more.

  6. 1.19.11
    Jennifer said:

    I do hate you because I thoroughly believe I will never coming across a shell chair where I live. Great job though. Reading this had me laughing out loud. So actually, I love you! Can’t wait to see more.

    • 1.20.11
      kory said:

      Same here =( chair envy!!!

  7. 1.19.11

    Hahahaha…I love this story.

    I need to take you to this AMAZING junk shop in Kingston someday. You’re going to D-I-E. That’s where I found my Umanoff bar cart for $30.

    p.s. Careful cleaning the upholstered shell. DO NOT GET IT WET, or water will get into the seams, the foam will swell, and you will regret it forever.

    p.p.s. If all else fails, there’s always this place.

  8. 1.20.11
    melissa said:

    I live really close to that place. They have crazy stuff. So glad you found some amazing stuff there. Hope you’re having fun in Portland!

  9. 1.20.11

    Well, there’s goes my theory that cheap thrift store Eames chairs don’t exist in the Pacific Northwest. Maybe Grandma has a sister in Seattle?

    • 1.20.11
      Daniel said:

      Oh my gosh, you guys should take a road trip to Portland. Awesome thrifting… and we barely even touched the actual vintage shops.

      They’re out there! You’ll find them!

    • 1.20.11

      I think you’re right. Maybe a good first step would be to stop scanning CL/Ebay and actually go to a thrift store. We basically live next door to a Goodwill and have never checked out their furniture.

    • 1.20.11
      Daniel said:

      Get on that, girl! Yeah, it’s hard to find a good deal on ebay for shell chairs. On CL, I’ve found sometimes that it’s better to search for things like “Herman Miller” or just “retro chairs” or something rather than “Eames Shell Chair.” Sometimes people don’t know exactly what they’re selling.

      But thrifting is pretty much always best. There MUST be junky stores in Seattle you can dig through for a while.

  10. 1.20.11
    aeb said:

    Is it wrong that I’m loving your Portland posts so much that I don’t want you to go home?

  11. 1.20.11
    Lena said:

    Yeah, you’re right, I do hate you. Seriously, do you have a Eames magnet or something? Did you have to fight with Chandler who gets to have the chairs or didn’t she care for them? The little dresser is great too, very, very cute.

    • 1.20.11
      Daniel said:

      I’m such an asshole, I didn’t even ask. I was all MINE MINE MINE. I have no idea if she even likes them, that’s how good of a friend I am. But we’d already bought those two little kitchen chairs so she wasn’t really in the market for any more chairs anyway.

    • 1.20.11
      Lena said:

      Well if she really wanted them she should have fought for them! And anyway, it was your discovery.

  12. 1.20.11

    How does this seem to always happen to you?
    Never have I seen an Eames around here, they’re scarce, for less than $100. Never.

    Nice finds, all around!

  13. 1.20.11
    Monica said:

    Hate is such a strong word. I may have quickly given the computer screen the finger, but after all the work you did… I think it was destiny that you found them. I am just going to wallow in my grief because I know I will never find anything like Grandma’s in Germany. Anyway, your story was fantastic.

  14. 1.20.11
    Fiona said:

    Aw, way to go Daniel. You know what would go great with those chairs? The runner rug you put in Chandler’s kitchen *drums fingers on chin in evil fashion*.

  15. 1.20.11
    J said:

    I don’t know how you do it! Love the chairs and love your shopping habits even more. I’d probably do the same.

  16. 1.20.11
    rifferaff said:

    I love your writing so much. Will you please write a novel! Something about a plucky young hero and his adventures in thrifting.

    Also I am so into the Portland posts. It’s really satisfying to see a place be completely decorated from the ground up.

  17. 1.20.11
    Nicole said:

    Hoooow do you do it

    I, too, read the post title and immediately knew that shell chairs at ridiculously low prices were about to be bragged about. Deservedly so.

  18. 1.20.11
    Laura P. said:

    Daniel – your description of scoping out thrift stores and getting leads on amazing deals/vintage finds is well appreciated here (I was almost squeeling with anticipation)! You’re a boy after my heart (and my Eames chairs – back off!). xo

  19. 1.21.11
    Jinia said:

    I thrift pretty hard core to support my habit and I have found the scarier the store the cooler the finds! I frequent one that I swear I hear dueling banjo’s in but I find some great things in there – then I wash up like thoroughly! Good find-Good thriftdar!

  20. 1.21.11
    Rose said:

    I have a shell chair and table set from my grandfather which is Burke (a Knoll knock-off) and some of the chairs have arms. They are really quite comfortable!
    Glad to see I’m not the only one has the junk-shop force. Great finds!

  21. 1.21.11
    Sara said:

    I am, indeed, green with envy!

  22. 1.22.11
    Pam said:

    OMG, Daniel, I loooooove the way you tell a story. It feels like I’m right there with you, operating side by side like partners in thrift store lurking. The Eames chairs?!? What a score!!! What a rush!!!

  23. 1.23.11
    Mich said:

    i die. I would totally sit outside a thrift store slurping coffee with blood shot eyes- like a stalker….
    what great finds! so happy for you!

  24. 1.23.11
    AnnW said:

    If you don’t put in the time, you won’t get the find. Reminds me of the time I bought a long two pedestal mahogany table at an estate sale. I read about it, and went the day before to reconnoiter for the possibility of looking through a window. There were people coming and going, so I did. I went back the next day and went right to the table. It was a gem. I paid $2000 and sent it to NYC to be French polished. While it was in the shop, a decorator offered the polisher $10,000 for it. I eventually found 10 chairs to go with it, using the same techniques. I couldn’t afford to buy a brand new set, or an antique set. So you have to work at it. When I was at that estate sale, a dealer from Mamaroneck had a crew that ran through and stuck stickers on everything with “Sold – Leonards of Mamaroneck” or something like that. So you have to be quick. Love the Portland posts. Could you please stop going to school and just travel around doing this? Ann

  25. 3.22.11
    _Moementum said:

    So, what are you going to do with the upholstered one? I recently got an upholstered armchair (ca. 1976) from a rummage sale and it’s not in the best of shape, or even the prettiest… (Well, the form is perfect, but the colors are a bit off…)
    A friend of mine brought his roughed up Eames arm chair to an autobody shop to get it painted, and attached a rocking base from Modernica. I’m really tempted to remove the vinyl and do what he did, but I just KNOW how much that will affect the value. However, what’s the use of an ugly, beat up piece of furniture?

    Ah, conflict…

  26. 3.3.12
    Kara said:

    I just found your blog an hour ago. I’m standing in my kitchen, unable to tear myself away from my computer screen, laughing and thoroughly enjoying your posts, and I’ve had to pee for the entire time, but I can’t stop reading. You, my friend, are a good story teller.