Portland, OR’s artisan community has long been known for its ingenuity and perseverance. Which is a good thing, seeing as how those qualities are being called upon more than ever lately as new development is reaching a feverish pitch that’s seeing longtime art studio spaces razed for luxury apartment complexes — and rents are reaching all-time highs. Local artists and makers are finding themselves pushed out as affordable studio space becomes ever more scarce.
Luckily for Thomas Renaud and Noel Hennessy of Little Garage Shop, they’ve come upon a quirky and ingenious solution. You may have already guessed it from their name, but the couple came upon the idea of utilizing their garage as a way to present their wares to the public while using their basement for their studio space. By using some of their living space to produce and showcase their ceramics, textiles, room sprays and candles, they’ve cut costs that might have otherwise thwarted their fledgling housewares business. Which is good news for design fans as their ceramics and textiles feature beautiful color palettes, details and finishes that set them apart from other lines.
Noel and Thomas are originally from Eastern Washington state and Miami, FL, respectively. Both lived in New York City for many years, Noel spending his time on opening and running the St. Helen Cafe and lifestyle brand S.A.V.E.D., while Thomas worked in marketing and advertising. However, it wasn’t until they both moved to Los Angeles, CA that their paths crossed. With Noel looking to reconnect with his roots in the Pacific Northwest, they made the decision to relocate to Portland. It wasn’t long after their move that Thomas rediscovered his love of ceramics after a 15-year hiatus, and realized designing and producing ceramics was where he wanted to devote his time.
In looking for a space to live, the couple settled on the northeast quadrant of Portland, which they felt would provide the quiet neighborhood and artistic community they sought. After living in large metropolis cities for more than a decade, their main concern was space for their dog, Bear, and room to create an in-home studio where Thomas could work on his ceramics. Thomas shares, “In the beginning, we were utilizing the basement as our shared studio space and the garage acted as an overflow space for bigger projects. We have been collaborating on each other’s work for quite some time, and had been talking about starting a business together. Having a shared studio space seemed very natural and it was a great way to keep our overhead low.”
It wasn’t long before they realized the garage could act as a showroom for their creations, too. Thomas explains how the idea came to be fully realized: “One afternoon, we decided to convert the garage into a pseudo retail space to test out some of the work we had been developing. The amount of interest and positive feedback we were getting from other artists and people in the neighborhood really helped to propel us forward. Rolling the garage door up for the first time last December, Little Garage Shop was born.”
Little Garage Shop is only open a few times a year for special sales, but those who are able to make it to those few occasions will find it’s a real treat. Perhaps one of the cleanest garages ever, getting to see all of Little Garage Shop’s wares expertly displayed while chatting with Noel and Thomas about how each item is made makes for a truly special experience. If you can’t make it to one of Little Garage Shop’s rare openings, never fear, as they’re known to pop up at local sales including Portland’s Renegade Craft Fair and the Portland Flea, which is held the last Sunday of each month. Or you can always peruse their online shop. — Allison