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Shop Tour: Portland’s Little Garage Shop

by Allison Burt-Tilden

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

Little Garage Shop studio tour on Design*Sponge
Little Garage Shop is one of the cleanest garages you'll ever see and perfectly displays the full range of LGS home wares which include screen printed napkins, pillows, dog beds, and prints alongside beautifully glazed ceramic planters, mugs, coasters, salt and pepper shakers, and even candles -- which Thomas and Noel developed in two scents (also available as room sprays): Clean and Dirty, a riff on the garage theme. Dirty has notes of smoke and oil while Clean is a fresh citrus-based scent.
Little Garage Shop studio tour on Design*Sponge
Little Garage Shop in all of its glory. Check out Little Garage Shop's social media for upcoming pop-up dates and info on when you can visit them at other locations including Portland Flea's monthly events.
Little Garage Shop studio tour on Design*Sponge
Lucky dog Bear lounging on a pile of hand printed Little Garage Shop dog beds, a perk of having artisan dads.
Little Garage Shop studio tour on Design*Sponge
Here you can see a sampling of just a few of the various glaze styles Thomas utilizes in his vessels. Says Thomas of LGS's influences: "We are very much inspired by growing up in the 70s. There is something about the palette, design and feeling of the decade that will always speak to us. Although our shapes and graphics are more contemporary, we are evoking a time of celebrating nature, color and craft."
Little Garage Shop studio tour on Design*Sponge
A Little Garage Shop floating bowl in Falling Ice glaze features a beautiful wash of color and texture.
Little Garage Shop studio tour on Design*Sponge
In the basement studio you can often find Thomas hard at work at the pottery wheel while Noel crafts textiles nearby, which can create challenges. "Our studio is the biggest challenge," Thomas admits. "While it provides us a great deal of satisfaction, it is also very difficult to have a ceramic studio and textile studio in the same room. Ceramics generate a lot of dust, which can be particularly challenging when printing fabrics. To date, we have scheduled around one another’s production timing, but as we continue to grow, the time will come when we need a much larger shared space or separate studios."
Little Garage Shop studio tour on Design*Sponge
Thomas makes each piece of pottery by hand which ensures everything is not only held to a very high standard, but is imbued with its own character.
Little Garage Shop studio tour on Design*Sponge
Future vessels are hand stamped with the LGS mark before moving on to the kiln for their first firing.
Little Garage Shop studio tour on Design*Sponge
In process: ceramic pieces post-kiln, waiting for one of Thomas' many gorgeous glazing techniques.
Little Garage Shop studio tour on Design*Sponge
After being treated to glaze, LGS vessels are re-fired a final time. Many pieces go on to serve their purpose as planters and dishware and the second firing ensures durability. According to Thomas and Noel: "We like to create products that we want to use and much of our work is not meant to be precious. It should be used, held, broken in and worn down. It’s in those well-worn objects that we find the most beauty."
Little Garage Shop studio tour on Design*Sponge
Noel works primarily with washed work wear cotton which offers both a soft feel and high durability. All fabric is printed by hand in the LGS studio with custom mixed colors.
Little Garage Shop studio tour on Design*Sponge
Part of the magic of Little Garage Shop's beautiful textiles is the fact that Noel custom mixes the colors himself, ensuring truly unique prints that showcase his vibrant hues.
Little Garage Shop studio tour on Design*Sponge
Thomas Renaud and Noel Hennessy, the masterminds behind Little Garage Shop. "The garage is the place that is off the clock, outside the lines, with no place to be. It’s the place to fix a car, start a band, launch a revolution, or build an atelier. The garage is where imagination and transformation come together. And that’s why we’re housed here, creating bespoke objects to transform your space."

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  • What an interesting tour, especially seeing the beautiful ceramics and textiles in progress. And that dog!

  • I am so elated to know this, I love stoneware. It’s great to know who and what is local and where they might be inspired.

  • Such a great post! I always love seeing the behind-the-scenes, especially a great combo like this. Also lovely to see a feature on someone who doesn’t already have an enormous following!