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Interiorssneak peeks

Shop Tour: Vía Raíz

by Kelli Kehler

For Jennifer Bolanos, every facet of her upbringing and her life experiences have both led her to and informed her newly opened shop in Portland, OR, Vía Raíz. She was in search of a place where she could display her pride in her Mexican-American heritage — while supporting the work of Mexican artisans — but owning a space in the tree-lined Forest Park neighborhood in NW Portland wasn’t even on her radar less than a year ago.

“Commercial spaces have become really expensive in Portland,” Jennifer begins, “so a brick-and-mortar shop wasn’t even a business goal for me in 2018. But by luck, through really good friends, I learned about a cute little shop space that was becoming available at the beginning of 2018. When I walked into the space I just knew it was right.” Jennifer got the keys to her 220-square-foot space in January and opened her shop doors on May 19. Vía Raíz, Jennifer’s beautiful shop carrying modern Mexican crafts, is the tangible culmination of everything that makes her who she is, from the people who raised her to changing career paths and nearly everything in between.

“I’m the daughter of immigrants and I wear that badge with honor because to me it means resilience, adaptability, and drive,” Jennifer shares. “I’m so grateful for all the sacrifices and hard work that my parents went through to provide a beautiful life for my sister and I. I’m proud to say that I’m Mexican-American and thank my parents for raising me with so much love and reverence for my cultural heritage. My background is in interior design but that career ended before it really even took off, when California was hit with the subprime mortgage crisis in 2007. I then went on to a six-year career in retail sales, operations, and merchandising. It’s funny because I never imagined that I would end up doing something that combined both my design and retail experiences, but both have proved to be invaluable in starting Vía Raíz.”

It’s hard to pinpoint just one eye-catching corner of Jennifer’s shop because it is layered with textures and patterns throughout, evoking a warm and welcoming feel despite a monochromatic color palette. But the most impressive of her design touches in the space is arguably the black and white patterned floor, which Jennifer painstakingly stenciled and painted herself by hand. “Living in the age of Instagram I was constantly thinking how I could make the store Instragramable. I knew I wanted to work with a minimal aesthetic and palette but needed a WOW factor.”

Read on to tour Vía Raíz and learn more about the floor-stenciling process — which presented Jennifer with several challenges and delays. But after it all was said and done, like the now-striking floor of Vía Raíz, every step that’s led her to this place has been worth it one hundred times over. “I have to pinch myself every time I walk into my shop,” she says. “I always had this dream of owning my own business. I’m still in so much awe that I’ve made it happen.” —Kelli

Photography by Carly Diaz / @carly.e.diaz

Image above: Jennifer says, “¡Bienvenidos a Vía Raíz! The shop is tiny, 220 square feet to be exact, so my goal was to make it feel airy, bright, and inviting. I wanted to create a space that felt like an escape. I’m so happy to hear from customers that there’s a really nice feeling when in the shop. It has triggered so many wonderful memories of my customer’s trips to Mexico.”

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“The exterior of the storefront was kept intact,” Jennifer notes. “I added window vinyls to strengthen the shop’s brand. Funny story: On the right window I put up a vinyl that says “HOLA PORTLAND.” I wanted to say a big, warm hello to the city that supported my concept from Day 1. Turned out that visitors kept thinking the name of the shop was Hola Portland. I’ve since taken the vinyl down to not cause more confusion.”

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Shop owner, Jennifer Bolanos, who showcases her Mexican-American heritage proudly through the emerging Mexican artisans she supports in Vía Raíz. “I was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area and for the last 4.5 years, I’ve called Portland home. I have a wonderful husband who is my biggest supporter and fan, and my furry dog child, Don Pancho, who I can’t imagine my life without.”

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Jennifer tells us, “Portland doesn’t see the sun for at least six months out of the year, so I knew that I wanted to paint the shop interior white to reflect more light. Finding the right shade of white was tricky. I didn’t want a super stark white or really warm white. I landed on ‘Simply White’ by Benjamin Moore and it worked beautifully. The white walls also allow for all the beautiful crafts to really stand out.”

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“Tropical, modern and inviting” was the ethos behind the shop’s design for Jennifer. Of the flooring process, she says, “I stenciled my floors in a chic black and white graphic pattern, inspired by the cement tile of my dreams. However, this proved to be a little bit of a logistical nightmare. My shop fronts artist studio spaces and the only entrance to the studios is through my shop. I had to paint in sections during the late evening hours and create a covered walkway to protect the floors from foot traffic. Also, Portland in the winter is super wet and we had snow making it messier and slowing the curing and drying time. The painting and stenciling alone took 1 1/2 weeks. Then I had to apply a protective polyurethane coat which had to cure for 7 days before any furniture, and technically any foot traffic, could be placed on it. I couldn’t avoid the foot traffic because I couldn’t close my space off to the artists in the building. Solution, I created a walk way using foam that is placed under wood/laminate floors to buffer the pressure and weight. Between figuring out the proper paints, tools, materials, and logistics the floors were super stressful but at the end so worth it.”

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Jennifer makes her tiny shop feel larger than it is by playing with vertical displays – from the shelving, to items showcased on the walls.

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“Natural pine is commonly used in furniture making in Mexico, so finding the Ivar System by IKEA was perfect,” Jennifer says. “The natural wood finish, amongst all the black and white, really helps to add a lot of warmth. Through the doorway, which you can see in the far right corner, is the entrance to nine artist studios that are open to the public.”

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“The name Vía Raíz, meaning ‘Through Roots,’ plays a critical role in how I select the designers and pieces. I look for pieces that demonstrate reverence to tradition, honor the artisan, and also help bring Mexican craft to the world stage. The designers I collaborate with, understand their responsibility in helping keep traditional crafts alive.”

The symbiotic union between the artisan and the designer is the framework for the new era of Mexican craft.

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Jennifer carries books in her shop that range in topic from Mexican art, to photography, to architecture and gastronomy. “This beautiful book, self-titled, Pablo López Luz, is the first book by Mexican photographer, Pablo López Luz. The book is a collection of 63 photographs taken over the last five years, that captures the landscapes of Mexico City, Tijuana, Acapulco, and Chiapas, as well as a series of photos taken in Hong Kong. Most of these photographs are bird’s-eye views.”

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Stunning Caralarga necklaces displayed as wall art. “Having worked in home staging and retail merchandising, I understand the art of display and the power of creating vignettes that allow the visitor to imagine the possibilities,” Jennifer says.

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“Caralarga necklaces are wearable art,” Jennifer begins. “Artisans turn simple materials, such as raw cotton and jute, into stunning adornments. Each Caralarga piece is made in their workshop inside of El Hercules, an old textile mill in Queretaro, Mexico that dates back to the 1800s.”

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” ‘Ama Tus Raíces’ translates to ‘Love Your Roots.’ It’s about embracing and honoring where you come from. Three simple words convey such a beautiful and powerful message.”

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“Renown fashion designer, Carla Fernandez, works with indigenous communities throughout Mexico,” Jennifer explains. “I feel very fortunate to carry a few of her pieces in my shop. The Ikat napkins are inspired by the traditional weaving technique used to make rebozos and the molinillo napkin rings are inspired by the traditional Mexican kitchen tool to make hot chocolate, the molinillo.”

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“As a little startup business, the shop remodel was done using all my savings. Building a formal cash wrap wasn’t in my budget. I had to get creative with creating a checkout space that would be functional. The high countertop table and ghost bench were a great solution. However, down the road I would love to upgrade. The window in the back allows you to peek into an artist’s studio space. One of the reasons I fell in love with the space was because of its collective creative energy, so I didn’t want to close the view off.”

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Every detail in Vía Raíz comes with a story of Mexican heritage. “Here, we see a clay skull painted by an artisan from Xalitla, Guerrero. Traditionally, this style of painting would be done on Amate paper. Due to ecological and sustainability concerns, the designer is working with these artisans to apply this art onto different surfaces. The elegant marble candleholder comes from Jalisco. The rare marble is sourced in northern Mexico and hand-carved and polished to create a perfect sphere. The sphere is in two halves, allowing you to take it apart and play with different configurations. The beautiful lacquer tray takes three months to make. It a laborious process of creating many layers of the lacquer finish and carving out the design using a cactus needle.”

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“When I began planning out the space, I knew that I wanted this wall to feature all of my handwoven blankets and textiles. Due to lack of space, I wanted to create a floating rod hanging system. Playing slightly with the height and depth difference between the rods fools the eye into seeing more space. I worked with my super talented friend, Lori Caldwell, owner of Minnie+George, to create the leather straps that hold the rods. The straps are adjustable, giving me flexibility to play with the height depending on the size of textiles.”

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A sweet moment found in this incredible mirror hanging on the back of a shop door. It was hand-crafted using Tzalam wood, an exotic wood found in the Yucatan region.

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“I worked with Toro Pinto, a design and branding team from Guadalajara, Jalisco, for all of my branding. I knew that to truly convey the sentiment behind the concept I had to work with a design team in Mexico,” Jennifer shares. Now open for just a handful of months, Jennifer is overjoyed to have achieved her goal of owning a warm and welcoming shop that’s embedded in its community. “I’m so thankful for all the love and support that people have shown and truly thankful to have a space that celebrates Mexican culture and heritage.”

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Comments

    • Muchas Gracias Deanna! To hear you say that the shop looks inviting and has a strong sense of identity is so wonderful. It’s everything that I hoped to achieve, so I’m so happy it can be seen and felt even through a computer screen. Con Mucho Cariño, Jennifer.

    • Hola Deanna! Muchas gracias for your lovely words. To hear that the shop looks inviting and has a strong sense of identity is so wonderful. It’s what I hoped to achieve so I’m happy that even through a computer screen this can be felt and seen. Con Cariño, Jennifer

    • Muchas Gracias Candice! Yes, the floors were worth every grey hair that I got during the process. ; ) It truly makes the space. It’s pretty flattering when customers think that the floors are tile.

    • Hola Hadda! Muchas Gracias! You never know where life may take you so it feels incredible that I’ve been able to combine my heritage, my love for design, and my previous work experiences to arrive at this point. Con Cariño, Jennifer

  • Best wishes for a successful business. I’ll definitely visit your beautiful shop soon. You should know that you could probably have a side career as a floor painter.

    • Muchas Gracias MJ! Yes, please visit the shop. I always have a bottle of Mezcal to share a copita with friends new and old. I actually have been asked about recreating the floor in customers’ homes twice now.

  • One of the best small businesses I’ve seen featured here in DS! Love the sense of identity/ color scheme/ floor!

    • Muchas Gracias Helen! I’m overjoyed to read that people love the sense of identity. To be proud of where you come from and who you are is so important and I’m so happy that I was able to translate this into a physical space. Con Cariño, Jennifer

    • Muchas Gracias Kat! In a time when we’re seeing retail struggle, it’s the shops that invite us to be a part of a community and create unforgettable experiences that are succeeding. With so many great shops out there I’m so happy for your excitement about my little shop. Con Cariño, Jennifer

  • Those front windows are amazing! I have a shop too and would do anything for those! And such a beautiful space. Opening on a budget is tough I know, but Jennifer definitely makes it work. A truly inspiring space — thank you for sharing.

    • Hola Nicole! Muchas Gracias! I definitely feel so lucky to have the incredible shop windows. The natural light my shop gets, as well as, the ability to get creative with displays is wonderful. I believe that when you’re on a budget it forces you to get really creative which is great. Con Cariño, Jennifer

  • Love what you’ve done with the shop — its such a beautiful space. Definitely a place we will check out next time we are in Portland. Question for you, where did you get your high counter-top table for your check-out stand? We are looking for something like this for our kitchen. Thanks so much!

  • Love the shop and immediately checked out the website. Lovely stuff! Great Design. But the thing that was most arresting to me was the floor. Omigod. I too have salivated over that design. I know it as the Tulum 8×8 encaustic cement tile. It goes for about $7 for each tile. I would LOVE to hear more about the stenciling process. How did you make the tile? How big? How to keep things straight? Did you start in middle and move outwards? And so forth. What kind of paint and poly? It’s just a brilliant achievement!!

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