An oasis of DIY community that started back in 2010 by longtime friends Lupine Swanson (left) and Michelle Healy (right, below), Modern Domestic is a sewing sanctuary for all located in the heart of Portland's Northeast quadrant. Mod (hence the name) and stylish, this gorgeous studio offers group and one-on-one classes, Friday night wine-soaked "sew-cials" and a plethora of gorgeous fabrics and supplies for the sewing enthusiast - all within an inspiring, Schoolhouse-lit space. We chatted with owner Lupine Swanson about Modern Domestic's sleek design and her desire and drive to create a state-of-the-art, contemporary sewtopia for the Portland design community and beyond.
Name: Modern Domestic
Date opened: March 2010
Neighborhood: Alberta Street in Portland, Oregon
Tell us about Modern Domestic – What was the inspiration behind the concept and execution?
"We created the space in 2010 to offer the sewing shop we had always dreamed of going to ourselves. At the time, in Portland, there wasn’t a real resource for sewing classes teaching modern projects and using great quality tools and equipment. We wanted to create a space for sewists and quilters to come together and really enjoy the process of making."
Where does the name come from and how does this space embody that?
"The name came from a series of text messages combining words that we really liked. Both Michelle and I were keeping lists on our phones and scraps of paper. We were just putting combinations of words together and we came upon Modern Domestic and it was just exactly what we were looking for. Something that felt warm and fresh, had a sense of making and sounded pleasant to say out loud."
Was there a specific design vision from the beginning or did it come together organically?
"Michelle and I have often found that throughout the years, we kept gravitating toward a similar aesthetic. There was, and still is, an easy natural process of selecting fabric or the classroom layout, choosing what patterns to carry or classes to offer. Our style is ever-evolving and it was fun to move from our old location after 6 years and create a familiar yet fresh interior in our new building (with the help of Schoolhouse lighting of course)."
How did you work together to create the unique look and feel of the space?
"We worked easily toward the design of the shop and layout of the space. From the black exterior color to the white walls and open feel, most of these decisions took as little as: 'Do you think we should paint the outside of the shop black?' and a 'Yes!' reply was all it took. I can never remember whose idea these things were first, because they often seem to occur at the same time."
What do you love most about the day to day running of MD?
"I love working with our amazing staff and customers. Helping people select fabric or the right sewing machine for the job is very satisfying and seeing completed projects that our staff and customers show up wearing is amazing!"
What are some of your favorite elements about the overall design and why did you choose the Schoolhouse lights you did in particular?
"When we first found the building in 2015, it looked very different than it does today. It’s fun to see a space and imagine what the space could become aesthetically. One thing that stood out amongst the many cobbled together rooms were the two old growth fir beams that spanned the entire space. Our architect, Melissa designed a giant roof monitor between those two beams.
This provided a ton a natural light and gave a more lofty feel to the entire space. It was important to provide plenty of bright light for the classroom space, but we didn’t want to neglect providing the warmth of home throughout the space. We have always been long-time fans of Schoolhouse and furnish our own homes with it. When we saw the Factory Lights in white enamel, we knew they would be the perfect statement lights over our cutting table and at the store entryway. The large scale and simple design fit our space perfectly."
Can you tell us your philosophy, the types of classes you offer and sense of community at MD?
"We want MD to be a place that exudes the warmth of home while maintaining a clean, modern aesthetic. We believe in learning along the way, both as business owners and makers. We want beginning sewists to feel comfortable and supported in their process of learning. One of our core values is ‘teaching and learning everyday’ and making mistakes is part of the learning process. We offer garment and quilting classes for beginners to more advanced sewists. We teach classes from t-shirt making to more complex projects like jeans and longarm quilting. We also offer our studio as a space to come and sew by the hour. If you are just getting started or need the use of a BERNINA to make a better buttonhole or finish a quilt, our classroom is available for open studio sewing. We also enjoy hosting charity sewing and quilting events and bring in national sewing and quilting instructors through out the year."
What do you like best about Portland and your neighborhood in particular?
"We love Alberta St! There is so much creativity here and our neighborhood is dynamic and changing all the time. Portland is a great city for modern quilting and sewing, there are designers here like Elizabeth Hartman whose quilts are pictured hanging in the shop. We are delighted to be among these creative people and hope to inspire all kinds of sewing, making and quilting."
Photography by Ellie Lillstrom