See what artists did to those old Portland airport benches (photos)

Is your home or office missing a conversation starter? Here’s an idea: Buy a sleek piece of Portland’s past. Furniture makers at PDXoriginals are restoring and updating vintage chrome benches that once relieved weary passengers at the Portland International Airport.

Making these functional seats and tables even better: Local designers and artists remade 10 of the airport castoffs to raise money for New Avenues for Youth, a Portland nonprofit helping to prevent youth homelessness.

Bids are being accepted for the one-of-a-kind, 8-foot-long benches through 8 p.m. on Thursday, May 31.

Forget those hard black vinyl chairs you remember from the airport. Softer cushions and colorful fabrics drape the seats and backrests on renovated wood bases. Original chrome and aluminum legs have been polished.

Check out these cool, modular benches that are configured in many ways from May 28 to June 1 in the first floor display window at the Fair-Haired Dumbbell building, 11 N.E. Martin Luther King Jr Blvd. in Portland.

There will be an open house from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Wednesday, May 30. The event, with refreshments, is free, but organizers ask that you RSVP at

You might be tempted to contact the control tower before landing on one of the artistic benches created by designers at brand innovation studio Instrument, Pensole footwear design academy, the Art Institute of Portland and other respected studios.

One of the benches is a blank canvas, for now. The new owner will spend time with Nike print designer KJ LeBeau, who will hand draw, on white denim upholstery, an original illustration based on the owner’s lifestyle, obsessions and cultural interests.

The experience will result in a "conversation piece to last generations," say organizers Ryan Widell, Ben Vickers and Steve Mika of PDX Originals, who bought hundreds of the old benches from the Port of Portland and are restoring and reupholstering them to sell.

"The airport benches were built by a Mississippi-based furniture manufacture Chromcraft that doesn’t really exist anymore," says Mika. "We believe they were designed in the late 1970s and were installed in the Portland airport in 1983."

In addition to the Nike bench, here are the concepts behind the other re-imagined airport benches to be auctioned, as described by their maker:

"PDX Airport Bench in Sycamore" was shaped by Jesse Felling of Felling Furniture Studios after thousands of painstaking hours. Felling was influenced by acclaim furniture artists Wendell Castle and Wharton Esherick when remaking the lines of the armrest, table and backrest. The contoured saddle seats are sycamore sourced from Iron Mountain Tree Care, and original cast aluminum legs have been carved to introduce unexpected texture.

"A Constant State of Recline": Brian Kappel of Space Monkey Designs added scrap wood and spare parts from paintings to the original plywood seat. The pattern of the slats is reflected on the side table — shaped like Oregon — and armrests, adding a geometric balance to the otherwise curvy lines.

"Micro/Macro" by Emily and Chase Goitia of Lagom Handmade accessories uses 100 percent wool-tufted upholstery to mimic a landscape inspired by Forest Park and the Willamette Valley. The piece represents built and natural environments and "a possible future where our place is reclaimed by native flora," according to the artists’ statement.

"The Alchemy Bench": The Fiction design team envisioned a seat of the future that "serves as a dream-chamber … and encourages us to look." Materials include PVC pipe with pastel paint, wood boxes and new upholstery.

"Taking Flight" by Anna Coghill, Olivia Lewis and artist Michel Hulsey with DFRNTpigeon, which is New Avenues for Youth’s apparel company that offers young people an opportunity to create original artwork for a product line and receive training in design and business. The joy-of-flight design was inspired by the bench’s airport origins, using the new airport carpet and DFRNTpigeon’s tagline of "Don’t just rise, take flight."

"Raven Sofa in Wolf’s Skin" by Damon Johnstun of Tiber creative was influenced by flight and the native art of the Pacific Northwest, especially Haida artist Charles Edenshaw. In Haida folklore, the raven can take the form of people, animals and object, even an airport bench. Raven forms are set again fake fur that represents another native animal, the wolf. Johnstun cut, assembled, upholstered, ground metal, hand stitched and polished the marble. "I am particularly proud of the arm," he says. "It is the perfect height to rest your head when you take a nap. I have tested it."

"Mid Century Reimagined" was designed and made by the Art Institute of Portland with faculty instructor Emily Cusick. Inspired by Portland’s aesthetic, lifestyle and commitment to sustainability, the functional loveseat, live-edged wooden table and executive chair with an ottoman were created with minimal waste using blue pine wood from Salvage Works and soft goods from Calico Fabric.

"Verdant:" Instrument’s team employed paper, vellum, moss, cork, tissue and paint to evoke a natural looking landscape. The design was inspired by the poem that begins, "Here’s to the flowers without soft white petals, here’s to the rough and uneven."

"Believe in the Process": Each of the four chairs represents the specialized work from the specialized studios of Pensole footwear design academy. D’Wayne Edwards of the Sneaker Design studio created "Pensole Chair" in nubuck and Vibram rubber. Suzette Henry of the Material Selection studio used Ecco Leather, Clarino suede and Cordura textiles to create "MLAB Chair." Angela Medlin of the Material Selection & Layout studio covered "FAAS Chair" in pieces repurposed from a down jacket, backpack, nylon and technical windbreaker, held together with Cordura ripstop and Bemis seam seal tape. And Jared Fiorovich and Ben Dunkel created "203 Concept Shop Chair" from Horween Leather, suede and Gore-Tex. The creation team also included Anna Smith, Jenna Moore and Melvin Melchor.

— Janet Eastman

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