Bathed in sunlight Shu Hung and Joseph Magliaro stand on the balcony of their Division Street apartment. Shu is the Global Director of Energy Marketing at Nike, a role that allows her to develop projects that bring the footwear brand in contact with artists, designers, architects and creative thinkers from around the world. Joseph operates a design practice that includes designing furniture, retail environments, publications and identity systems. Before finding a home in Portland, Shu and Joseph lived in cities around the world, from Berlin to Beijing and New York. Noticeably smaller and quieter than the other cities, Portland combines space for contemplation with global connections that allow them to continue their design work. Most importantly, Portland’s calm pace and sense of ease allow them to extend their sense of home beyond the walls of their apartment and into familiar spaces within the city.
The roots of their store Table of Contents are inseparably linked with the interests and lives of the couple. While in Berlin, they began experimenting with creating new shopping experiences by setting up makeshift stands on the street – more cabinets of curiosities than stores – where they would sell or give away unique objects they had found or created. This spirit underlies Table of Contents where the duo bring together objects that they love and feel connected to. Instead of focusing on just objects, Shu and Joseph use their space as a way of coalescing with others. They elevate the shop beyond commerce and into a social sphere that provides a place for new experiences. After time spent in their apartment discussing their lives we enjoy an outing across the river to their store; a place that is a manifestation of their shared visions.
This portrait is part of our ongoing collaboration with ZEIT Online who present a special curation of our pictures on their site.
How long have you lived in this building and what attracted you to it?
Joseph: We’ve been here for about four years. We moved to Portland from Berlin and rented a really beautiful house that was based around a central courtyard with lots of floor-to-ceiling glass. The space was wonderful to be in during the day, but at night I think we both found it a bit unnerving.
Shu: Yeah, we just felt a bit too exposed. And the house was in the suburbs of Portland, in Beaverton actually. There was nowhere that we could walk. It was the quintessential mid-century American housing development.
Joseph: The area lacked the density that we’re used to from living in urban environments, so we didn’t last long. We started looking for a building with the kind of open floor plan and large windows that we loved in the house, but that also had access to restaurants, cafes and a bit of street life. In addition, I’ve also realized that I really like being elevated above the street just a bit. Looking out from the balcony, you can see downtown. I like to have a vantage on my destination. Starting here at point A and visualizing that I’ll be heading over to point B once I’ve finished the morning coffee is kind of nice.
What makes home “home”?
Shu: Well, for me, I think it has to do with feeling completely at ease. Having a place where you feel at ease. And I don’t think it’s limited to the walls of your house or apartment. Actually I think the more spaces within a city in which you feel familiar and relaxed, the more you feel at home.
Yeah, it’s tough to pinpoint, isn’t it? You just know it when you’ve got it.
Joseph: Whatever it is, I think it just takes time. After you’ve occupied a space long enough, it starts to feel like the things that work and don’t work are kind of part of you. You accept them and maybe don’t even notice them. To other people they may seem strange or unlivable. It’s like you adapt to the one kitchen drawer that always falls off the track when you pull it out. You stop trying to fix everything and just accept its quirks.
How did you accumulate all of your furniture and art pieces? Are there any stories you can share about them?
Joseph: I think this connects to the home question. The longer an object or piece of furniture travels with me, the more I tend to develop a kind of sympathy for that thing. It has something to do with the idea of “patina.” Certain objects develop both a physical and emotional patina over time, while others are generally disposable. And it’s not so easy to identify which objects are which. An iPhone, for example, is this beautiful, highly designed object and yet its potential for developing a desirable patina seems pretty slim. We care very little about the longevity of our phones and would gladly exchange them for a newer model as soon as one is available. The same cannot be said for a set of vintage Carl Auböck bookends or an old Aalto table that you’ve sat at for decades.
Shu: A lot of stuff in here we’ve had since we lived in New York. Back then, we were just finding things on the street or at thrift stores. Then of course eBay kind of changed that and we have since found a lot of things from hunting online. We lived in London and Berlin for a while and so we acquired some things during our time in Europe too.
Tell me about the photo with the arrows piercing the box of rice and the cheese.
Joseph: That was a gift from Christian Jankowski. Christian is an artist who lives in Berlin and is a good friend. When we moved to Berlin we had a lot of difficulty finding an apartment that we could lease. There’s this thing called SCHUFA!
Shu: We had no credit history in Europe so it was difficult to find a landlord who would rent to us. We spent a couple of months bouncing between temporary rentals and friends’ apartments. Christian had moved to a new space but still had the lease on his old one. He’d been subletting to four or five Danish art students but they were moving out, so Christian convinced his landlord that he should turn the lease over to us.
Joseph: Yeah, we were really happy to get that apartment! We’d been visiting Berlin pretty regularly and had stayed there several times. We knew the neighborhood pretty well and it felt like a good place to call home. So the photo is related to a piece Christian made in the 90s called ‘The Hunt’. The table in the picture is the same table that was in the apartment when we had visited in the past.
Shu: The breakfast table.
Can we talk about your collections? You seem to have a very specific selection of books, furniture and records. Do you consider yourselves collectors?
Shu: Well, we do buy a good amount of books and we’re pretty selective about the things we purchase, but I don’t think we’re “collectors” if you mean obsessive completists or something like that. We like to have things that we will use – not things that are meant to sit in a box in the back of a closet.
Joseph: I do like to have examples. Samples, reference materials, that sort of thing. Things that can be useful for envisioning a new product, project or piece of furniture. For me, the library is a tool. We need a library to create the background against which we work. It’s a network of knowledge, interests and examples. Knowing how to access that knowledge, or how to arrange interests in new and compelling ways is, for me, a pretty big part of the design process. It’s like using a language, figuring out the syntax and relating differences to create meaning.
Together you’ve lived in New York, Berlin, Beijing and London. What made you settle in Portland?
Shu: We came to Portland for work. There was a work opportunity here.
Joseph: I’ve really grown to like the city and appreciate what it has to offer. It’s a really compact city and because it is so compact it allows you to get a lot done. If you need to meet with five people in a day you can easily zip around town and not spend half the day in transit.
Joseph: Or Beijing.
Shu: Or New York, really. That can be kind of tedious.
You’ve said that your store, Table of Contents, has to do with your interest in publication. Can you elaborate on that?
Shu: We’ve both worked with publications for a long time, that’s our background. We’ve both designed books and magazines and written for books and magazines. I also founded a magazine called ‘In’ with Ken Miller about a decade ago. In was based out of the back of the Opening Ceremony store on Howard Street in New York. Carol and Humberto are both old friends so when they opened I worked in the back on my magazine and did some graphic design for the shop.
Making a magazine is a very collective process. There are a lot of skills that need to come together to make it work: from setting the vision and tone, to writing, designing, shooting, planning, styling, organizing advertising and PR. It was a real collaborative effort. So many friends and people who were around at that time took part in the magazine. We did a photoshoot with Humberto’s collection of vintage Margiela outfits. Jay Massacret helped out with the styling. It was kind of a special moment in New York just after 9/11, people were looking for ways to get back to work and to participate in a community. We were lucky to have so many talented friends that were excited to help build something. Andrew Kuo, Patrik Ervell, Skaught Nguyen, Ben Cho and Mary Ping. So many great photographers pitched in. We worked with a lot of great people such as Freddie Skogkvist, Colby Katz, Josh Wildman and Brooke Nipar. I think running a physical space has a lot of parallels. The shop isn’t just a place to purchase goods. If we’re at all successful, it should be a place where people are offered a sense of community.
Joseph: Conceptually, too, I think the shop begins with the idea of publication, with a desire to have a platform to present our interests to a public – to invite public reaction and participation. We also try to organize our selections and our collaborations around a seasonal theme, a tactic we’ve adopted from the magazine industry. For this Spring/Summer the theme is “Getting Around”. We’re looking at both means of physical transit and a more abstract notion of how ideas are disseminated from one place to another.
Where is your favorite place to spend time in Portland?
Shu: At home!
Joseph: I do really like spending time here or at the shop. There’s always a lot of projects going on and I feel like there’s always something we can be furthering and trying to make come to life. Even at home we just do a lot of research and use our time to think about what we are trying to accomplish and what we hope to produce.
When you go out to eat in Portland, what’s the place that feels most like home?
Joseph: I really love Roost. It’s a simple neighborhood restaurant run by great people. The food doesn’t try to be too novel, it’s just really well-done, honest food.
It’s not a chicken restaurant is it? A high-end KFC?
Joseph: It’s not a chicken restaurant, no!
Shu: Yeah, it’s fried chicken!
Photography: Joanna Han
Interview & Text: Alec Recinos