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This Seat’s Taken: Room 68 Delivers the Future of Design

Posted by Alex Pearlman  September 14, 2011 08:32 AM

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Room68.jpgBold new furniture and design shop Room 68, located appropriately at 68 South St. in Jamaica Plain, is now selling some of the most interesting and unique decor of any storefront in town. But there's one seat that you can't take home with you; it isn't for sale.

The seat of note, a futuristic-looking piece by Jane Miller, tastefully combines a dystopian set of industrial metal legs topped with a thick slab of Lucite, a translucent plastic, which glows like a rectangular chunk of sea glass in the gaping windows at the front of the shop. The price tag reads “NFS.”

It’s “Not For Sale” because this particular seat is what brought the three co-founders of Room 68 together. Long-time J.P residents Nick Siemaska, 27, Brent Refsland, 29, and Eric Portnoy, 52, joined forces to create and curate the space, which most recently held a vintage clothing store named Dame.

“That bench was the fire-starter. It’s why Room 68 exists,” said Siemaska, an active designer and a blogger at the popular online publication Apartment Therapy. “Brent brought that bench into The Hallway, the gallery next door that he curates, as a way to prove to me that furniture could sell in J.P. We had been talking about starting the business. He wanted to do this as a test."

Back on May 5, the first day the bench was in The Hallway, Portnoy walked in. He'd never visited before, but he spotted the bench and struck up a conversation with Refsland. Portnoy had been dreaming of opening a place to turn his own passion for design into something more than a hobby. The collaboration seemed fated.

“It was meant to be,” said Portnoy. “I’m a client for a store like [Room 68]. Now that it’s come together, it’s the type of place I want to check out every day. I’m afraid I’ll miss something.”

Portnoy and Refsland talked late into the night about the Lucite bench and the potential for collaboration. The conversation ended in a handshake and a verbal commitment to join forces with Siemaska on the then-unnamed Room 68.

The three new partners called a local real estate agency the next day and discovered that Dame was closing its doors. They shopped other neighborhoods, looking at spaces, but ultimately felt the store had to happen in the Dame space. They signed documents to form Room 68 shortly thereafter.

For these three happy new partners, the bench represents a shared vision for Room 68.

“All we want to focus on is fresh, new, innovative design," said Refsland. "There is no one in Boston that’s strictly doing that.”

“From that first night, we knew we wanted to keep it really dynamic and changing and fresh and fun,” said Portnoy. “It’s meant to be warm and comfortable, not standoffish like some of the places in New York.”

The store's other 10 currently featured seats are accompanied by a medley of different-sized tables, a half-dozen unique lamps, and an array of other eye-catching trinkets, including a dazzling prototype honeycomb shelf that clings to the wall in the rear of the space. These custom works by a dozen or so local, regional, and international artists and priced between $30 and $3,500 comprise the store's soft launch, which kicked off almost exactly four months after the ownership gelled.

Room 68 opens officially on October 15, but several hundred passersby and many of the in-the-know on the Boston design scene have already been by to see how it’s shaping up.

“Our only expectation is to have incredible design from designers that are emerging on the scene,” says Siemaska. “We hope the Boston community and the local arts community will be pleased with what we’ve done. This is for everyone.”

All three will be splitting shifts in Room 68 Tuesday through Sunday. That they’re manning the shop entirely by themselves is a clear sign that they intend to continue the community focus that J.P.’s emerging gallery scene has become known for in recent years.

“This is silly, good, fun stuff. It’s to make life joyful. And what’s really excited is seeing these designers just waking up, too,” said Portnoy. “The local community is just incredible. Their creativity is flourishing, and they’re excited to participate.”

“The [featured] designers have already been out there spreading the word and helping us,” Refsland said. “It’s been great.”

If you stop by, expect to see the cutting-edge design Room 68 is boasting and a few dozen creations that have the potential to be in your life for a very long time. And remember to get past the pristine beauty of the objects and go beyond "just looking": Go ahead and touch, lift, and even sit on the art.

Personally, I recommend the bench with the translucent plastic seat labeled “NFS.”

Photo by Eric Portnoy

By Kyle Psaty -- I'm obsessed with what's next, especially when it involves truly helping people live better, more fulfilling lives. I believe this is where creativity and creation become innovation. The founding editor of the online publication BostInnovation and a former staff writer for the New England Patriots, I'm lucky to now spend my days building a brighter future for consumer banking at PerkStreet Financial, where I also manage a daily blog. Follow me on Twitter @KylePs80.

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