field trip: Hippo Hardware

vintage white glass ball light, Hippo Hardware

A couple weekends ago, Jeff and I popped into Hippo Hardware, the longtime southeast Portland establishment specializing in vintage knobs, lighting, drawer pulls, sinks, tubs, hooks, and anything else an old home needs in the way of period fixtures. This stuff isn't the fake Home-Depot, antique-y, made-in-China crap most people buy to dress up their particle-board McMansions, in which everything looks okay-ish as long as you're 50 feet away and squinting but up close looks as if it were made out of painted Styrofoam for the set of a local theater production of a Tennessee Williams play. (I was just at Lowe's the other night, and the contrast between old and new hardware quality and design is yet another reflection of Western civilization's decline.)

vintage glass doorknobs, Hippo Hardware

No, Hippo has the real goods: faceted glass doorknobs like the original ones miraculously still intact in this apartment ($60 a pair), Victorian hooks, clawfoot tubs. And maybe I've gotten too used to nonprofit reclamation stores like the Rebuilding Center up on North Mississippi and Habitat for Humanity's ReStore (which I just learned has closed up shop under the Morrison Bridge and reopened way the hell out halfway to Gresham around SE 103rd and SE Washington in a much, much less convenient location for car-less me)—because Hippo is definitely not a thrift store. Hippo makes profit selling old, reclaimed goods, and they deserve full props for promoting this kind of reclamation long before the nonprofits got in on the building-materials reuse racket. But Hippo is out of my budget.

Hippo Hardware storefront, Portland, Oregon

vintage house numbers, Hippo Hardware

dummy legs in ceiling, Hippo Hardware

stuffed hippos, Hippo Hardware

sink section, Hippo Hardware

nun (dummy) in clawfoot tub, Hippo Hardware

sconces & candelabra, Hippo Hardware

I went in hoping to find a mix of inexpensive vintage knobs in sparkling glass and white porcelain to replace the silver plastic nipples my mysterious landlord corporation stuck in the kitchen (ah, landlords: the cheapest, tackiest remodelers in the world). Ha! Silly me: the smallest, least expensive, most basic old knobs at Hippo were around three dollars each, and I needed 17. So I left Hippo promising myself to take my time and thrift them one-by-one, here and there.

But then Jeff texted me a couple days later, saying he'd happened to spot a bag of what looked like old knobs sitting near the cash register at one of the Goodwills in town, and he'd bring it over to pick through.

vintage brass (?) knob via Goodwill

The bag of Goodwill knobs turned out to be a mismatched set of 18 (!), one of which was a new, made-in-Taiwan, white-and-gold piece of plastic feigning porcelain and metal, but the other 17 were white porcelain and actual metal with patina (either brass or copper, maybe plated, hard to tell), though no glass. A few of the porcelain ones will need new screws to fit my mismatched cabinets, but they'll all work. And the whole grab bag, which also included two large metal hooks (and a flimsy gold drawer pull to give back to Goodwill along with the one plastic knob), was a mere five dollars. Happy birthday to me! (Thank you, Jeffrey. And thank you, Goodwill.)

vintage porcelain knob via Goodwill

So I will now fantasize about one day soon coming across a giant white glass ball light at one of the thrift stores for my apartment's main room (plus a smaller one for the kitchen), costing a fraction of the $150 that Hippo justly wants for such glowing vintage-modern loveliness. One can dream.

white glass ball lights, Hippo Hardware

white glass ball light fixtures, Hippo Hardware


  1. Anonymous23/7/13 21:44

    103rd and Washington isn't all that far, just take the 15, past my place. It's the armpit of SE Portland: Mall 205!--Carol

  2. I stand corrected—not just by you, Carol, but also by TriMet. I looked up the transit, and it's only about 40 minutes from my place on the bus, less time than I thought, a straight shot on the #15 down Belmont (though it still is halfway to Gresham). I just never go to the Mall 205 area—north or south of there, yes, but not there, for some reason. It's the part of town I know least about. I'm mainly just whining because the ReStore used to be within walking distance in inner SE and now isn't. But honestly, I don't go to the ReStore that often, anyway. Everything's all about me, right? ;)


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