Five Questions For is GRAY’s candid Q&A session with design industry luminaries that delves into all things personal, professional, and occasionally humorous.
The first round of this year’s HOT NEW NEXT competition takes place Monday, April 8, at the Design Within Reach showroom in Portland’s Pearl District. Leading up to the big night, we’re checking in with each of our judges to learn more about their work, background, and what makes them tick. This week, we caught up with Nathanael Chown, Marketing Manager of Chown Hardware, a 140-year-old, family-owned architectural hardware retailer based in Portland.
RSVP to the Portland round of this year’s HOT NEW NEXT here, and join us at our Meet Me in the Bathroom after party at The Eleanor, sponsored by Chown Hardware, following the live event.
When did you realize you wanted to take on a permanent role in the family business?
I grew up idolizing my father and grandfather. While I had the opportunity to pursue other career paths, including one in music, I ultimately decided that n that being a part of such a rich family heritage would be the most rewarding. I realized the business and its values were ingrained in me, whether I wanted it to be or not.
You’re always finding new ways to tell the company’s story. What kind of messages have you found particularly successful?
Find your story: Tell it, be yourself, and live up to your promises. We’ve been blessed with a natural narrative that any company would dream to have. And we have become scribes of that history, adapting it to be relevant for eachgeneration. My mission is to remind people that [family] businesses like us still exist, and that we’re not some archaic company that has lost its relevance. Rather, we’re constantly taking strides to reinvent ourselves.
You’ve worked on countless projects for hundreds of customers. What has been the single biggest challenge you’ve encountered?
I could tell you countless stories of weird hurdles: Cat people with cat tunnels from room to room to keep their feline friends off their furniture, a Hobbit house, a castle in the hills of Oregon wine country, a tub filler inside of a bathroom chandelier. The core strength we value most is our ability to listen to our customers and our trade professionals to find solutions to any challenge, so we can transform their imaginations into reality.
What product has been a mainstay in Chown’s portfolio?
Door hardware. It’s been the backbone of our business and has sustained us through recessions, depressions, the emergence of big box stores, and the predominance of internet shopping. Since the 1970s, we’ve become the Pacific Northwest’s luxury supplier for kitchen and bathroom products, which has garnered the confidence from brands like Waterworks to choose us as their exclusive ambassadors in the Portland and Seattle markets.
As a HNN judge, what will you be looking for in a successful pitch?
It’s in my nature to look for designs that are fresh, have purpose or meet a need, are sustainable, and diversely marketable. I want their pitch to spark me to think, “Wow—I need that.”