Hide For Your Ride: An Interview with Walnut Studiolo

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[imagebrowser id=107]In the list of things that Portland is known for, beer and bicycles are probably the first two that people think of. The city has more than its fair share of brew peddlers and pedaling brewers, so when we first laid eyes on these gorgeous leather bike accessories from Walnut Studiolo, we actually weren’t surprised to learn that the guy behind it all, Geoffrey Franklin, is a PDX local. His all-natural and often booze-inspired bicycle attachments strike at the heart of what Portland is all about, so we jumped at a chance to sit down and talk with him.

We dropped by his workshop in the southeast quadrant of town – a quiet little spot located at the end of a dead-end street. When we arrived, we were surprised to find that Franklin still does all of his work (everything from prototyping to the final stages of production) from the same place he did when he started: his garage.  After a quick tour of his modest workspace, we sat down on a bench in the driveway to chat about his creative processes and influences.

Where do you get inspiration for all this stuff you make? 

Well, when I was designing the seat barrel bag, the round seat bag with wooden sides, I did—well, let me back up for a second. In architecture you do what’s called a precedent study – you look at whatever type of housing you’re building, let’s say a duplex or something, and you look at who’s done that before and other people’s solutions to the same problems that your’e trying to tackle – you don’t necessarily have to reinvent the wheel, you just take the best of what they did and adopt it to fit your site and its different conditions to come up with a good thing. So when was designing this seat bag, I found like 200 bags that were close to what I was thinking about. I looked at what was out there, and essentially what I locked onto was the little brandy barrel on St. Bernard search and rescue dogs, and it was mostly that, but it was a lot of other design aspects pulled together. So yeah, when I’m designing something I typically do a precedent study just like I did in the field of architecture, and then I create a prototype. In the case of the barrel bag, I must’ve made literally a couple dozen, at least 24 different versions of it, and then narrowed it down from there.

I’ve noticed that a lot of your stuff is geared toward carrying booze on a bike.

Right. Well we have a lot of friends in the neighborhood, so when I wasn’t riding my bike and commuting to work, I was either riding to the park or riding to a friend’s house, and if you go to a friend’s house for dinner or a barbecue, you’re usually bringing a six pack of beer or something, which can be difficult on a bike. So it just struck me – why doesn’t this exist already? And when lightning strikes like that, you’ve just got to run with it and refine it until you get something that works.

At that time we were doing a lot of homebrewing too, at this place called Let’s Brew on Stark and 83rd. So we were putting the stuff we made into 22oz bottles, and at one point we somehow ended up doing a show at OMSI. It was an adults only show for OMSI After Dark called “The Science of Brewing.” There were a lot of brewers there and a lot of local craftsmen as well, and just about every brewer there walked up to me when they saw my six pack holder and told me how there wasn’t any kind of awesome carrying device for 22oz bottles – sort of suggesting that I make one. So I kind of took what I knew, what I was working on, and this new request of sorts, and that’s mostly how I did it. If I wasn’t designing someting that was directly for myself, it was for somebody who asked me for something, or an extension of that idea. It’s quite an organic process actually; I really try not to force it because when you do that, you end up with something that looks contrived.

Where do your source your materials?

Oregon Leather, which is downtown. It’s a third or fourth generation leather store, and they get their leather from a number of different places, but the leather I buy from them comes from Hermann Oak, which is one of only a handful of US tanneries left. It’s USDA beef, so if their hides weren’t turned into leather, they would go to a landfill. It’s not like ostrich or alligator where the hide is worth more than the meat is. With beef, the hide is a byproduct of the food industry, so not only is it produced as a secondary thing from another industry, its whole life cycle is within the US, and that’s a really hard thing to find anymore.

The wood I use is generally cedar grown here in the Northwest – lots of it from up in washington, but some here in Oregon as well. I just kind of stick to materials that feel good to me, you know? I’ve got a whole collection of leather goods that are 40, 50, 80 years old, and they’re better now than they were originally, which is a trait that’s kind of unique to leather.

I was comfortable with leather to begin with because I’m an 8th generation Oregonian, and I spent all my summers on our family farm in Eastern Oregon. So we had like five horses, and I would ride, and I would take care of the gear, so leather was just kind of a familiar material to me, and I had no problem just kind of adopting it, playing with it, and seeing what I could do with it that was new. It’s not necessarily Western inspired – I like to think of it as a kind of modern Northwest architectural style implemented into personal goods. It’s kind of my design philosophy – modern, clean lines; nothing that doesn’t have to be there. I judge my own work by making sure there’s nothing superfluous about it.

You can purchase Franklin’s designs on the Walnut Studiolo website, or check them out on Etsy if you prefer.