Inside Room 68, South Street’s latest addition, there is a bench made of Lucite and repurposed industrial-looking legs.
The Lucite top is semi-translucent and looks like something from the future. The industrial base has layers of peeling paint and looks like it has seen decades of hard work.
And that bench is part of the reason that Room 68 exists.
Brent Refsland, owner of The Hallway Gallery at 66a South St., had it in the gallery. Eric Portnoy saw it and became enamored. Through their love of that bench, the two, along with Nick Siemaska, decided to open a designer furniture shop together.
Speaking of the J.E.M. Design bench, Refsland said, ”This is one of the most modern pieces of design we’ve seen.”
The shopkeeps take their design seriously. In the last month, they’ve been to both London and Paris design weeks. The London Design Festival and Paris Design Week are major yearly showcases in the world of design.
“The first few weeks [were spent] building up the progression of our overall collection,” Refsland said. “Every piece in here is fresh design.”
Susana DeVoe, fabric artist, architect and JP resident, is one of the designers currently featured at Room 68. Her Comfort/Conform pillows are made of wool and linen and are cut with lasers.
“When they were opening, all the furniture seemed very hard. Furniture always needs something soft,” DeVoe told the Gazette. “Why not pillows?”
“There’s a little social commentary, but it’s still beautiful,” DeVoe said of the Comfort/Conform motif.
The owners are quick to remind that these art pieces are meant to be used in a home.
“We are not a gallery. We’re a shop. We’re here so people can take design home,” Siemaska said.
The shop offers a wide range of price points. During a recent visit, the Gazette saw a lamp made from vintage piano scrolls for under $200. Room 68 also had pieces well over $2,000.
“We really think our stuff is up there in new design,” Siemaska said.
The owners also saw a need for emerging artists to show their work, something they said is rare.
“Emerging designers don’t have a real place to show,” Refsland said.
“Even the bigger names don’t have a place to show in Boston,” Siemaska said.
“For designers of useful objects, there’s nothing like [a showroom] out there,” Portnoy said. “There’s nothing like this outside of New York.”
Room 68 is currently offering wall units, chairs, fabric rugs, vintage wood benches and lamps, among other items.
Portnoy is particularly fond of Restless Shelves, floating wall shelves with dangling, organic-looking tendrils.
“[The artist] is taking a simple piece of furniture and extending it to a living, breathing art project” that changes, based on how its owner loads it,” Portnoy said of the pieces.