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Portland’s Enoteca Nostrana Dares to Take on Memphis Design

by GRAY Editors

Photographed by John Valls


CAN MEMPHIS DESIGN—THAT BOLD 1980S AESTHETIC CONCEIVED BY DESIGNER ETTORE SOTTSASS’ MILAN-BASED MEMPHIS GROUP—MAKE A COMEBACK? Walk into chef Cathy Whims’ new 1,500-square-foot Portland wine bar Enoteca Nostrana, opened this past April, and you’d likely say yes. But with a 2018 twist.


“I personally have had a longtime love/hate relationship with the Memphis Group’s work—I have found it visually assaulting and not always in a good way,” says Nicholas Suhor, Enoteca Nostrana’s director of operations. “But it’s something that has stuck with me over the years and when we were throwing ideas around for Enoteca’s design, it seemed like an opportunity to try it out.” Rather than go full-throttle with the concept, Suhor says they opted for a version in the double-height space they called “crunchy Memphis,” which incorporated bold colors such as indigo, pale pink, and surf blue, softened with natural materials and textures like cork, wood, and leather.


Geometric details abound, including on the floors and staircase risers and fronting the 15-seat quartz-topped bar where ceramic tile from Crossville was installed in an intricate pattern created by Portland-based architect Rick Potestio. Bouchon bar stools from Italian design studio Radice Orlandini resemble Champagne corks (the seat is natural cork atop a steel base) and add a sculptural, cheeky feel. The Original 1227 lamp, designed by George Carwardine for British brand Anglepoise, appears in its pendant, desk and floor lamp forms throughout. Dining chairs are the Oh armchair from Karim Rashid for Toronto’s Umbra in a surf blue polypropylene.  


The showstopper within the space is the two-story, steel-framed custom glass wine cellar, which holds up to 3,000 of Enoteca’s and neighboring Nostrana’s finest wines at the peak temperature for enjoyment (a cool 48 to 50 degrees for the upper floor, which holds the white, rosé, and sparkling bottles, and 60 degrees below for the reds).


To accommodate the convivial crowds of wine drinkers amid such soaring ceilings, functional yet still design-minded acoustics solutions were devised. Patterned light pink acoustic wainscoting-style panels from Swedish industrial design studio Baux are composed of a blend of wood pulp and concrete and lend a shredded wheat-like texture effect on several walls in the space. Indigo rectangles covered in Maharam fabric on the bar-area walls are also sound-absorbing panels, while in the downstairs dining room facing the wine cellar, colorful beetle-inspired acoustic panels from Valencia, Spain-based MUT Design Studio hang artfully.


Whether or not the Memphis design trend returns at large, this particular wine bar is daring to buck the status quo. “It’s easy to think of the rusticity found in traditional trattorias and osterias as the baseline for Italian design,” Whims says. “There are, however, so many more styles and approaches and we wanted to highlight the modern end of the Italian design continuum for our aesthetic at Enoteca Nostrana.”

Enoteca Nostrana, 1401 SE Morrison St #105, Portland


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