I buy things I’m passionate about. I buy things that I’m connected to, things that may spark conversation. I shop with my gut.
It’s a Sunday afternoon, and I make the drive down Alberta towards 42nd Avenue. Finding a spot on the street, I park, looking up to see Old Salt Marketplace with Miss Zumstein Bakery beside, the prominence of each dominating a building with a secret tucked behind.
I walk around the side, noticing a sign held by a wooden art easel, the display earnest in its preface to the treasures it conceals. Pausing for a moment before walking inside, I take a quick glance to both the left and right, finding no other indication of Fabius Grange’s occupancy. Such an absence creates the impression that the shop’s residence is fleeting, its treasures temporary in their habitation of the space. With its single advertising element holding this mobility, an anxiety builds, and you gain a sense that once the sign is put away, once the shop closes, you wouldn’t know where to find it again.
But such an omission communicates a certain eccentricity that prompts curiosity, all of it lending an immediacy to your desire to enter. Fabius Grange presents itself as a discovery, as something harbored, revealing itself to those recognizing the profundity and depth of what it contains.
And inside, a reserve of design riches abounds. Fabius Grange inhabits a space of no more than a couple hundred square feet, with a prior function as the storeroom for Old Salt. But with such a limited capacity, you’re exposed to everything at once, the abundance of what you’ll soon find presented flooding you with a desire to investigate further.
The walls are lined with oil paintings and drawings, and small-scale sculptures are given unexpected employment on bookshelves. Mid Century portraits prop up along the walls, and speckled pottery piece of varying textures and shapes are found huddled on tabletops and shelves.
Deb Zsori holds a long-established love of vintage, an interest enduring through the currents and cycles of temporal trend. It’s an interest extending beyond aesthetic appeal. Speaking with Deb only a few minutes, it’s already evident that she values pieces’ integrity, seeing them not as single entities, but rather the product of cultural concern, and the result of a design era’s particular center.
Deb has a long retail background, working for companies like West Elm, Gap, and Banana Republic. But having this fall parallel to her sustained love of vintage, she’s been able to diversify her focus.
“Retail was instilled within me, but I’ve always loved hunting for and discovering old things, looking for pieces with stories, for pieces that hold so many different elements of interest. By going to markets, thrift stores, and estate sales, what I find is always new to me.”
An uncovering of something with a prior context. And in collecting vintage, Deb repositions this to fit a new one.
Making the transition from retail to full-time vintage dealing, Deb has found her way through a series of collectives. Stars Antiques, Portland Flea, and now Urbanite, an antique mall on Portland’s SE Grand. But despite loving the constant hum of inspiration that her close proximity to other creatives brought, there was always a quiet desire for something separate, something pronounced in its expression of Deb’s view, her perception and understanding of the pieces she collects.
“I had always dreamed of a brick-and-mortar shop, but never gave it serious thought. I think that, in the way it all happened, it was very much so a Portland thing. A Portland thing in the way this space came to me.”
I think about the words Deb uses to define the happenstance in how Fabius Grange came to where it is now. She’s right, it is a Portland thing, for the unexpected alignment of exactly what you’ve always dreamed to happen.
Looking around from where Deb and I sit, I sense an idea, a theme constructed in what her store displays. But for the moment, it remains only an impression, a consistency I can’t yet locate, its effect so profound that it cannot yet be placed. Trying to approach the specifics of what I can only then feel, I ask about seasonality, and how she constructs an assortment in tune with nature’s shifts, or if she tries to do this at all.
Answering the question, Deb explains how she balances the retail notion of a constant replacement of seasonal product and the subtlety with which she wants this communicated in her store.
“I’m always sneaking new products in. And it’s rarely done with a clear initial intention. Instead, it’s seeing and understanding how these pieces work together, and so I’m often changing their placement throughout the store. But nothing really holds a fixed spot, and what this does is create constant, cyclical inspiration. What I often find is that, in this space, one thing ends up changing everything.”
Deb’s collection keeps the year’s time with subtle nods to its ebbs and flows. You see it in the art lining the store’s walls: this is where Deb acknowledges change. Seascapes are put up in summer, and later a series of modern abstracts settled in among them, strokes of brush in black and sepia, -- the scheme a quiet declaration of the colder months’ changing color palette.
And now, moody landscapes decorate the interior. It’s all evocative of nature’s shifts, faintly suggesting the elongated period of inertia into which the life around us settles. Such a backdrop dims the shop. But there’s warmth to this atmosphere, so that the effect is not harsh or jarring, but rather comforting, encouraging impressions of a home carefully designed, welcoming all others in.
We come then to the question of approach in buying vintage, and what role one’s subjectivity plays in dealing professionally. Deb makes a careful distinction, delving into the different thought processes buyers hold to a piece.
“There are so many people who buy vintage only with a consciousness of what will sell. Again, I’m looking for a connection beyond that. Something sustainable. If I see something’s potential, I’m hoping that others will see that as well.”
Deb sees each piece in its entirety, allowing it first to hold space in her collection, all the while envisioning its possibility as a part of someone else’s. In being mindful of this transaction and transition in an object’s progression, Deb is able to create a coherence in the space, cultivating cohesion in an undertaking that seems almost inherently without a center. Fabius Grange, in some ways a compilation of found objects, comes together seamlessly as a unified whole.
I sit with this, considering the paradox of organized, delightful chaos. But then I consider Deb’s role: As collector, you note consistency, paying attention to not necessarily a commonality among pieces, but rather the accumulation of their aspect and individuality. Everything contributes, in style and in make, in their nod to times passed and their resurfacing of eras left unconsidered.
Bringing these pieces to her store, Deb gives them place and purpose. There’s an unstated, transient nature to the shop, sure. There’s notions of impermanence quietly passing through what is formed here, and in their suggestions of domesticity arranged throughout. But the pieces sit in the store as if preparing to make it their enduring home, growing comfortable with what surrounds them, all the while readying themselves with the truth that this home will change, reorienting themselves to a new collection, someone else’s album of goods loved, clung to and embraced. Of objects they’ve made their own.
The life of a piece, the repurposed, the remodeled. The recovered.
So often, we think of the artist solely by what she produces, by the results of her efforts. But I think, more so, we can define the artist by the objects she surrounds herself with, the materials with which she chooses to work. We see this in Deb’s collection: There’s perspective, with evident care given to context. At Fabius Grange, the pieces are positioned thoughtfully, lovingly within.
There’s beauty in what’s discovered, in what’s sought after not in a way that’s deliberate, but that’s hoped for. There’s a serendipitous inquiry into an object’s potential, an examination of its possibility, giving it future purpose. Discovery presents an element of chance, of luck but also of fate, of happenstance seeping into the object’s lifetime.
The beauty of what is found.