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Below is the ARCADE feature/photo-essay "The Creative Space-Time Continuum" from the winter 2015 issue of ARCADE (after releasing in print, this feature was initially published online in installments).

Rainier Oven Building

The first time you walk into the Rainier Oven Building you might mistake it for a typical set of work spaces. The two-level building that sits at the intersection of Jackson, 14th Avenue South, Rainier and Boren in Seattle’s Central Area initially appears a maze of hallways, lined with rows of windowless doors. When closed, these doors are deceiving; their uniformity relays the false notion that each space behind them is the same. But were you to walk up and down the two floors, opening each door, vastly different sets of insides would be revealed. One space houses architectural models and a charming antique bureau. The next has shelves lined with plants and a collection of jeweler’s tools. In one room towards the back, jump ropes hang from above, and hand weights are stacked and sorted by size. Continue outside, and you’d find that the studios spill over into two nearby annexes. There, modern bookshelves fill a former auto-upholstery building and kinetic sculptures drift through the air beside a collection of neon signs.

When ARCADE Executive Director and Editor Kelly Rodriguez visited the Rainier Oven Building this past summer, she was not deceived; she knew there was something distinctive about this place. ARCADE’s editorial year—focused on space, place and culture—was already in the back of her mind when she arrived for the complex’s annual summer party, so perhaps that guided her insight. Or, maybe it was the new moon that rose that night amidst a summer storm. Either way, it was there, framed by the clouds and the season’s end, that she found herself surrounded by a true nexus of space, place and culture, whose story she invited Peter de Lory to tell in pictures, and me in words, for the publication’s final issue of 2015.

When I parked in front of the Rainier Oven Building’s stout brick facade to meet owner Carol Bennett, I had never been inside. But I realized I had noticed this place many times before because its facade appeared simultaneously old and new. The words “Rainier Oven Corp.” were painted across one side, faded and weathered, while the rest of the wall looked pristine and graffiti-less, as if someone had been guiding it into old age.

As I stood with Bennett in the lobby, she spoke of the 23 studios she manages across the Rainier Oven Building and two adjacent spaces on the same corner. Herself an artist and designer, Bennett’s own search for a working space brought her to the defunct oven factory built in the 1920s. At this unlikely Seattle intersection, away from other creative hubs like Pioneer Square and Capitol Hill, she found affordability—a rare attribute during the 1990s when, similar to the present moment, demand enabled properties to be sold on the spot, without inspections. She also saw character embedded in the oven factory’s bricks that was absent from the new construction she witnessed going up around town.

Rainier Oven Building neighborhood map

At the Corner of a Cultural Intersection — Wedged into the southeast corner of South Jackson Street and Rainier Avenue South, the Rainier Oven Building sits at the boundary between the Central District and the International District. This simplified map presents a selection of the businesses and organizations surrounding the Rainier Oven Complex, which reveals a lively mix of neighbors, a characteristic that is echoed within the studios themselves.  Map by Schema.

Woodworker Tom Whitaker happened to be searching for a new studio when the complex opened in 1996. He recalled, “The first time Carol told me I had to see this building, I came by, and the windows probably had never been washed. It was dirty in here, and I thought, This is worse than what I’ve got now.” But as Carol reworked the building into a more open studio plan and power washed away the grime, Whitaker saw the potential she had detected and eventually moved into the space. Over the following 19 years he built new walls and massive shelving units, steadily nudging his studio into its current iteration—an airy, light-filled room, pungent with the scent of freshly sawed wood.

After filling the Rainier Oven Building with tenants, Bennett expanded the studios to the two annexes on the same corner, where Jeffry Mitchell was molding an army of small, brown figures in his space the day I visited. Preparing trays of these cartoonish men for the kiln as we spoke, he told me of his experiences working in a variety of studios throughout his career, landing at the Rainier Oven Complex temporarily in 2006 and then returning permanently in 2012. Mitchell recounted, “I was [in another studio] for a year, waiting for the landlord to connect my kiln. He never did. Artists are used to experiences like that. No one expects more, but Carol has a whole different philosophy.” Bennett also suggested he enlist Best Practice Architecture’s owner and founder, Ian Butcher (another Rainier Oven tenant), to design the wooden loft that presides over his space. I was tempted to joke that Tom Whitaker must have built it, but as Mitchell continued his story, that turned out to be the truth.

“I would rather be here with all of our neighbors than have a fancier office elsewhere, without them,” Kailin Gregga of Best Practice Architecture explained as I spoke with Ian Butcher and her in their clean, white studio back inside the Rainier Oven Building, where they have worked since 2013. Having recently encountered Likelihood, a men’s footwear store on Capitol Hill that Best Practice designed, I had witnessed the fruits of this approach in the flesh. Many of the striking store’s details were born from collaborations with fellow tenants—for instance, its honeycomb-like lighting fixtures crafted by Troy Pillow and scrawling neon fabricated by Noble Neon. The happy hours and abundance of professional connections Best Practice spoke of having with their neighbors made it sound like these studios had been tailor-made for their work.

Lia Hall and Cedar Mannan of Noble Neon moved into a former metal shop in one of the annexes less than one year ago. As one of Best Practice’s collaborators on the Likelihood store, they had already experienced the synergy among those working in the complex. Another benefit they mentioned was the freedom to transform their space to fit their needs. Hall described how they had worked over the past year to convert their studio from its past life as a metal shop into a subdivided space, adding couches and other elements of comfort: “Before, this was never a space where you would want to hang out and spend time … but I think we see a lot of potential in spaces.” As she spoke, her words began to sound like Tom Whitaker’s decision to move into the building so many years ago—and like Carol Bennett’s own thoughts about creating the first set of studios from the old oven factory.

After I left the building and passed by the aging Rainier Oven sign once more, Lia Hall’s description of Bennett came back to me: “We say she’s not a collector of art but a collector of artists.” During a time when creative communities are often in constant states of relocation, the existence of consistent, supportive places for such practices feels like a luxury. But the importance of these elements to the Rainier Oven Building’s success cannot be overstated. Twenty years of history and relationships have enabled the studios to expand around the people who work within them as the tenants’ own careers do the same. The Rainier Oven Building is a testament to the idea that time’s discrete but pivotal role in creative practices should be considered when we look for ways to build and maintain hubs of space, place and culture—that planning for and protecting the longevity of creative spaces is important. As Carol Bennett described her decision to leave the Rainier Oven Building’s sign as is, “I don’t need a new sign. I like that transition of time.” 

Essay by Erin Langner


Green Dolphin Enterprises LLC

Green Dolphin

Green Dolphin

Photos: Peter de Lory

Green Dolphin Enterprises LLC
Rainier Oven is everything my previous workspaces weren’t: a community of people, a well-maintained facility, hands on management. I have been able to do my best work here.
—Thomas Whitaker


Lesley Petty Interiors Workroom

Lesley Petty

Lesley Petty

Photos: Peter de Lory

Lesley Petty Interiors Workroom
I have always said that if a client comes to see us here at the shop in the Rainier Oven Building, they will return again and again. Who wouldn’t want to come here? Beautiful art, a myriad of creative people and a fabulous space all in one package!
—Lesley Petty


Josef Vascovitz, Artist

Josef Vascovitz

Josef Vascovitz

Photos: Peter de Lory

Josef Vascovitz, Artist
With high ceilings and a specially designed loft area, my studio is large enough to facilitate my diverse art practice from painting to sculpture to working with found objects. I use the loft area to crochet small sculptures; right now I’m working on recreating toys from my childhood memories. The main area is set up for large-scale paintings, which often take several months. The great thing about a large studio is that because you can store so much, when you have an idea you can mine the things around you.
—Josef Vascovitz


Jeffry Mitchell, Artist

Jeffry Mitchell

Photos: Peter de Lory

Jeffry Mitchell, Artist
I love my studio and love working here with all the other creatives, who are great folk. Carol has a beautiful vision and creates really wonderful, smart, quality spaces.
—Jeffry Mitchell


Jennie Gruss Interior Design

Jennie Gruss

Jennie Gruss

Jennie Gruss

Photos: Peter de Lory

Jennie Gruss Interior Design
The spaces that we design are inspired by much more than just beautiful things. Our work is inspired by our clients, our environment and our community. This idea extends organically to where we work—a diverse community of creatives who share resources, projects and drinks. I think of the ROB [Rainier Oven Building] as a one-stop shop for the best designer resources in the city, with great interior design, architecture, industrial design, visual art, a wood shop and a pillow/window treatment workroom all under one, or a few, roof(s).
—Jennie Gruss


Best Practice Architecture

Best Practice Architecture

Best Practice Architecture

Best Practice Architecture

Photos: Peter de Lory

Best Practice Architecture
The work of Best Practice is most successful when we are able to pursue a conceptual approach to the given project’s "problem," and we also love to be inspired by our peers and neighbors. This is why we are thrilled to be working in the Rainier Oven Building. As a group of social designers, we often spend time chatting with our neighbors, which then leads to collaboration. Because of this, we have the opportunity to exchange ideas with artists, designers and craftspeople who can inspire us to go in directions we never would consider on our own, and they often help us solve tough design problems.
—Ian Butcher


Elizabeth Sandvig-Spafford, Artist

Elizabeth Sandvig-Spafford Peter de Lory

Elizabeth Sandvig-Spafford Peter de Lory

Elizabeth Sandvig-Spafford Peter de Lory

Photos: Peter de Lory

Elizabeth Sandvig-Spafford, Artist
The Rainier building is my second home. I have had a studio there for 16 years, and I find Carol’s care with developing studio space is good for the production of art, as well providing delight through her selection of art on the walls. I am always happy to go there.
—Elizabeth Sandvig-Spafford


LilyEmme Jewelry

LilyEmme Peter de Lory

LilyEmme Peter de Lory

Photos: Peter de Lory

LilyEmme Jewelry
LilyEmme Jewelry has an elegant and minimalist aesthetic, and the Rainier Oven Building provides us with a space that matches. This beautiful old building; our bright, lofty and colorful space; and the friendly, small community of diverse tenants makes working here enjoyable, and coming to the jewelry studio is something we look forward to every day.
—Valerie Nethery


Coalition Ending Gender-Based Violence

Coalition Peter de Lory

Coalition Peter de Lory

Photos: Peter de Lory

Coalition Ending Gender-Based Violence
We are a small nonprofit working to end gender-based violence, so in many ways we seem like an anomaly in the mix of artsy Rainier Oven Building tenants. But we love working in this bright, attractive space and being a part of the warm, creative community that has grown organically in the building. Being able to see people create beautiful and/or functional art can be such a nice counterpoint to some of the difficult issues we work with. And folks have been very willing to help us out when we’ve needed a shelf built, advice with space planning, art to hang on our walls, a hem sewn or a musical trio to play at a fundraising event! We hope that our building-mates feel that we bring something to them as we all work towards a more just, safe, equitable and beautiful community!
—Merril Cousin


Upower

Upower Peter de Lory

Upower Peter de Lory

Upower Peter de Lory

Photos: Peter de Lory

Upower
Upower is a nonprofit bringing fitness to under-resourced teens in King County. We have been in the Rainier Oven Building since March 2015 and feel like we have found our home. Our space has been perfect for growth, and we are confident it will be great for us as we continue to expand. We are inspired and motivated by the local artists and successful small businesses that surround us at Rainier Oven.
—Clare Spano


Schedulista

Schedulista Peter de Lory

Schedulista Peter de Lory

Photos: Peter de Lory

Schedulista
The Oven Building is embedded in a community of artists, craftsmen and entrepreneurs. You can do so many creative things in this space. For us, it was building a tech startup that focuses on a healthy work environment and developing a beautiful and useful product for the small businesses we care about.
—Felix Livni


Troy Pillow Studios

Troy Pillow Peter de Lory

Troy Pillow Peter de Lory

Troy Pillow Peter de Lory

 

Troy Pillow Peter de Lory

Photos: Peter de Lory

Troy Pillow Studios
Being part of the Rainier Oven community allows me to be surrounded by creative people and provides me with the unique opportunity to have an urban sculpture garden/studio to showcase my work. Not enough thanks can be given to Carol for her commitment to the arts in our community. She has not only developed a haven for artists to work but has combined architecture, landscaping, gardening and art into the overall design, parlaying into a rare use of urban space. I feel very lucky to have had my studio here for the last 12 years.
—Troy Pillow


SHED

SHED Peter de Lory

SHED Peter de Lory

Photos: Peter de Lory

SHED
SHED was one of ROB’s tenants when the building renovation was completed in 1998. Not only have we had our offices and workshops here, but we have also designed many things for the building—interiors, lifts, awnings, etc. Now we proudly occupy the former Surefit building on the corner of Jackson and Rainier. We think that we have added a lot of character to the ROB design community, but it is also true that the ROB has shaped the character of our company as well—SHED would not be SHED if we had started somewhere else!
—Prentis Hale


Bremelo Press

Bremelo Press Peter de Lory

Bremelo Press Peter de Lory

Photos: Peter de Lory

Bremelo Press
I always look forward to coming to work. I am inspired by my neighbors. This is an impressive bunch, and I am challenged to be the best at what I do because they are. Working within this community feels like a celebration of things that matter—creating and making with integrity and skill. They are a part of why I love doing what I do.
—Lynda Sherman


Fixture

Fixture Design Peter de Lory

Fixture Design Peter de Lory

Fixture Design Peter de Lory

Photos: Peter de Lory

Fixture
I’m fairly new to the building and am still getting to know my neighbors. I really enjoy the energy of the space and our corner in the neighborhood. It’s a great place for me, and I really love being here and being a part this great community.
—Josh Leggett


Noble Neon

Noble Neon Peter de Lory

Noble Neon Peter de Lory

Photos: Peter de Lory

Noble Neon
Noble Neon creates handmade neon light fixtures, signage and displays. We aspire to design new ways to feature the luminous neon tube. We are privileged to be a part of a creative and industrious community here at the Rainier Oven Complex. We’ve been operating at the Rainier Oven for a year and have already collaborated on projects with other makers and designers here. Carol has truly set the conditions for these kinds of synergies to happen—attracting folks who are dedicated to their craft in an impeccable way.
—Lia Hall & Cedar Mannan


Atelier Vert - Garden Artisans

Atelier Vert Peter de Lory

Atelier Vert Peter de Lory

Atelier Vert Peter de Lory

Photos: Peter de Lory

Atelier Vert - Garden Artisans
Space at the Rainier Annex offers a quiet respite to create beauty and build a business. The collective creative energy and experience is an unexpected bonus.
—Heather Lakhal