A few years back, John and I were intrigued by the ebullient colors and patterns on display at the fabulous Port 68 lighting and accessories booth at High Point Market, and we ventured in to peruse the wonderful wares that were unlike the usual beige, gray, and gold assortments so common at Market. Greens! Blues! Reds! Chinoiserie! Yippie! During our visit we struck up a conversation with Port 68 co-owners Mark Abrams and Michael Yip, and we instantly sensed that we might be kindred spirits. There were certainly no shrinking violets in this marvelous mix!
Fast forward, and John and I stayed in touch with Port 68’s dynamic duo, and we eventually discussed the idea of working together. And then the magic started. We all met in High Point at the House of Bedlam for two days of intensive meetings, sketching, painting, measuring, and looking over antique and vintage lighting fixtures and accessories already in our collection. And then Michael whisked our ideas to his amazing workrooms in China, and the sampling and back and forth began.
A year later, the Madcap Cottage for Port 68 Collection of lighting and accessories has hit stores and designer outposts nationwide, and the response has been phenomenal.
So let’s catch up with Mark Abrams who, by the way, recently moved from Chicago to become our neighbor in High Point, North Carolina. We love having this high-octane pistol in our neighborhood. Bang-bang!
MADCAP COTTAGE: You have a crazy-long and very well-rounded history in the design world. Give us a quick overview.
MARK ABRAMS: Here’s the condensed version: I grew up in Demopolis, Alabama, and right after graduation I dashed to NYC with a job in hand at Gear working with designer Raymond Waites. I had interned the previous summer with the company as Raymond was from my Alabama hometown and had grown up with my parents. Working at Gear, I quickly learned about the process of marketing and designing with licensees, and it was a great introduction to my career–almost like grad school. Over the course of the next 20+ years, I worked all over the USA in retail and wholesale as well as being self employed. My background includes the Bombay Company with the Alex & Ivy division, the Antique Guild in Los Angeles, mega-furniture store Benchmark in Kansas City, and one of the first e-commerce platforms, Goodhome.com, circa 1999. And I had a successful design and licensing company under Mark Abrams Design.
MC: How did you and Michael Yip co-found Port 68?
MA: Michael was general manager of Oriental Accent, Inc., and I was a licensee with OAI. After 5 years of partnering with OAI, I ended my license. And, serendipitously, Michael resigned from the company after 20+ years, so we decided to start our own company, Port 68.
MC: What was the goal when you founded Port 68?
MA: To offer a different point of view in product with a defined assortment of product. We are not a furniture company, but rather we offer for all intents and purposes the ‘jewelry’ for the home–lamps, accessories, accent furniture, and a selection of wall décor. With Michael’s extensive background, we have a big emphasis on porcelain sourced from China.
MC: What is the 3-year plan for the company?
MA: Well, Port 68 is now 10 years old. We will make that milestone a big celebration at Fall High Point Market. We started the company in 2008 and launched in Spring 2009, and we have stayed focused on our core assortment ever since. But we also keep evolving with the direction and support of our customers and factories. I see a bigger push internationally–and with contract opportunities, too. We offer an American designer point of view with classic products that layer into how we all live today.
MC: Port 68 is known for its use of prints and pattern in a space that often plays it safe. Is the consumer ready to embrace prints?
MA: I think the consumer has always loved a selection of prints–especially in classics such as blue-and-white patterns. After the last several years with the sea of beige and gray solids in upholstery, prints offer a way to show a personality in the home. Designers are drawn to us to give them product that has a real personality and sense of color. We have licenses with Madcap Cottage, of course, as well as Scalamandré and Williamsburg–all iconic American companies with an arsenal of archive prints from which to work. It’s a joy to partner with you all and the other licenses to layer patterns with my Port 68 prints and colors.
MC: You partnered with us. Why?
MA: Madcap Cottage offers us another layer to the design pie. Each of the licensees we work with has a defined point of view. I love Madcap’s cheeky, irreverent twist to color mixes and the patterns that John hand paints. As we have fantastic factories doing porcelain with us, it was a perfect partnership to offer something that was missing from the marketplace–and different from what I do with my open line at Port 68. The Madcaps have a large following with their loyal customers as well. It’s all about building a synergy to make a collection successful for us all.
MC: Tell us about your collections with Scalamandré and Colonial Williamsburg.
MA: We have worked with Scalamandré for many years. The collection is a great draw to the design trade who loves their iconic wallpaper and fabrics. We offer designers a larger scale of product and color ways that may tie into projects that use classic Scalamandré fabrics. We will be updating the Scalamandré collection in Fall 2019 with new patterns and colors.
Williamsburg is the oldest licensing museum in the country. Michael Yip worked with the Williamsburg team for many years at Oriental Accent, Inc., and I had the privilege to get to know them as well during that period. When we started Port 68, Williamsburg approached us because they know how we can bring well-designed product to market and tell the Williamsburg story from the historical archives. And, I love that the royalty helps support the efforts of Colonial Williamsburg with their living preservation. I think everyone should take a trip to Williamsburg to see the craftsmen, homes, and museums that celebrate colonial life.
MC: You have some exciting doings in the works in China. Can you tell us about what’s going on?
MA: We do! We have a new distributor in China, Gothic, who is bringing the American product point of view to the Chinese marketplace. They are also working with Century and Vanguard furniture. I am traveling to China this week for the launch. Most exciting times!
MC: What can we expect at Spring High Point Market from Port 68?
MA: More new product! Of course, color and pattern. Marbleized porcelain in rich blues and sage green with accents of gold. Very dramatic and on trend. We have also added several new patterns with Williamsburg from their archives. Think ‘Trend Meets Tradition’ which is Williamsburg’s design mantra. Watch for Bamboo Trellis, Evelyn, and Hannah—all interpretations from the antiques and linens in the Colonial Williamsburg museums.
MC: Are there any new Port 68 introductions coming up?
MA: Each High Point Market, we roll out our introductions. I believe we have 60+ new items this Market. As always, more pattern which layers with classic solids in porcelain. New giclee prints which are framed under Lucite shadow boxes. And even a new Lucite screen-printed tray that features the Madcap Cottage prints Windsor Park and Chez Bamboo. Don’t miss seeing them all at High Point Market!