John Thompson

Material Wealth

WORDS Miguel Cobian | PHOTOGRAPHY Adrienne Swider / Corey Shelton


Professionals and owners of A-list interiors remember Portland’s prestigious Wayne Martin Inc. selling luxury items to top designers and architects. When the showroom closed, it’s manager of 23 years, John Thompson, while forced to move on, made a brave move up.

Now on the other side of the order desk, John puts years of relationships and experience to work. JohnThompsonDesigner’s first project was for a Nike Exec who had just relocated to Portland. “Showroom, or not – I have a passion for design,” John said. A survivor of colon cancer at just 42, it was a risk. But he sees every day differently now.

“I’m willing to take chances and have creative experiences without fear,” says Thompson. “I’ve seen designers get stuck in choices. I don’t want to get stuck. If I use a fabric once, I never use it again. There really is too much to live for! Too much food, too much wine, and too many textiles – thank God!”

He shares his passion for textiles. Now 53, John teaches classes on textiles and design marketing at PCC. He also guest hosts in-home fabric parties – Living with Luxury Textiles – for his clients & their friends.

PI: Where’s your place in Portland’s design scene?
JT: Portland is growing up. Architects have given us an opportunity with their blank slate interiors by challenging the resident to do the rest on their own. We have to add the design elements. At a party in the Pearl, it was so loud, guests were screaming at each other. We used to live between wood and plaster and now we’re encapsulated in concrete and glass. Luxurious draperies, wool rugs, and soft furniture add color, pattern, and texture – they also absorb sound! Let’s make an appointment to invest in fashioned lined draperies. The results will add floor-to-ceiling drama and protect your treasures from an otherwise faded future from the sun.

PI: Speaking of treasures, when downsizing from a big home, which pieces should one choose?
JT: Time for tough choices. First, the new floorplans are untraditional. Your favorite furniture may fit you, but it won’t fit the new multi-use room. Custom-built is the solution, and it is affordable! And for those of us who like an embellished look – giving up our collections, art, and heirlooms is not a choice. I’ll strategically place your treasures, and use new colors and textures to create compositions from cherished stuff.

PI: With this transition, how do couples blend differing tastes? What happens to my Man-Room!
JT: Partners can have opposite ideas of what makes their house a home. I listen and learn – even help negotiate in order to create a working relationship between the 3 of us. Trust me as your designer. Managing the budget makes for a smooth transition too. You’ll be surprised how a little man-room money can be so much smarter in the new great room!”

PI: I know lots of DIY customers. Who is a Professional Designer client?
JT: Someone who doesn’t want a fast and easy solution. One for whom walking in a retail store and walking out with their look delivered the next day isn’t enough. Fast and easy is a short-term fix. My Clients tend to be executives, medical professionals and entrepreneurs. I want more for them – an experience. We create art you live in.

PI: Tell me more about your afternoon of fabric and champagne? It sounds like a Tupperware party!
JT: I presented luxury textiles and how to live with them for a client and a few of her friends. It wasn’t about selling fabrics, rather an introduction to high-end design houses and a hands-on experience with basic fibers, yarns, and weave-structures.

PI: Why is that important?
JT: There’s a best choice for a piece. Outdoor furniture is specific, but depending on the application, outdoor fabrics may be the best choice inside. A sofa you lounge on every evening vs. a chair you only use when you put your shoes on can be covered differently. It was a perfect afternoon and the hostess was flawless. Husbands asked to come too!

PI: You consider yourself to be an expert in fabric selections?
JT: I’m not humble when it comes to textiles. After all those years in the showroom, I know which projects stood out and why. I was surrounded by the best in the business. They would consider me an expert.

PI: Now that you’ve gone solo, what do you miss from the showroom days?
JT: I’m definitely not solo. No one can offer professional design services without a team of skilled contractors, upholsterers, and seamstresses. When we need them, I know every tack and stitch will be made as if the piece were to be delivered to their own mother.

There’s one thing I miss: friends don’t invite me over! They tell me they’re afraid I’ll be judgmental, which makes me laugh. Clients invite me to their homes for exactly that reason – they want my judgement. Then my clients become good friends!

PI: What do you find to be the greatest challenge as an interior designer?
JT: The paperwork! Our industry is notorious for being buried in purchase orders, invoices, packing slips, as-builts and billing. We’re a boutique studio so I wear many hats. The one kind of paper I LOVE? My hand-drawn renderings. It’s the first piece of art I create for my clients.

PI: I think everyone makes assumptions about an Interior Designer’s home. What would I see if I came over?
JT: I have a wonderful office in SE Portland, but I still bring work home. Between my partner’s work and mine, everywhere we are – our work seems to be. I’m lucky to be with someone who enjoys the design process and uses my resources. He’s learned a lot, but still thinks he knows better – and I let him. (Laughs) He actually has good instincts and makes tasteful choices. But he couldn’t get any of it done without me. Our home in Palm Springs is more of a design accomplishment, but he’s very fickle and we get to change it a lot. Friends call the rooms of our home, my laboratory!

“Let’s make something beautiful together” (503)367-0920
Specializing in residential and executive commercial high-end design.