Times change. If Plantation Design was born in any other era than the late 1990s, it might be known as Midcentury Modern Design or Flat Pack Scandinavian Design. But the new furniture and design boutique that just opened in Capitol Hill’s Pike Motorworks development was born when Southern Californians were into the plantation look of botanical motifs, woven surfaces, and shutters, apparently.
“We’re a small business and we’re back where we have roots,” Katie Largent tells CHS.
She also says the work has begun on a branding change. Plantation Design worked for around 17 years in Los Angeles and another showroom in San Francisco. But in Seattle and with the current awareness around the Black Lives Matter movement, the name has brought online criticism and a change of heart.
Here is a message Largent recently sent to people who contacted the store to complain about the Plantation branding’s historical connections to the Confederate South and slavery:
To all of you who have taken the time to write about our new store opening on Capitol Hill-
First off, thank you. Thank you for expressing yourselves in such a way that has brought this name issue back to the forefront of our minds and turned it into something we can no longer put off. We are taking your comments very seriously. We fully respect and understand your feelings and opinions and we are acting accordingly.
I’m sending this email to you personally as bringing our store to Seattle (my hometown) was my idea and I fully intend to do the right thing; for our store and for our city. As a company made up of born-and-raised Seattleites, we want to be welcomed back into this community and the last thing we want to do is offend anyone or make it seem as if our store isn’t welcoming to all. As I mentioned in my previous email to each of you, our name was never intended to be offensive. But it is. And we get it.
I don’t know what the solution is at this point but you can rest assured that there will NOT be a store called Plantation in this beloved city we all call home.
Largent tells CHS that the effort to re-brand Plantation will be an expensive but necessary step for the LA company founded by Seattle hair stylist Mark Cole and, the company says, originally known for its Southeast Asia-inspired take on custom designs and furniture.
She could look around the company’s new neighborhood for help. In May, Corvus and Co. opened on north Broadway after leaving its original Spirit Animal brand behind out of respect to First Nations concerns. Other businesses have also faced criticism for their brands or marketing sensitivity to cultures and minorities. “While well intended, we were naive and didn’t comprehend the pain and frustration for people who have long dealt with having their heritage misrepresented and used by non-First Nation people,” Corvus and Co.’s ownership said in a statement during its pre-opening controversy. “We now understand that this is a form of oppression that we most definitely did not intend or want to be a part of.”
One consistent thread in the recent controversies over insensitive marketing on the Hill is Facebook where the word can quickly spread far and wide of potential injustices and a messaging effort can be equally quickly mounted to draw attention to the situation. Depending on how you look at it, the speed of controversy is a blessing or a curse. For the Plantation situation, its presence in a block-wide development in the middle of the booming Pike/Pine and gentrification concerns won’t help. Neither will the development’s choice of big beer-owned Redhook to be the Pike Motorworks anchor tenant when it opens its “small batch” brewery and brewpub next door later this year.
Despite the frustration with having to leave behind an identity the company has built for nearly 20 years, Largent said that she and Cole and the Plantation partners don’t want to perpetuate negative culture or imagery and now see an opportunity to do something better. “These are progressive people,” Largent said, “And we’re not just fancy furniture,” adding that the company’s Southern California furniture factory provides employment for 20 working class families with good wages and benefits.
For now, the new showroom is open in the 700 block of E Pike on the ground floor of the big development where the mostly empty BMW dealership showroom and garages used to stand. With Area 51 on the way out, consider the shop an opportunity for new window shopping, if nothing else. Stop by to check out the ironwork octopuses and stylish chandeliers, or order a fancy new couch. If you have an idea for a new brand, you can let them know that, too. “There won’t be any Plantation in Seattle,” Largent said.