In 2008, architect Geoff Franklin started cycling to work in downtown Portland. Each day, he’d hoist his bike onto his shoulder to carry it up three flights of stairs to his office. “I just kind of had a bruise on my shoulder that never went away,” he says. He thought of the leather horse tack he’d once used on his family’s eastern Oregon ranch. Leather, he realized, was the ideal material for the points of contact between body and bike.
“Wood is often used in architecture the same way” as leather on a bike, Franklin says, “on a handrail, or a steel column that gets wrapped in wood because you don’t want to lean up against the cold metal. It has a warm, tactile feeling that humanizes the structure.” Franklin created his portage strap, and Walnut Studiolo (Italian for “little study”) was born.
With attention from the popular blog BikePortland, Walnut Studiolo now supports Franklin and his wife Valerie full-time. The company’s twenty-seven products, from blueprint tubes to six-pack holders, are made mostly from vegetable-tanned leather, with some cedar pieces. About a half dozen of his current offerings, Franklin says, came from custom items he made for a particular client and then adapted for the catalog.
“I strip it down to the minimum pieces,” Franklin says, “so there are fewer things to get broken, fewer things to put together, but performing exactly the way I want it to. I don’t add stitching where it doesn’t need to be. You’re not paying for all that extra work that doesn’t need to be there.” In his designs, he says, he reaches back to his architecture education at the University of Oregon. “For architecture,” he says, “one of the highest praises is to say that it’s expressive, that you can look at a building and understand how it’s held up and held together. There’s a deep comfort in looking at it and instantly understanding it, and I think that is probably near the top of my mind.”