Design Week Portland Artist Feature: Zenbox Design

Karma, Jen and Bryan Danger

Karma, Jen and Bryan Danger

Bryan Danger started Zenbox Design after a May 2014 article in the New York Times featuring he and his partner Jen’s Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) garnered a lot of attention. Bryan has a master of Architecture from UofO but moved into Graphic Design and somehow found himself working in a high-tech corporate office for 14 years. After a year driving through Mexico and Central America in their 67 VW Bus, Bryan and Jen moved back to Portland to start on their new path. The problem? They had renters in their home. Solution? They had a 480-square foot garage that wasn’t being used. They designed and built out the garage into a cozy living space. Word got out quickly and readers and neighbors alike were demanding Bryan design their ADU and custom furniture. Hesitant at first, the couple wanted to keep their new found “nomadic balance”. Though they had been working with neighbors for free for some time, zenbox design was officially born and takes on a few clients every year for custom homes and furniture. The rest of the time the couple rents their garage on

The problem? They had renters in their home. Solution? They had a 480-square foot garage that wasn’t being used. They designed and built out the garage into a cozy living space. Word got out quickly and folks started requesting Bryan design their ADU and custom furniture. Hesitant at first, the couple wanted to keep their new found “nomadic balance”. Though they had been working with neighbors for free for some time, Zenbox Design was officially born and takes on a few clients every year for custom homes and furniture. The rest of the time the couple rents their garage on Airbnb and travels with their dog, Karma, around the continent in their custom sprintervan (another Zenbox project).

1. How would you refer to yourself? Woodworker? Artisan? Craftsman?
Designer/Creative. Our designs range from custom furniture and installations to small custom homes.

2. How did you get started?
Ive always designed/built as much of my own furniture/environment as I could. In 2013, my wife and I had downsized and purged all our belongings to take a 2 year road trip. Upon returning we hated the idea of simply buying all our furniture rather than each piece being intentional, and started designing/building them instead.

The garage transformed into an ADU.

The garage transformed into an ADU, courtesy of zenboxdesign.com

3. Why wood?
Our designs tend to use a combination of wood and steel, but we feel wood is critical because of the softness and warmth it brings to a space. All the better if that wood is also reclaimed and has a story/history to tell.

4. What was the first thing you made from wood?
As best I can recall, a 3’ tall model of the Trojan Horse, when I was 6th grade. As Zenbox design, I think our first piece was a steel and reclaimed wood barstool that we still use (and offer to clients) today.

Barstool

Bar stool

5. What does being creative meant to you?
It’s simply how my brain works—I have to be designing or creating something to feel active or alive. It’s not a switch I can turn off and I naturally find my brain creatively redesigning every space I walk into and everything I touch.

6. Do you have any rituals?
None.

7. What is your favorite piece?
Our tiny home has a bar/island that takes up no space on a day to day basis but can roll out to seat 6–8 when we entertain. It’s a 6’ long slab of reclaimed fir we took out of the house in the remodel and it seems to be the perfect combination of creative reuse because the material is serving in its second life and the piece itself serves multiple roles (and is also the centerpiece of our home).

6' slab of reclaimed fir, courtesy of zenboxdesign.com

6′ slab of reclaimed fir, courtesy of zenboxdesign.com

8. Who inspires you?
Anyone who is thinking and living outside the box, breaking norms and following their dreams!

9. What do you hope to communicate through your work?
Clean lines. Elegant simplicity. Functional beauty.

10. If you weren’t doing this what would you be doing?
We seem to be constantly reinventing ourselves, so “this” is different every day.  Luckily we seem to keep finding clients that push our creativity and expertise, so the evolution of Zenbox Design is created by the projects and clients we choose to partner with. If we one day run out of both client and personal projects, I guess I would likely become a tattoo artist, or scuba diving instructor, or both.

11. The ultimate piece you want to create?
I feel like each new client presents this opportunity.  The goal is always to design that person or families’ perfect custom home. To craft both the environment and pieces within it in a creative and functional way so that their living space literally transforms their lifestyle.

12. What’s your favorite thing about PDX?
The people. The creatives. The dreamers.  We travel much of the year and have yet to find anyplace with the intense diversity, creativity, and “weirdness” that is Portland. It’s almost impossible to not be charged or pushed creatively here. We live our lives outside the box and Portland seems to the only place where that is not only accepted but fully understood and supported/celebrated!

13. Favorite song?
Anything with a fiddle.

14. Favorite bridge?
Steel.

15. Favorite neighborhood
Division/Hawthorne.

16. What’s your favorite tool?
The planer. The process of getting just beneath the surface of reclaimed wood to find out what beauty lies beneath, it never gets old.

zen barcart for Design Week Portland

zen bar carts for Design Week Portland

Bryan and Jen Danger from Zenbox Design at read:grain, works with reclaimed wood on Friday, April 28th from 4-7pm during Design Week Portland. For more information, go here.