Root Awards 2008
"Design Masters & Rising Stars"
When Ankrom Moisan Architects senior associate Gunnar Langhus began refining details for the Art Nouveau-flavored Elizabeth Lofts, he asked third-generation pattern-maker Eric Kaster to develop a prototype for a wall sconce to adorn the entryway of every unit. Soon Kaster was churning out striking hardware and lighting for nearly every surface of the building–11 designs totally 463 pieces in all–including bronze rain-scuppers outside, Charles Rennie Mackintosh-inspired lobby lighting, and pewter signage for each door.
Since opening Eleek Inc., the North Portland-based design and manufacturing company he founded with his wife, Sattie Clark, in 2000, Kaster estimates that he has added his brand of metallurgic flair to well over 100 residences, businesses, and hotels in the Portland area. “I like to think of my designs as jewelry for buildings,” Kaster says. Drawing his artistic vocabulary from the great movements of the past–Victorian, Arts & Crafts, Streamline Moderne–Kaster uses recycled aluminum and bronze materials and renewable energy sources as often as possible. Each piece begins as a hand-carved wood positive that then becomes a mold for molten metal, which is poured, cured, and finished with artisan patinas. This increasingly rare manufacturing technique, handed down to Kaster from his grandfather Willie, who bought and operated the local company Willamette Pattern Works, gives Eleek’s designs their irresistible authenticity.
Kaster’s business is booming–largely a result of the company’s focus on sustainable building parts, including recycled-bronze kitchen and bathroom sinks and high-efficacy pendant, sconce, and bollard LED lights. This niche, coupled with Kaster’s involvement in groundbreaking efforts like the development of the Urban Turbine, means that Eleek’s 18-member crew has a workload that’s diverse enough to see them through any fluctuations in the real estate market.
“We’re bursting at the seams in our current space–our work even spills onto the sidewalk sometimes,” Kaster laughs. “It’s a great problem to have.”