“Everything can feel very sterile in a kitchen these days,” says Luke Bolton. Like many of us, Bolton spent a lot of time in his kitchen during the pandemic. As he cranked out cookies—including his longtime favorite, oatmeal with raisins and chocolate chips—he found himself thinking about changing the minimalist sterility of the space, and about one of his family’s traditions.
“I grew up in a really big Catholic family, and my grandma gave vintage cookie jars to all my aunts when they got married as their wedding gifts," says Bolton. "As a kid, that was the first thing I did every time I came into the house—I’d run to the cookie jar and see what was inside.” He recalls ones shaped like Noah’s ark, a chicken, and a teddy bear.
A tech worker with a graphic design background, Bolton started playing around with midcentury-inspired designs and, in summer 2022, embarked on a ceramics side hustle called Astro the Studio. His friend Julia Sherman of Peaches the Studio gave him a crash course in slipcasting and is still helping with the jars’ production.
“At first it was just going to be something I made for myself,” says Bolton. “But it was just so much fun to create.” His ceramics line is named after his Oregon Humane Society pandemic adoptee, a golden retriever–German shepherd mix. Astro the dog was named, at least in part, after the pet of the Jetsons, the fictional futuristic family that’s a product of the same era called to mind by the wavy-sided jars, especially the “galaxy green” color option. His dog was an inspiration for more than just the name, though: “She made me feel better,” says Bolton, who hopes his cookie jars give off “a similar vibe.”
Standing nine inches tall and weighing more almost five pounds, the twice-fired porcelain canisters ($120 on the Astro website, and also available in North Portland at Mantel) take up space on a countertop. Now splitting his time between Portland and New York City and not baking quite as often, Bolton has one in his NYC kitchen full of coffee beans and another acting as a vase, its lid tucked neatly underneath as a little stand.
Another local enterprise adding a little color to local kitchens is Hanuk Design, whose reusable, machine-washable food covers are available at New Seasons. Cofounders Youkyoung Jung and Anna Kim, both originally from Korea, met in New York City and became friends while they were both working in outerwear design. Jung and her husband moved west and had a baby, while Kim stayed in New York and had a baby.
Like many parents in the design industry, they suddenly found themselves with lots of ideas in the kiddo realm and were soon collaborating from opposite coasts on a project making children’s travel sleep gear, with the idea that it could go back and forth to daycare and be very washable.
Then the pandemic hit, and daycare attendance took a nosedive. Kim and her family moved to Vancouver, Washington, and she and Jung used the fabric they’d accumulated to make masks instead, selling them on Etsy.
“After the masks, as the pandemic calmed down, we were saying, ‘What’s next?’” says Jung. “We were always interested in sustainability,” she says, and were even more interested after having children. They had some awning scraps, fabric with a waterproof layer that might come in handy for kids’ sleep gear—but which also got them thinking about a replacement for plastic wrap. They weren’t wild about the products already on the market, like beeswax wraps, which Jung says can be hard to wash. They found a food-safe waterproof lining that stood up to their tests, and took their finished products, with recycled-plastic toggle stoppers and elastic cords for adjustability, to the Portland Bazaar and Unique Markets in 2021’s holiday season. “People were like, ‘Great idea!’ and they were blowing up,” Jung says. The small covers can fit cut lemons, onions, and avocados, while a medium can hold half a cabbage head, and a large makes a good lid for mixing bowls.
By summer 2022 their food covers, sold under the name Hanuk Design, had landed in New Seasons, and online sales were picking up. They’ve moved most of the production out of Jung’s neatly organized North Portland garage, still lined with fabric bolts and bins and sewing machines for R&D and small batches, to a sewing studio just across the Columbia River.
Like Bolton’s cookie jars, this pandemic-born business also makes something to contain the output of some people’s pandemic hobbies: The XL size, Jung reports, has proven very popular with kombucha makers and bread bakers.