Store Visit: Nationale

Half art gallery and half specialty shop, Nationale is located on 8th and East Burnside. Nationale aims to highlight and promote art through a variety of goods, performances and exhibitions in their gallery. Owner and Director May Barruel has done a fantastic job of curating relevant shows in the space as well as curating an amazing retail environment. Nationale feels intimate in its small space and fresh white walls that show work by Annie McLaughlin. It has minimal store fixtures lined with publications, interesting art objects and well designed necessities. The hospitality shown by owner May and her team makes the energy of the space seem so intentional and authentic. It’s a Portland shopping experience that is a must!


1. Tell us about Nationale! (How long have you been open, where is it, etc.)

Nationale is an independently owned art gallery and specialty boutique currently located at the 811 E Burnside complex. We opened our doors almost six years ago at a smaller location and feature rotating exhibitions of contemporary art amidst foreign magazines, accessories from local designers, art books, select beauty products, and imported goods from France.

2. What made you decide to open a store front?

Even though Nationale first happened on a whim after seeing a tiny storefront available across the Laurelhurst Theater, my experience as an art curator for Stumptown's Downtown café (7+ years now) as well as my long time interest in organizing events and performances since moving to Portland in 2000, all came into factor when the time came to start my own business. Having been away from my native country for a decade, it was a no brainer to feature in the shop items from France that I really missed. The rest all came together thanks to the creative people in my life, all making beautiful things that I wanted to celebrate.

3. What is the concept behind the store?

To feature and support inspiring and talented makers, whether they are emerging artists, experimental performers, local designers, or traditional craftsmen and women. Our approach is minimalist and we try to only select objects and products we wouldn't want to live without. The space itself is intimate and communication-oriented.

4. How did you come up with the name Nationale?

When the shop opened in 2008, a larger percentage of the inventory was from France and so it made sense at the time to pick a French word to name the business. Nationale was the métro station near my apartment when I first moved to Paris, so it resonated with a sense of home for me and that felt right since the space has always, in a way, been an extension of my home. It's also an easy name to remember and one that everyone can pronounce which ever way they want. I love it when people say "Nationalé" for instance, it sounds exotic to me! A subtle reminder of the name's origin can be found on the back of our business cards, the replica of the Parisian métro ticket.

6. What are your 3 favorite things in the store?

1. Collaborations are a big one for me, whether it was our signature scent crafted with OLO, the Nationale tote with I Miss You Already, events at the Hollywood Theatre, or some of the projects brewing. As we continue to grow, collaborative products unique to Nationale will hopefully become a more important part of the shop. There's so much talent in Portland that there's just no need to find the same exact products everywhere. Inspiring conversations with the amazing designers we know might lead to more fun stuff in the future.

2. Our monthly art exhibitions are what keep things fresh for me and where the bulk of my energy goes to. The space always feels different depending on who is showing and I feel lucky and proud to have developed strong relationships with some of the most interesting artists in Portland. It's also exciting to know that young collectors are starting their collections with pieces found at Nationale. We love being able to provide payment plans so as to make art more accessible to everyone. My favorite piece from this month's exhibition is Dolls Head (1) by William Matheson.

doll head one.jpg

3. Finally, it's so hard to pick just one item from the shop, but I'll have to go with the GOĒ Oil by Jao because I'm just obsessed with it and use it constantly. Also our graphic design intern, Lindsay Kennedy, made it look so pretty for our webshop that it became even more of a favorite.

7. What’s a funny shop story you have?

I remember running into someone I hadn't seen for a while and her asking, "Are you still with Nationale?". I loved how it made Nationale sound like such a big institution, and the idea that even if I left, it would still run itself.

8. Who inspires your style?

Britt Howard, founder and co-owner of Portland Garment Factory, amazing mother of two, loyal friend, all around coolest girl in town. I'm constantly inspired by her energy level, creative brain, no non-sense approach to life, and as a small business owner, encouraged by what her and business partner Rosemary Robinson are achieving with PGF.

9. Tell us two truths and a lie.

- Nationale will be moving in the fall.

- It's time we finally join the network of art galleries in the Pearl district.

- Eastside forever!

10. Where are your favorite places to shop?

My favorite little shop in Portland is the completely unique and magical Lowell, and I only wish our hours were different enough to shop there more often. 

Other favorite places to stop by for a friendly visit include Hilary Horvath and Alder+Co., PDX Contemporary, PMOMA, FalseFront, Una and of course our amazing 811 neighbors. As for food, Little T Baker, Sweedeedee, P's & Q's Market, and Dove Vivi all keep my belly very happy!