Graphic designer Molly Quan puts leaves, looks on offer at Life + Limb
by: SARAH TOOR, Photographer and graphic designer Molly Quan (top) offers succulents in retro bullet planters, which fit right into a midcentury-modern décor.

New businesses are attracted to East Burnside Street like filings to a magnet. Motorists crane their heads to take in the latest offerings as pedestrians - risking life and limb - dash across the street from Moxie to Screen Door.

Just a bit west of these establishments is a slick, new store called - interestingly enough - Life + Limb, that offers urban dwellers plants and accessories for their midcentury modern homes. Molly Quan opened the store in November after working for years as a graphic designer and photographer.

The small store conjures up images of desert warmth in Portland's wet, cold winter. Cacti and architectural succulents - priced from about $6 to $350 - rise from bullet planters and cylinder pots suggestive of the mid-20th century.

Quan is not a garden freak but does enjoy indoor plants, though these succulents are outdoor plants in their native habitat.

'I love succulents. They're cool looking,' she says. 'They're both the easiest and the hardest to grow. The biggest mistake is overwatering. The key is to drench them and then stop watering.'

Quan, 31, studied photography at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., before taking a detour into graphic design. She made her living as a graphic designer, keeping photography as a creative pursuit, only occasionally taking on professional assignments (see her work at

'I started taking a lot of art classes when I was doing photography,' she says. 'A big thing in photography is composition, how things are laid out, how things are viewed. Through the lens I pretty much shoot what I want in the frame. I don't do a lot of cropping.'

Her ability to compose makes Life + Limb a pretty picture with a mix of midcentury modern, select vintage pieces, the machine-made and the natural. One wall features changing monthly art exhibitions.

Quan has had the idea for a store for a long time. She didn't want a plant store with garden implements, soil and tools.

'I wanted a plants and home accessories place that was more about design and display, where you could get plants you don't find at a Fred Meyer,' she explains. 'This is good for condo dwellers that don't have a lot of space - inside or out - but who want some plants in their interior or on their balcony.'

After considering a number of locations she chose East Burnside for it's central location.

Quan says she enjoys the contrast of working in the three-dimensional world of retail display. 'It's temporary, whether because things sell or because I move them,' she says. 'I'm here all the time and constantly move things around.'

Customers seem to like the way she pairs plants and pots, and though they can mix and match as they will, most seem to go for her pairings.

Though she is artful, she does not consider herself an artist.

'It's a visual world,' Quan says. 'You don't always have to think so hard. You can just go with what you like. Sometimes people search for the deep meaning. If it looks pretty, that's good enough for me, and that's a personal preference. Someone might come in here and think this is the dumbest thing in the world. And that's fine. It's not for them.'

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Life + Limb

Where: 1716 E. Burnside St., 503-233-4738

When: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Sunday

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