Legend has it that Lewis Carroll redefined the word portmanteau. Originally used to describe a stiff leather suitcase that hinged at its back to open in two equal halves, Carroll, inspired by the definition, applied it to language in his 1871 classic, Through the Looking Glass, combining words to better express himself. By naming his Vancouver-based design company Portmanteau Stereo Co., Jay DeMerit plays on both definitions—his designs recycle vintage leather suitcases by combining them with something entirely unexpected yet genius nonetheless: boom boxes.
Most people who know of DeMerit know him not as a designer, but as an athlete. A few years after graduating from University of Illinois-Chicago with an industrial design degree in 2002, Wisconsin-born DeMerit found a place on England’s Watford Football Club, a Premier League team at the highest level of English football. He lived and played soccer professionally in London for seven years before returning to North America to play for the Vancouver Whitecaps in Major League Soccer in 2011. It wasn’t until the second time he ruptured his ankle that DeMerit decided to leave behind his status as soccer celebrity and return to his initial interest in design.
DeMerit and Portmanteau co-owner Jeff McConnell now bring new life to vintage luggage pieces they hunt thrift stores to find, or nostalgic pieces customers bring in to be reborn into stereo systems. “We had a customer bring in his family heirloom that was the one suitcase his family immigrated to Canada with,” DeMerit says. “Now it plays tunes at his family cabin.” The result is an impressive product line of Portmanteaus that come in nearly every shape and size imaginable: a dainty round and small case in soft cream; a perfectly beat-up large black guitar case; or a shiny red trapezoid with rounded corners, among limitless others.
The company has since expanded to include wood found in British Columbia’s abandoned woodlots as a medium. The company’s furniture line, Portmanteau Home, transforms large slabs of knobby tree trunks into hanging wall art, stand-up bars, and coffee tables, each with a wireless stereo system that, in DeMerit’s words, “can seriously rock.” DeMerit’s newest product line is in fact called the Rockit Log, which uses dried out western red cedar, fir, and hemlock logs found in an old logging yard near Pemberton, B.C. Customers have the choice of a dark or clear stain, and its centre speaker, handle, screws, legs, and protruding cone at the back (used to augment sound) are available in an eclectic array of colours. The result is a completely bespoke circular boom box that celebrates the knots and natural grain of the chosen log, ideal for small apartment spaces or endless summer days spent at the beach.
Although relatively new, Portmanteau Stereo Co. has already gained the attention of celebrities like Taylor Swift, DJ Tiesto, and Steve Nash. “We know we are a still a new company,” DeMerit says, despite his success, “so there hopefully will be many more fun and interesting challenges ahead.”