Inform Interiors is located on Bellevue Avenue between Pike and Pine Street, in the Colman Building. The building dates from 1916 and was originally a showroom for the Stanley Auto Agency. It retains, thanks to a thoughtful restoration, the large display windows that characterized the Capitol Hill auto showrooms from that era. Collectively, they are known as ‘auto row’ buildings.
As one would expect in a home furniture and furnishings showroom that features contemporary design, there are many shiny, geometrically pure housewares of mostly European design. Contrasting nicely with that aesthetic are the hand-woven baskets from Africa, which are the product of local artisans.
The showroom is as conducive to displaying furniture as it was automobiles. The open floor plan, afforded by heavy-timber construction, continues to offer flexibility in layout to the current tenants, allowing them almost endless ways to arrange lighting, chairs, couches, and rugs. And unlike current construction, the columns and beams were milled from single old growth logs, not laminated together from smaller pieces as is today’s practice.
Home furnishings are a type of fashion with trends coming and going, making familiar pieces, such as this Aalto Vase, pleasant reminders of the enduing power of classic design. The vase was first exhibited in the famed Finnish Pavilion at the 1937 World’s Fair in Paris. The oak cheese boards were also designed by Alvar Aalto (1898 - 1976) who many consider to be among the finest architects of the 20th Century.
Inform is on two floors in the Colman Building. While only occupying one half of the first floor, the second floor is all theirs and is flooded in daylight. The building was recently completed renovated, with new building services and a seismic upgrade. Note the large steel wide flange columns and beam that ensure the building is robust enough to survive the next earthquake. The steel structure is unpainted and left in its ‘mill finish’.
A thing rarely seen in today’s buildings is when the structure and the finish are the same: the beams and columns are Douglas Fir, as its the tongue and groove floor. The materials deployed for the furniture include ever-so-thin plywood, wrought iron, and textiles covering varying amounts of sculpted foam.
The Street Critic is an occasional CHS special featuring architectural and design observations from the built environments on and around Capitol Hill. This special neighborhood series has been created to highlight features of some of the area’s most important gathering places as restaurants, bars, cafes, and shops face unprecedented challenges during the ongoing pandemic. Is there a space you would like us to feature? Let us know in the comments.
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13th Ave’s St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral (Image: John Feit)
Regardless of how modest the structure, ecclesiastical architecture has a unique expressive ability. No better example of simple forms melded with powerful symbolism exists on Capitol Hill than St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral, on 13th Ave between Howell and Olive. The simplest of brick boxes, the church relies on exotic details and forms to announce its Orthodox beliefs, setting it apart from all other churches in the neighborhood. Continue reading →
The Eastlake neighborhood is only five blocks west of Volunteer Park but its even closer proximity to Lake Union makes it a neighborhood quite different than Capitol Hill. Highlighting this difference are buildings representative of Eastlake’s commercial and maritime heritage which range from small, jewel-box like office buildings to large industrial structures.
Eastlake engages Lake Union in a variety of ways including seven ‘streetend parks’, such as Lynn Street Park. The streetends give one a chance to launch a Kayak, play catch with your dog, or simply to watch boats and seaplanes skim the lake’s surface. Some folks are so captivated by such water-borne activities that they have decided to live on the water, making Eastlake’s houseboat community the largest in Seattle.
The Capitol Hill Historical Society has focused its research and preservation efforts on buildings of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Now the group can turn some of its attention to a more recent, diverse architectural history: Mid-Century Modern multifamily residential buildings constructed from the post World War II-era up until the late 1970s.
“I’m very excited about this kind of being a step in the direction of closing the historical gap between that auto row-era and today,” said Tom Heuser, board president of the nonprofit. “We have this kind of interlude period between now and then that hasn’t been very well covered and I think this is definitely a springboard for more of that.”
The Pike/Pine auto row-era has been of particular focus, a period in the first part of the twentieth century when the Pike/Pine corridor became the hub of car dealerships in Seattle.
This project is funded with a $10,000 King County 4Culture grant and will consist of a ten-building survey of Mid-Century Modern architecture, including Brutalist and California Modern styles.
Photographer and CHHS member Lana Blinderman initially proposed the project idea to Heuser after noticing that some mid-century buildings seemed to be disappearing.
“You know some of them are being remodeled and not in a way that is accurate or true to the original style and some of them were just being demolished,” Blinderman said. “I thought: ‘Wow, nobody’s documenting these buildings and this is just such a loss, and despite all the mid-century revival that people seem to be crazy about there was no organized documentation happening.’” Continue reading →
Great urban landscapes are typically comprised of a collection of good buildings and landscapes instead of superlative singular designs. 17th Ave, between E. Union and E. Spring, is just such a landscape and warrants a visit. On this stretch of 17th, one will find a half dozen apartment buildings which individually may stir only a passing (if admiring) glance, yet as an ensemble are a gift to behold. Many of the buildings were built (and perhaps designed?) by the same developer, Samuel Anderson, in the 1920s.
The most conspicuous of the apartments, owing both to its advantageous corner location at the intersection of 17th and E Spring and to its equally proud corner entry, is The Barbara Frietchie. It is one of the very few co-ops in Seattle. More common in New York City, co-ops were a form of apartment ownership that pre-dates condominiums. Perhaps its New York roots account for its being the most visible – ostentatious, even – of the bunch? Its unique quarter-round entry portico set in a subtractive corner is another feature that hints of its big-city aspirations. Continue reading →
Few building typologies have the history or endurance of the basilica. First appearing about the 2nd Century BCE, the basilica evolved from its initial, secular roots as a building housing courts and other civic functions to the archetypal building form for Christian houses of worship. Capitol Hill’s own St. Joseph’s church, at 19th Avenue and Aloha Street, is both an outstanding example of the basilica typology as well as of art deco architecture. Continue reading →
Capitol Hill streets and building parcels are almost uniformly delineated by an orthogonal grid; however, when confronted with the second part of our neighborhood’s name the ubiquitous grid revealed its limitation as an all-inclusive planning tool and left city planners little choice but to utilize diagonal streets to ascend and descend our heights. Diagonal streets present a foil to the well-ordered grid, yet most buildings conform to the grid even when the site is an unconventional shape. There are reasons to stay square when designing a building, but design opportunities are sacrificed when the only nod given to an atypical, non-orthogonal site is to design an orthogonal building and treat its diagonally bounded site simply as a remainder to be ‘planted-up’.
The Hill’s longest and steepest diagonal street, Belmont Avenue, exhibits a variety of design solutions to the grid’s disruptive diagonal. The first approach, illustrated in two variants below, plays to both diagonal and grid in a manner that preserves the conflicting geometries. The third solution is a rarely seen hybrid approach where the geometries of grid and diagonal are blended and create unexpectedly complex forms. which gave us a pair of delightful mid-century apartments. Continue reading →
A charm of living in a hilly city like Seattle is witnessing how the street grid and the buildings they define adapt to challenging topography. A typical adaptation is to have streets break from the prevailing orthogonal grid by introducing a diagonal street that makes a hill easier to ascend. In the early 20th Century, Manhattan’s Fuller Building became – and most likely remains – the most celebrated example of a building’s form adapted to an adjacent diagonal street (albeit in dead-flat Manhattan). Today it is known as the Flatiron Building, a reference to its resembling an early type of clothes iron. Capitol Hill has its share of buildings which have adapted to challenging street grinds and terrain. An inspiring pair are found on Olive Way as it cuts a diagonal between Denny and Howell. Continue reading →
Wednesday night could bring the final design step in the process for a Capitol Hill circa late 2018 trade of necessity — a 1929-built, two-story masonry apartment building with eight units making way for a planned 2019 or so-built, four-story apartment building with 25 “small efficiency dwelling units” and 13 standard apartments.
The development from Hybrid Architecture and the family trust that owns the property is slated to come before the East Design Review Board Wednesday night:
The Shannon View from Southeast (Images: John Feit)
Cast-in-place concrete was the touchstone modernist material. When combined with steel reinforcing it allowed for the long-span and tall buildings that late 19th and early 20th Century architects dreamt of. Furthermore, and unlike the steel buried in its slurry, concrete did not corrode or lose strength in fires allowing for it to have a forthright expression without the need for any protective paint, coating, or enclosure. It was able to be left bare and pure as both structure and enclosure. It achieved, in other words, all that could be hoped for in a modern material. Its apogee in the United States was from the late 1950’s until the mid-1970’s and Belmont Avenue East has three consecutive mid-rise condominium buildings – the Shannon, the Highlander, and the Lamplighter – that pay homage to that era. Their mid-century designs have a surprising upside, too. Continue reading →