Art smart

A local "design troupe" lends a touch of fine art to interior household projects.

THE FIRST THING you'll see at Play is Banjo, a 4-year-old Labrador-husky who runs to the door to greet customers. He has a luscious coat that's black all over except for his tail, which has a patch of white at the end like a paintbrush. Banjo seems perfectly at home in the Capitol Hill interior design shop on 19th Avenue, which is exactly how owner Sheila Strobel wants it. "I like fine things that are user-friendly," says Strobel, showing me an exquisite, rose-green velvet bedsheet that's machine washable. "Your dog rolls around on this, no problem. Just brush it off and throw it in the washer."

Play

612 19th E, 328-1717

Strobel, who is petite and naturally elegant, is one of the three women who opened Play last November. She and her partners, Tina Randolph and Katarina Powell, are all 33 years old, have backgrounds in visual arts, and approach interior design from a fine-arts perspective. "There are some people who may not want to hire an interior designer," Strobel notes, "but they might just want an arty best friend to help them out."

On that genial note, she hands me a piping cup of herbal tea and proceeds to take me through the store, which is a cheerful blend of warm colors, quaint found objects, and whimsical designs. An eclectic mix of European styles with American touches, the store, located next to the Little Theater and a few doors down from the Kingfish Caf鬠provides a pocket of urbane sophistication on the otherwise quiet neighborhood street.

Strobel likes to refer to Play as a "design troupe." She and her partners work together with many local artisans and designers for various jobs. The store also serves as a showcase for numerous local talents, such as Pioneer Square artist Jill Smith, whose striped, handmade rice paper lampshades make a bold counterpoint to stately floor lamps. On some Wednesday and Thursday evenings, you might see seamstress Kathleen Gray at the front window, working at a sewing machine. "I call it performance art," says Strobel.

PREVIOUSLY THE HOME of Wood Specialties, which moved to a nearby building, Play's space has long walls that exhibit the wonders of Venetian plaster—an aggregate of marble, lime, and water, the "prima donna" of wall finishes. Strobel tells me that Venetian plaster doesn't exude any fumes, is waterproof, and was used to cover aqueducts in ancient Italy. The plaster is tinted the old-fashioned way, by hand, and has a natural, textured look. For the front section of the store, the plaster has been tinted a gorgeous hue somewhere between pink and rose. It's one of those rare colors that manage to be vibrant but not loud, and is a nice complement to the pistachio green tint at the back.

Play's overall aesthetic exudes femininity and romance, but there are signs of muscle as well: The store's floors, as well as a large table at the back, are done in Milestone, named after local designer Don Miles, who invented the unique, cement-acrylic-resin blend used for countertops and shower stalls. This, too, can be tinted to any color you desire, and has a modern, industrial feel.

IF YOU'RE PUT OFF by some of the manicured House Beautiful looks that seem to be favored by Bellevue brats and Puff Daddy, Play's unique wall and floor treatments and high-quality found goods offer a refreshing alternative. Rather than going for slick style, the troupe uncovers preciousness in ordinary items, refurbishing vintage goods from consignment shops with their own brand of contemporary style. For instance, they'll spruce up an old lamp with a Corinthian column ($88) with a linen lampshade hand-dyed and painted with cheery golden swirls by Powell. Her line of hand-painted fabrics, called "Katarina House," includes window treatments, tablecloths, napkins, and lampshades that adorn many of the team's vintage finds. They are dyed in soothing tones—peach, rose, sage, sky blue. Not only does this approach work visually, but it's often less costly.

If, like myself, you're on a budget that allows for only a few flourishes here and there, walk into Play with a hundred bucks and you'll walk out with something strange and wonderful. Recently the store held a sale of some great finds, like a vintage metal document box ($67) that's more than a foot tall and about 7 inches deep. It looked sturdy and important, as if it should hold things meant to last till the next millennium. Personal time capsule perhaps—or it could be a holder for receipts and bills till the next IRS deadline. Plenty of weighty silver pieces were strewn about a table near the front window. A round tray with engraving went for $38. Candlesticks were $35 a pair, and a tall, three-stick candelabra ($62) seemed perfect for the top of a baby grand or for use as a trusty assault weapon.

 
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