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An interview with Seattle's Peter Miller Books

An interview with Seattle's Peter Miller Books
Peter Miller Books is located in Seattle's Belltown neighborhood. It's a well-curated shop filled with high-quality architecture and design books, sketchbooks and drawing supplies, and beautifully-designed, functional objects for the home. (Image: Melanie Biehle/Seattle Refined)
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Peter Miller Books is one of the best bookstores that I've ever visited. Luckily for us, it's located right here in Belltown. I know that when I step inside his beautiful shop I will fall in love with at least one book about architecture or design that I've never seen before. Last week I had a chance to ask Peter a few questions about Seattle and his new book Lunch at the Shop.

Tell me a little about Peter Miller Books. What can visitors expect when they walk into your shop?

We are a particular shop. We are a representation of design - architectural, graphic, urban, industrial, landscape, aesthetic, interior design - and as such, we are conscious of our task to convey a sense of design in all that we do. Our pens and sketch paper, our journals and note pads, our glassware and cookware are all carefully curated. We choose and review every book that we show in the shop - once it has been accepted, then we are its best supporter. The bookcases, the space itself, the sense of the shop, its graphics - it all must convey the best sense of design.

What are some of your favorite design books rooted in the Pacific Northwest?

It is a tough question, as many of them are now out of print. Recently, a lovely book, Leo Adams, went out of print - I have hopes it will return one day. There are some excellent architectural monographs - on Kundig, Suyama, Miller-Hull, Jim Olson - but the actual Northwest Design book has not been written as yet. It would include rain and mist, wood and steel, water and wheat, pond and ridge, Tobey and Carver, Pearl Jam and Pellegrini. It would know that the color of true vertical grain fir is also the color of a September sunset and the interior of a perfect sushi bar. Our chanterelle mushrooms and Cashmere apples are more famous in Frankfurt, Germany than they are in Olympia, Washington.

Congratulations on your book Lunch at the Shop! Besides delicious recipes and beautiful photographs, what do you hope that readers take away from it?

Honestly, I hope they are urged to make lunch for themselves. At first, a lunch as an experiment but eventually, I hope they might take on the length of always making lunch. Lunch is the center of things, of the day and of the work. It has been ignored and mostly devalued. But that only makes the day and the work longer, duller and less a credit. Learn to cook, learn about food, and cook your meals - it is the true modernism.

What do you love about living in Seattle?

Seattle is nearly too lucky. It would have gladly torn down the Pike Place Market but it simply took too long to get to it and the 70s wave of money and preservation swooped in with the save. Seattle is no brighter or better hearted than Kansas City or Pittsburgh or Cincinnati but many of the factors that have wounded those cities simply did not get here. Gates and Allen could as easily have been raised in Buffalo or Hartford and we would now be talking about their dotcom excesses.

Seattle has water and trees, salads and sky, views and flowers - and, lately, bread and wines and lovely restaurants - and most places in this country have very marginalized versions of all those things. We have perhaps the best selection of flowers in May of any city in the world - yet I know more people who have never bought flowers, let alone fresh flowers each week, than people who know how grand that is.

I do NOT love that Seattle has all these things and yet it will not devote the money to its public schools, from kindergarten to University, to make them great. It has starved its educational institutions and that is a shame. If Seattle had brilliant schools, then it would shine like no other city in this country.

Pretend you have guests visiting from out of town. What three things would you tell them that they had to do or see while they're here?

Go find Max, at the outdoor vegetable stand in Pike Place Market. He is usually at the bottom of Pine Street. Give him $20 and have him pick out flowers for you.

Go to the Olympic Sculpture Park in the early morning or late afternoon (when we have the most weather) and walk until your feet hurt.

Go to the Columbia City Bakery in Columbia City and wait in line for bread and pastries. See that, even in this hip burg, the whole joint is still kept human by simple things like bread and " Hi, how can I help you?"

One more thing - while you are here, do not order a single coffee to go. The best coffee shops will think slightly less of you. Sit for minute.

Peter Miller Books is located in Seattle at 2326 Second Avenue North.

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Photos: The perfect window nooks to curl up in Photos: The perfect window nooks to curl up in