From tub to table lamp, what's the latest wave in Seattle interior design?

SEVERAL YEARS AGO, the cover of New York magazine announced: "Suddenly, Everything Is Stainless Steel." And so everything was: Refrigerator doors, sinks, counters, trims, toilets, and picture frames were swathed in stark, shiny metal. It was sleek; it was industrial; it was . . . 1996.

Of course, there's still plenty of stainless steel around today. For example, you can still get the classic ripped-from- the-prison-cell, straight-outta-hard-time, all-stainless steel toilet—seat, lid, everything—from Seattle Interiors (3822 Stone Way N., 206-633-2900). The $2,800 item is popular among Microsofties, according to store owner Andrea Ivancich, who says she's hoping to see sales pick up with the Redmond company's stock back on the rise.

But nothing since stainless has been quite as overpowering an interior design fad. So we went looking to find out what is hot right now and what seems to be building steam in kitchens, bathrooms, floors, finishes, and furniture. Here are some of the candidates for Seattle's next stainless steel.


Without doubt, one of the biggest hits of the Seattle Interior Show, held two weekends ago at the Convention Center, was the cast-concrete bathtub and sink from a little Ballard company called Dogpaw (206-706-0099). With a smooth, irresistibly touchable finish and striking colors—iron oxide pigments that are in the concrete mix, not an applied stain—Dogpaw's fireplaces and countertops have become popular among local designers and architects. Hensel Design, for example, used Dogpaw in its Showcase Room, which won the top award at the show. And Dogpaw boss Jon Fredericks spent much of last year installing a terrace and shower enclosure and doing other work at Howard Schultz's 25,000-square-foot Madison Park home. "It's an alternative to marble and stone, and it goes well with steel and glass," says Fredericks. His Dogpaw booth was one of the few where bored husbands in tow actually got excited, Fredericks recalls. "They all wanted to know how it's made."


Lighting design is going "cleaner and simpler," says Joseph Thayer at Kasala (1505 Western Ave., 206-623-7795); "less hanging pendants with colors and more elegant, white." Kasala, for instance, is bringing in curvy cream-colored glass lamps by Logico. "There's more Asian influence," Thayer continues, "with paper shapes." It's a similar story down the street at Current (629 Western Ave., 206-622-2433): "Instead of the usual hard materials, people are responding to softer shapes and natural colors," says Current's Ron Gawith. Fabric is being used more." He points to new Light Volumes from Prandina, which have elastic white fabric stretched over a polypropylene shell, like a glowing sail. At the new Belltown condo development the Vine, interior designer Garret Cord Werner of Ledingham Design has also used papery lamps for the model home he created. The Italian lamps, furnished by InForm (1220 Western Ave., 206-622-1608), "add texture and interest" to a small bedroom space, he explains.


"In upholstery it's the biggest thing going now," says a salesperson at the Bon March駳 downtown furniture store (Third and Pine, 206-506-6650). He's talking about microfiber, once known as "ultrasuede," now known as ubiquitous. Previously limited to high-end furniture, ultrasuede has become affordable at a wider range of prices and has virtually taken over showrooms at department stores and elsewhere. Close to half the floor models at Dania downtown (825 Western Ave., 206-262-1001) are in ultrasuede. The selling points: a buttery texture and that suedelike way of turning a darker shade when you rub it. Even more importantly, it cleans like a dream: "You can spill mustard on it, and it cleans up with Ivory soap and water," says Karie Brodhun, upholstery buyer for the Bon. Plus, she says, "it takes color so well. Sometimes in furniture, you get a lot of color play, depending on light, etc. But microfiber stays true." At the Bon, even old-fashioned French chairs of the type once covered in satiny damask patterns or a European moir頳tripe are now done in microfiber. "I see it just getting bigger," Brodhun concludes of the craze. "We haven't seen it top out."


This Thursday night, Best Plumbing in Wallingford (4129 Stone Way N., 206-633-1700) will hold a kickoff party—strictly for the trade—to celebrate its new overflowing tub from Kohler, called the "sok." A tub surrounded by another tub, the "sok" allows you to fill your bath to a full 25 inches in depth, until the water is spilling over the sides; the recycled water then continuously pours over you while "champagnelike bubbles" are created through a series of adjustable controls. According to the brochure, "sok is a place where inhibitions disappear." (And let's face it, people in bathtubs have been behaving too well for too long.) The "sok" is typical of the new style of plumbing fixtures that function, as a builder quoted in Time magazine recently put it, like "a human car wash." Best also carries the Kohler BodySpa System, which consists of anywhere from six to 10 water jets, pointed at strategic points along the body, that pump out some 80 gallons a minute—"more than the combined delivery of 25 average showerheads"—in an invigorating recirculated torrent. (Undercarriage rinse available, but no waxing.)


Remember: it's not a tree, it's a grass. Bamboo is becoming increasingly popular as the environmentally sensitive—and plenty pretty—choice for hardwood floors. "We've been in business for 10 years; and the last three years, there's been a huge increase in interest and sales," says David Keegan, VP of Bamboo Hardwoods (6402 Roosevelt Way N.E., 206-529-0978). Over the past 12 months, he estimates the company has installed floors in over 100 Seattle houses. Business is similarly booming at TimberGrass (206-842-9477), a Bainbridge Island company that sells its Chinese-grown bamboo flooring through wholesalers. "We started marketing in 1998, and our business has doubled every year since," says TimberGrass vice president Ann Knight. "It's a rapidly renewable resource," she notes. "[Unlike trees], we harvest every six years." By using bamboo, architects and designers earn environmental credits with the U.S. Green Building Council. Bamboo is also "more durable" than other woods like maple or oak, Knight maintains.


A more general design trend: mixing it up. "Not everything has to match," declares designer Kate Joyce (1507 Queen Anne Ave. N., 206-282-5652). "Everything doesn't have to be the same style or same type of wood. You can mix and match, contemporary and antique. People aren't trying to have rooms in one style." Barbie Bond of Belltown cabinet specialist International Kitchens (2602 Second Ave., 206-269-2030) says she's seeing "a mix of wood species within the kitchen. We're doing one now where the upper cabinets are natural maple and the lower are cherry. We're varying the countertops, with wood, steel, and granite. Eclectic is kind of a look that's popular. It started with living-room furniture and is going to the rest of the house."


Down in Tacoma, a 52-year-old company formerly known as Rainier Plywood has developed one of the hottest new products in kitchen design from an old T-Town product: paper. The Richlite countertop consists of layer upon layer of paper, baked under pressure with some resin, until it's compressed into one solid piece. The product has been used for years in food-service operations because of its durability and resistance to bacteria. Lately the company has been entering the residential market as well. "Last year, we had two or three showrooms [carrying the product] in the entire Northwest," says Don Atkinson, sales and marketing director for Richlite (888-383-5533). "Now we have 15 to 20. Business has exploded." Barbie Bond of International Kitchens explains that the product costs less than granite, and that her customers often prefer it over Corian, a widely used acrylic stone alternative that she says "has a more plastic-y feel." Plus, she says, Richlite has a matte finish rather than glossy, "and there aren't a whole lot of matte materials out there."


Stainless is still a popular look, of course, especially in tight urban settings. But more weathered metals are making inroads at home. "Oil-rubbed bronze is the new thing" for sink basins, hardware, etc., according to Connie Mulligan of Best Plumbing. "Copper sinks are real popular, too. The rustic look, that's where people are going; it's replacing satin [brushed] nickel, which was strong for eight years." At the tony Belltown emporium Urban Ease (2512 Second Ave., 206-443-9546), Soren Bertelsen says his furniture is moving "back to veneers, natural warm colors." In one of his showroom kitchens, the "appliance garage" is housed behind an aluminum door—less frigid, but still sleek.


"Whether contemporary or traditional," people lately want something that's "not fussy looking," says Ivancich of Seattle Interiors. Her customers are opting for "simpler, cleaner designs." "Richness of material and simplicity of design—that's true modernism," adds Bertelsen. "People want comfort in their homes again." At InForm, manager Allison Mills says she's moving away from items "just in from Milan" to "more classic design pieces" in order to fit the conservative Seattle mood. Somewhat ruefully, she concedes, "People still stick with neutral colors. For the most part, everyone is in gray muted tones. They have fun with the color of a wall—you can always paint over. Or they take a chance on the powder room. But not with a $4,000-$5,000 sofa."


"People are wanting their appliances to disappear," claims Urban Ease's Bertelsen. "None of the kitchens we sell have visible dishwashers. The refrigerator doors are behind a panel." On the other hand, the kitchen sink—long a metaphor for what's extraneous and dispensable—is now taking center stage. Since it's often lodged these days on a highly visible architectural "island," the sink and its hardware are enlisted "to make more of a statement," says Ivancich of Seattle Interiors. Many people go for "the over-the-top commercial look," she explains, with big, swooping faucets and spouts that arc high overhead. Kohler's ProMaster K-6330, for instance (which lists for $968.30), extends 27 inches up into the air and has a hose that extends another 21/2 feet.


Inside the "Romance"-style model home at the Vine, Garret Cord Werner of Ledingham Design has installed a tan chaise that might have come out of Freud's study. "It's definitely more popular than a few years ago," he says of the style. "It's a nice way to add some interest, according to Brodhun of the Bon March鬠who says chaise couches work well in "great rooms" that are trying to be a living room and more informal family room in one. Werner has used just such a couch in the "Modern"-themed condo down the hall at the Vine. "When you open up part of the upholstery, it gives more flow," he says. The chaise end "is a little more social, you don't feel like you're trapped."


Seattle Interiors carries a new bathroom sink from Pollux with a rubbery basin made of stretched silicone. At International Kitchens, Bond has just started to carry "exotic veneers," such as "quartered zebrawood" and "quilted maple." "They'd be put on a flat panel, applied to plywood or particle wood for something unique. It's twice or three times as expensive. But we think they will be popular," she says. At InForm, Mills says customers are drawn to a wavy bathroom sink made out of birch. "At first people think, 'Wood and water . . . ?'" Her answer: "Well, boats."

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