Nestled into Seattle’s Pioneer Square is a one-of-a-kind design bookstore, Peter Miller Books. Covering everything from interiors and architecture to design theory, the shop caters to a Northwestern sensibility, but popular books from around the globe line the walls. Filled with thought-provoking and esoteric reads, this is not your average interior design selection. Business of Home chatted with owner Peter Miller about which titles inspire him and his customers.
What kinds of design books are popular in Seattle?
There’s a series from a wonderful publisher, Living Architecture, called Scandinavian Modern Houses. Scandinavia is literally the DNA of the Northwest. It’s in the trees, in the fish and in the people that came here. The area has a feel of Sweden and Stockholm. We’ve carried [the series] for 20 years and it’s still as successful as ever.
There’s also a beautiful book called Tippet Rise Art Center, which features a new sculpture park and concert venue that opened in Fishtail, Montana (the Vermont of the Northwest). None of us had heard of the space before, but everyone who looks at the photos is thrilled.
What new titles have you brought in recently that have been popular?
One is The M.V.M. Cappellin Glassworks and the Young Carlo Scarpa. The famous Italian architect was hired by Paolo Venini himself to tutor his children. [Scarpa] was so fascinated by the hand-blowing of glass, and by the work of Venini’s factory, that Scarpa did some of his work in the factory. Scarpa is one of the great heroes of Western architecture, but people have never seen his glassworks. Also, the book is so handsome.
Another best-seller is also about Scarpa, Carlo Scarpa and Castelvecchio Revisited. It comes from a Scottish architect named Richard Murphy, who has republished it himself. He ships to us from Scotland, in a beautiful box. I think it's probably our best-seller at the moment, a wonderful book.
What’s something unique about your shop?
We have a section of theory books that’s set aside from the others with its own bookshelf. One is from Princeton University Press, a little book called On Beauty and Being Just, by Elaine Scarry. A lovely little book about beauty, a summer read. Another one in that section that I think everyone should read is In Praise of Shadows, by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki. If you said, ‘Name the 10 most important design books in the store,’ that would be [on the list]. One of the best architects in the Northwest, Jim Olson, has an office down the street. He gives a copy of In Praise of Shadows to every new client.
Do you ever do readings at the store?
We do probably eight to 10 to a dozen readings a year. We’ll have the guest talk for 25 minutes, and we’re always careful to have good wine or, in the summer, good rosé. We did a wonderful reading last month for Gordon Walker’s new book, A Poetic Architecture, and I think we sold 150 or 200 copies.
Is there a perennial customer-favorite design book?
Peter Zumthor’s Thinking Architecture. Customers love that book and it’s an important book. Or, Kenya Hara’s Designing Design. A book that, the moment it came out, was a classic.
Why do you think people continue to buy design books in person?
I think they’re drawn to how a store looks. I’m very lucky, I’ve had wonderful designers and architects help me design the space.
It’s not easy to do, but it’s important. Sometimes we’ll have someone new working here and I’ll say, You have to understand that people pay enormous attention, even if they’re not conscious of it, to how the display looks. They react well if the display has some intelligence and intent to it, and they blur over if it doesn’t.