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Around Town

Independent Bookstore Series: Peter Miller Books

Peter Miller Books

Peter Miller Books

From the words to the walls, Peter Miller Books is a complete design experience. The concrete walls are lined with energetically white, double-column bookcases. Their varying heights create a cityscape outline—a collection of literary skyscrapers. Neatly stacked books are displayed on steel tables: architecture, landscape, residential and commercial design, typography, graphics and more.

“My job is for it to be a wonderful center of design,” says proprietor Peter Miller. “I want anyone who comes in here to be cheered if they’re already in the design world and changed if they’re not.”

Peter Miller Books opened 35 years ago with his goal to make it, “a pointed bookstore, as pointed and focused as it can be.” The shop stocks over 5,000 books in addition to a smattering of supplies and products.

“Design is the mind always seeking to make itself greater, add more to itself, push further and to get somewhere,” says Miller. “Design is how you cure cancer, land on the moon and why Casablanca still breaks your heart.” 

The store was a First Avenue fixture for 25 years—it opened in the historic Terminal Sales Building, its third location, the same day Miller’s daughter was born. When skyrocketing rents forced a move in April 2013, Belltown architectural firm Suyama Peterson Deguchi offered space in their building four blocks away. The new, roughly 900-square-foot location is adjacent to the art gallery, Suyama Space, and visitors flow from one artistic haven to the other.

Evolution is the essence of both Peter Miller the person and bookstore. As a young man, Miller knew, “absolutely nothing,” about design. English literature was his undergraduate and graduate focus. While proficient in Shakespeare and 19th-century works, he came to realize he did not know how to “read” the lines of a building.

“I didn’t want to be the stupid guy in khakis who was missing all the exciting things around me involving graphics, clothing, visuals and industrial design,” says Miller.

A testament to his self-propelled aesthetics education, he was inducted as an Honorary Member of the American Institute of Architects Seattle in 1993 for his contributions to the community.

Bookstore titles range from oversized tomes about Frank Lloyd Wright to superstar Seattle architect Tom Kundig. Travel books encourage exploration, and typography celebrates diverse characters. From Scandinavian to Japanese design, there is something for everyone who’s ever wondered about the shapes, colors and structures of the world around them. There are even a few children’s titles for budding enthusiasts.

Miller currently mans the store counter every day. He is a role model for constructing a well-designed life. He wears a tie on weekdays since it’s “the only detail a man has for color.” The Internet radio station of choice is Tivoli Networks, and it’s tuned to either a blues station in Denmark or Paris, sometimes classical music from Stockholm. For years, he has sourced fresh ingredients from Pike Place Market and other local businesses to craft gorgeous lunches for himself and the staff.

“I don’t want to be a recollective bookstore,” says Miller. “I don’t want to just recollect back to cats and couches and library lamps.”

His life is framed by style, but Miller is far from elitist. He sometimes watches football games on the computer, peppers conversations with colorful phrases and is unfailingly warm when welcoming customers.

“This is such a lovely shop!” says a young woman from San Francisco, as she made her weekend purchases. “I had to come by before I leave. I go home tonight at 8 p.m.” The modish wall clock was already ticking near 6 p.m. as she dashed out the door to the airport. “See you next trip!” Miller says with a wave.

“I have the best customers in the world,” he says, repeating the sentiment four times. “I have customers who love books, who appreciate things like what a kitchen’s center island looks like.”

With that, he moved to close up shop and head home to cook dinner for his family. Design is not just the outward trappings, but a life well-lived with friends, family and customers from around the world.

Visit Peter Miller Books at 2326 Second Avenue or online at petermiller.com.

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