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Monday, March 20, 2006 - Page updated at 01:01 PM

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Capitol Hill artists find the right angle

When Leif Holland and Brian McGuffey needed display tables for their Capitol Hill art gallery and home store, Square Room, they wanted a distinct look they couldn't find anywhere.

Slabs of salvaged wood provided an environmentally friendly answer. They sanded and finished the pieces, then added legs.

"It was the look of the store, these raw slices of wood we were using for tables," McGuffey said.

People have been trying to buy them ever since.

But Holland, 42, and McGuffey, 38, are not furniture makers — at least not yet.

Square Room was born from their roots in art. McGuffey, an oil and acrylic painter, and Holland, a sculptor, wanted a place to display their nature-themed work. At that time, the couple found a small Seward Park space that was 15 feet by 15 feet, called it Square Room and opened it in 2003.

The self-taught artists attracted others who wanted to show their work. Eventually, they wanted more foot traffic and exposure. They moved in February 2004 to their current, larger location on Pike Street on Capitol Hill and expanded to furniture and home accessories.

Square Room

1316 E. Pike St., Seattle,

206-267-7120,

www.squareroom.us

Hours: 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and noon-4 p.m. Sunday.

Now, they carry industrial furniture, like Emeco's minimalist aluminum rocking chair by designer Philippe Starck ($600) and a heavy-duty hole-punch coffee table ($900) with a glass top inspired by aircraft engineering.

Natural with a twist

Their edgy sensibility is based on a combination of metal pieces with natural items like giant conches or an elegant red dogwood lamp with branches that spray skyward like grass.

"Our aesthetic is to try to be nature based," McGuffey said. "I like the combination of steel with wood. It's my aesthetic and Leif's aesthetic."

They are particular about the furniture they carry, limiting their stock to originals.

"It's high end, but we'd rather have original pieces," McGuffey said. "So many stores have knockoffs."

Both men are in second careers focusing on art and furniture. McGuffey, who is from Alabama and came to Seattle more than a decade ago, worked as a window display designer before turning to art full time in 1999. Holland, who was raised here, spent years as a chef and taught at the Art Institute of Seattle before committing himself full time to sculpture.

Through the store, they can tend to their respective interests.

McGuffey loves the artistry of jewelry making and he cultivates the designers they carry, including innovative local and national artists. Holland, whose passion lies in natural objects, picks the pods and shells carried in the store.

Eco-friendly goods

Everything in Square Room works in concert with the theme of nature and industry. You'll find a wide range of art reflecting that philosophy, such as a metal sculpture of a woman's bodice that stands out against McGuffey's raven paintings and Holland's birch branches in shadow boxes.

Holland and McGuffey also carry a natural, plant-based laundry and bath line under the name "Square Room" produced by a Rhode Island company. They wanted something that worked with the nature-based concept of the store, and the line now includes detergent, fabric softener, furniture wax and bath products.

"It's kind to your skin and it's kind to the environment," Holland said.

For those who like to wear art, the shop carries jewelry by innovative local and national artists including Laurice Curran, Gabriela Artigas and Regina Chang.

Even with the expansion, they work regularly on their art in the store's back studio. Holland also is considering a foray into designing and building more furniture, such as side tables. But like the original display tables, some of which they plan to sell, don't expect perfectly finished wood pieces.

"I don't want anybody to think they're going to be refined pieces of furniture," he said. "They're going to be rough, have live edges with bark attached to the edges. They're going to have a very rustic, simple feel to them."

Nicole Tsong: 206-464-2150 or ntsong@seattletimes.com

The Craft, an occasional feature in digs, profiles an artisan or craftsperson in the Puget Sound area. Send us ideas at homegarden@seattletimes.com.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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