Mercer Island Spotlight: Six Walls

Welcome to our first Mercer Island Spotlight featuring a local island business. Watch for this Spotlight on a monthly basis to learn a little more about the local businesses which contribute to the charm and uniqueness of the Mercer Island Community.

Nestled next to the Leasing Center and Resident Clubhouse of 77 Central Apartments is Six Walls’ flagship studio. Visitors entering the cozy storefront are treated to small vignettes of interior design examples, created with Six Walls’ retail goods. Almost directly across from the front door are Devine Color paint wheels, enticing one and all to come closer and investigate. And investigate is what the designers encourage visitors to do, with the help of an impressive array of samples right in the studio to touch, examine and coordinate to see how materials work together.

Dawn Wilkinson, Design Maven and owner of Six Walls, is warm and friendly. In fact, Wilkinson shines with excitement when she discusses design. She brought up their guiding principal at Six Walls several time during our discussion– specifically how their designers strive take the anxiety out of the design process. In fact, the company tag line, “Taking the Intimidation Out of Interior Design,” graces the front door. Creating a more approachable interior design process is the product of relationship development between the designers and their clients. Wilkinson shared that by offering short consultation services, like 1 hour color consults, they are able to earn people’s trust first through the happy completion of a smaller project. In turn, by “building relationships with people at a foundational level,” Wilkinson and her design team are able to nurture client relationships which results in return business for larger projects.

Why Mercer Island? When asked about their continued presence in the island’s downtown core, Wilkinson shared a story about a series of meetings she attended prior to opening Six Walls—these meetings were located at a Starbucks here on the island. The small town feel of Mercer Island, coupled with the convenient location between the more densely populated Seattle and Bellevue/Eastside communities, was appealing. Wilkinson noticed how island residents frequented island businesses and how everyone seemed to know each other. She thought these community attributes would help Six Walls grow, and her hunch was correct. Since opening their first studio in Tabit Village Square back in 2004, Six Walls has not only been a well-regarded presence in Downtown Mercer Island, they’ve built a service radius that stretches as far south as Palm Springs and as for east as Idaho.

When asked about classic design trends, Wilkinson brought up how people are seeking to define their living spaces more personally. Part of this trend is reflected in the growing popularity of repurposing furniture, whether it’s reupholstering that favorite, comfy chair bought during college to the resurfacing of a family heirloom piece to give it new life. One tool Six Walls uses for repurposing furniture are fabric samples which fill a ten foot wall in the studio. People can come into Six Walls to look at the samples, check out books and order memo samples before ordering fabric. Longevity is another classic design trend Wilkinson is seeing—with today’s economic conditions, people are navigating toward materials that wear well and will be durable for the long haul. Another local trend is to seek out locally sourced materials for design projects. She said clients do ask where materials for a remodel will come from and they discuss using items produced locally.

“A wise woman once told me there is no taupe in the rainbow,” Wilkinson shared when asked about neutrals. That wise woman was the founder of Devine Color, Gretchen Schauffler. Devine Color is the paint line Six Walls carries. Because each color, even neutrals like white, beige, taupe and gray, possess undertones that are part of the rainbow, she brought my question back to her company’s goal to build relationships. To pick out the right color, even neutrals, the designer needs to see the space, examine the light—both natural and from lighting—and honor the client’s personal taste, before suggesting the best neutrals for a room. An interesting side note: Devine Color has the only handmade artist’s palette in the paint industry. Devine Color paint cards—which are really paint on specialty paper, not a digital representation of the paint—and ¼ cup paint pouches for painting a small swatch on a wall are both available for purchase at Six Walls. These tools helps clients see what the color will really look like in their space before committing to it on the wall.

Another tool in their healthy tool box at Six Walls are the two computer programs their designers use when building a design project. The first program, mainly used with their clients, is called Sketch-Up. It allows the designer to add material appearances to a 3-D room design, to scale, so clients can see how the project will finish out before spending money on materials. Wilkinson discussed how helpful Sketch-Up is in walking their clients through how a room will look dimensionally, and how the material textures and colors will play off of each other. Also, the popularity of channels like HGTV may set someone up for an unrealistic expectation of the remodel process, because only the before, after and carefully chosen highlights are shown during 30 minute time slots. The designers use Sketch-Up in conjunction with books they have on hand to demonstrate to their clients the not-so-pretty moments during a remodel, and prepare them for the reality of the mess and disruption which are part of creating their stunning final project. CAD is the second computer program used at Six Walls, for communicating design ideas with architects and other contractors. These tools help build trust and give their clients confidence that the finished job will look and feel how it was intended to.

Because so many people embrace the DIY culture, the interview wouldn’t be complete without asking about some easy, low-cost tips for making over a room. Wilkinson replied without missing a beat– she described tweaking furniture placement in a room, or even moving a piece from one room to another, can evoke a more positive feeling in a room and give it renewed energy. She also mentioned freshening up a home’s entry. By adding a new, fun welcome mat and painting the front door, the home receives a quick facelift that gives so much for a small outlay of money. Add in some new pots filled with vibrant flowers, and you’re revitalizing your entry way! Wilkinson describes this spring’s hot colors like this: “Especially here in the Northwest, those brilliant punches of color are just like that Vitamin D shot in the arm we need.”

Where can you connect with Six Walls, besides their flagship studio on 77th Ave SE? They have a Facebook page and a Twitter feed, where they announce upcoming events, share news and design information. They have one project that is part of the NKBA Great Kitchen and Bath Tour May 19th and 20th; in fact, Wilkinson and Six Walls designer Emily Doden are co-chairs of the show this year. Every fall, they pair up with a Mercer Island based clothing line rep. for a fashion show event. Definitely check out their Facebook page, and visit it often for the latest scoop.

Wilkinson mentioned that this spring people are definitely less afraid of color. Six Walls has several of those “brilliant punches of color,” sprinkled throughout their retail space. And currently Six Walls is hosting a clearance sale, along with 40% off in-store merchandise, until April 26th. Stop by, take a look—maybe an accent piece in one of spring’s hot colors, or something metallic, will catch your eye. They are making room because, as designers, they are always tweaking things and are getting ready to remodel their flagship studio. Everyone at Six Walls is eager to unveil the new, redesigned space to you. Stay tuned for details!

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Mercer Island Spotlight: Auto Spa

Back in the early 1990s, Suzanne Skone was working as an engineer.  In her workplace, there was a lot of discussion surrounding water quality and how pollutants affect local fish populations.  She was also a Mercer Island resident, and owned a piece of property on the corner of 80th Ave SE and SE 28th St.  Skone wanted to utilize the land to bring a business to the island that would be of value to city residents, plus would benefit the Lake Washington environment. In 1995 she did just that, debuting Auto Spa in the island’s downtown neighborhood.

Something as simple as driving around with a dirty car can leach toxic road grime, oil residue and other harmful chemicals into local streams and lakes when it rains.  Also, when people wash their cars at home, even with products that are supposed to be better for the environment, the soaps flowing into the storm drains can cause problems with the gills of the local fish. “The smallest amounts of soap, even those labeled biodegradable and low phosphate, are toxic to fish, damaging their gills…” Skone explained.  The soap clings to the gills and decreases the amount of oxygen the fish can absorb—this leaves them vulnerable to bacteria and parasites, as well.

When drivers bring their cars to Auto Spa, they are keeping all the grime, and all the soap, out of Lake Washington.  All the water used in Auto Spa’s self-serve area, automatic car wash and detail shop goes through a process where the greasy pollutants and heavy sediment are filtered out and collected in a tank, which is emptied on a regular basis. Skone said the road grime collected in the oil/water separator tank is a quite the gooey, greasy sludge!  The water then flows into the sanitary sewer system (of which the city has 500,000+ lineal feet of pipe around the island!), to one of the 18 sewage pumping stations on the island, and then carried off-island by series of pipes and treated at a sewage treatment plant.  In addition to preventing pollutants from entering local waterways, using the facilities at a professional car wash, like Auto Spa, conserves water in comparison to washing a car at home.

For the convenience of their clientele, Auto Spa offers a whole menu of services.  The self-serve car wash and vacuum bays are available to use 24/7. They are coin operated systems, and various detailing products are available from coin machines in the self-service area. The automated car wash, Auto Spa’s most popular service, is available from 8 am to 6 pm 7 days a week. If a client would like professional detailing, they can select specific treatments from Auto Spa’s a la carte menu, or get a free estimate for what they need done.  Need that latte spill cleaned from your carpet and upholstery?  Auto Spa can help—they also provide a variety of removal services.

Sense of community is very important to Skone, and the employees at Auto Spa.  For years, island sports teams and school clubs have been welcome to host fund-raisers at Auto Spa, with all proceeds from the car washes benefitting the organization.  Skone said Auto Spa typically has 1 fund-raiser on their calendar each month. Skone is an active business owner in the Mercer Island downtown core; she loves to encourage people to shop locally.  She worked with the group that coordinated the Island coupon book that was available during the 2011 Mercer Island Farmers Market season.  To help support the “shop local” initiative, plus promote environmentally friendly gift giving, Auto Spa has gift cards available for purchase. The gift cards can be used for either detail services or the automatic car wash, and they can be loaded with any dollar amount.

When asked what Auto Spa clientele liked most about their services, Skone replied, “ 9.99 out of 10 times, clients say they love how they are treated by the employees.”  Auto Spa staff has experienced low turnover over the years, which means long-standing customer relationships have been established.  The staff learns (and remembers!) the preferences of their clients, and takes pride in making their customers happy.  Skone said that the two most important reasons why Auto Spa customers keep coming back are, “the professional staff and sense of community.”

Where else can you connect with Auto Spa, besides their downtown Mercer Island location? They have a Facebook Page and a website; if you’d like to review them, they have a Yelp business profile and a business page on the Mercer Island Patch.   Plus, two Mercer Island organizations already have fund-raisers scheduled at Auto Spa this summer.  On July 22nd, from 9 am to noon, the MIHS JV Cheer Squad will be holding a car wash; on August 22nd, the MIHS Drill Team will be hosting a car wash 9 am to noon.

When asked what kind of trends she’s seeing in the auto detailing business, Skone replied that  protecting the longevity of a vehicle and preserving its resale value is really important to people.  By making the point to offer an a la carte menu of services, as well as providing estimates for larger detail jobs, Auto Spa is responding to this trend.  Clients can get the specific services they need to help their vehicles stay in top condition, whether it’s their Sunday driver or daily commuter. Take minute to drop by Auto Spa, to see their amenities and look at their menu– they would love to meet you!

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Mercer Island Spotlight: Island Books

A long-standing member of the Mercer Island business community, Island Books’ own story possesses the magical elements that create an urban legend.  Lola Dean, who originally established the store, was an island resident back in 1973.  She was a nurse, married to a Mercer Island pediatrician, who saw a need for a place where reading was supported and celebrated – and which did not involve leaving the island.  Dean, a woman who could take an idea and run with it, decided in September of ’73 to establish a local book store. On November 1st of the same year, Island Books opened its door. The shelves, which are still used in the store today, were built by Dean’s pediatrician husband; his examination table now sits behind the cash register for staff to wrap gifts on.  From time to time, Roger Page, current owner of Island Books, reminds long-time residents they probably once sat on that very table as children!

While Dean was a mover and motivator, she was also always ready for a new challenge. Rumor has it, when she was ready to tackle her next project 3 years later, Dean gathered 3 friends of similar age and life circumstances — Elinor MacDonald, Fam Bayless and Margory Wilkens—  and took them for a boat ride around the island.  At the end of the lake tour, Dean made the announcement that they were going to purchase her book store.  Page is not clear how much of the story is embellished—he figures it contains both truth and touches of fancy.  When he started working at Island Books, MacDonald, Bayless and Wilkens owned the store and daily operations were carried out through the enlisted help of 15 other island women.  Page’s own story adds to the Island Books mythos—he had been a teacher for approximately 10 years back in 1983.  Deciding that he needed a break from teaching, Page elected to take a year to try some other employment opportunities.  An avid book hunter, Page thought a turn in a book store would be just the thing for him to experience—however he could not find a store in Seattle which was hiring.  Acting upon a tip he’d heard, Page called up Island Books and the ladies hired him on as the gift wrapper for the 1983 Christmas season.  He stayed on after Christmas and attended a 2 week book selling school offered by the American Booksellers Association during the winter of ’84. Due to the fact he was at the store so often, Page was made a store manager soon after.  In 1991, Page and his wife, Nancy, wanted to start a family.  He approached the ladies of Island Books about a more substantial position at the store. Instead, they offered to sell him the whole operation.  As Page spun the tale of Island Books’ rich history, the integral elements of roots, relationships and community became inherently clear.

Those elements are as important to today’s Island Books as they have been during the developmental years of the business.  For instance, the store has an enduring relationship with local book clubs. They offer members a 10% discount when purchasing their most recent titles, and store staff have been invited to speak at various clubs. Nine of the island book clubs’ current reading selections are displayed on Island Books’ website. However, the number of groups they service is closer to 30-40, located both on and off Mercer Island.  Island Books’ Open Book Club, the only one they officially sponsor, was established back in 1996 to accommodate locals who are looking to join a club. It’s a great way for new residents to meet people.  Throughout its tenure, like-minded participants of Open Book Club have split off, forming their own groups.  The longstanding Poetry Potluck is a group Island Books has sponsored for many years.  While they are not currently accepting members, the monthly group gathers to nosh and share the varied poetry they so love.  In addition, there are many informal ways locals connect through Island Books.  Parents bring their children to play in the same store play house they enjoyed as youngsters.  Nancy Stewart, a Seattle area singer, has performed at pj story time for 30 years.  Lola Dean herself still travels to Mercer Island to attend a book club which has been meeting here for decades.

As a by-product of his 30 years at the store, Page has witnessed the cyclic growth and waning of the island business community. He noted that in 2012 there is less variety in the types of businesses located in the Downtown neighborhood than in years past.  “Part of what’s happened with that is we have diversified,” Page replied when asked how changes in the Downtown core have affected Island Books’ business practices. The store has morphed from being just a book store into being more of a mercantile—they now offer a variety of products which are no longer readily available at other island businesses.   The advent of online shopping is another change Island Books has adapted to.  They offer online shopping options in addition to their brick and mortar storefront.  While convenient, online shopping may not replace the need we have, at times, to interact with others. “Sometimes people want to touch things, sometimes people want to connect… sometimes people want to shop with their kids… there is something about who we are in the Pacific Northwest, and as humans— people want a place to do their shopping,” Page opined. When asked for suggestions on how to increase the diversity and vitality of Mercer Island’s Downtown, Page brought up the renaissance of two Seattle neighborhoods which sprang from the long-term ideas of a local visionary.  In Ballard, it was Kenny Alhadeff, and his Majestic Bay Theatre, which gave steam to the revitalization there.  In South Lake Union, Paul Allen’s perceptions developed into a neighborhood plan that not only shaped the neighborhood itself but influenced Seattle’s future.  Page suggested that Mercer Island’s Downtown could also benefit from a long-term vision, and that it might reduce the “log-jam” of similar businesses which are clustered in the Downtown core.

Within the last eight years, Page’s wife, Nancy, transitioned from owning and managing her own business to partnering with him at Island Books.  She’s helped manage the helm of the store during this time of rapid change. She works with Page to maintain the relationship-based, community-hub atmosphere it has matured into.  Nancy was excited to share a lovely gift a patron hid, back in March, on top of a book self in the store.  It’s a sculpture of their logo meticulously created from the pages of a Shakespeare play, poised on a pedestal built from copies of Jane Eyre and Robinson Crusoe.  The attached note refers to an anonymous artist gifting Scottish libraries with similarly created sculptures—a neat story covered in the Store Journal 4 months ago.  More importantly, the note shared the sincere feelings of the local, unnamed artist, regarding Island Books. Through the charm of local mythos, procuring long-term staff who establish relationships with their clientele, and being involved in the community, Island Books has grown into a place where people enjoy spending time with friends and family, or just by themselves, whiling away an hour or two.  It’s so fitting that their tag line throughout the last 4 decades has often been the Shakespeare quote, “I like this place and could willingly waste my time in it.”

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