Blu Dot replaces Area 51 in the Colman Automotive Building at 401 E. Pine St.
Blu Dot replaces Area 51 in the Colman Automotive Building at 401 E. Pine St.
<
2
3
4
>

Blu Dot began making its mark in Seattle with this week’s opening of its Capitol Hill home furnishings store in the historic Colman Automotive Building.

“It’s actually our 11th store, but it’s our first one in Seattle,” said Maurice Blanks, cofounder and COO of the Minneapolis-based company. “We did have a retailer, Area 51, which used to be actually in the same space.”

Area 51 — also a home furniture store — had operated in the 401 E. Pine St. space since 1999, but closed prior to owner Hunter Capital’s seismic renovation of the 1916 Auto Row building in 2017.

“It just seemed like it had the eclectic mix of everything going on there — the vibe,” Blanks said of the 5,800-square-foot Capitol Hill space.

Blanks and cofounder and fellow architect John Christakos started Blu Dot in 1997 with their sculptor friend Charlie Lazor in Minneapolis, where they designed all of the original collection of furniture they sold. Blu Dot now has a dedicated design team focused on the bevy of furniture products available at its brick-and-mortar stores and online.

“Design is what we’re all about, but it’s a long gestation period for furniture,” Blanks said when asked if any new products had been crafted for Blu Dot’s first Pacific Northwest location. “It’s hard for us to time it to a specific market.”

However, each store is custom designed for the market, with the Capitol Hill location bearing a 60-foot collage that blends photos from the neighborhood with pop culture and Blu Dot’s design process.

Blanks said Blu Dots are designed to be “clean and crisp and modern,” but the design team didn’t want to exclude the “eclectic” nature of Capitol Hill.

“We didn’t want to be out of step with that,” he said. “We didn’t want to be this little space ship that landed there.”

Standard Architecture took on designing the Capitol Hill space, having partnered with Blu Dot before on its Los Angeles location and NoMad showroom on Madison Avenue in New York.

Customers can explore the Capitol Hill showroom solo, or seek assistance from store associates, most coming from interior design backgrounds, Blanks said. Nothing gets sold off the floor, and everything comes from Blu Dot’s Minnesota warehouse, with purchases typically getting shipped within 24 hours, he said.

Blu Dot does try to adjust to customer and employee feedback, Blanks said, in an attempt to provide products that better fit certain markets. The store manager and associates in LA said customers found products “too wintry,” and wanted lighter colors and fabrics. That feedback was used to make adjustments in time for the San Francisco store’s opening, Blanks said.

While some markets like New York warrant more than one location, Blanks said furniture stores don’t tend to “overpopulate a city,” and the success of the Capitol Hill location could dictate whether additional Seattle Blu Dots are in the future.