Memories and collectibles fill the library and basement toy land of a Seattle couple who found the perfect carpenter to collaborate with, resulting in magical rooms for kids and adults alike.
Steve Flume had only recently turned to full-time carpentry when he walked through the door of Bob Bailey and Helen Hall’s Seattle home. And stepped into the job of a lifetime.
The couple have kept Flume busy ever since, transforming a little-used music room into a fantasy of an English library, and the basement into a magical mystery tour of toys.
Bailey, a retired Pan Am flight attendant, has been collecting toy soldiers since the early 1980s, when he began frequenting London auctions. Hall started collecting old toys more recently, mostly clowns and ventriloquist’s dolls. Flume had just quit his own flight-attendant job to concentrate on building his new business.
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Inspired collaboration ensued, nostalgists Hall and Bailey teaming up with the handy and ingenious Flume to form a trio of merry pranksters intent on displaying treasures as well as memories.
But it all started with the library, set in motion by a photo Hall had torn out of Architectural Digest. Now French doors lead off the home’s entry hall into a book-lined library so rich in classical cabinetry you half expect to see Sherlock Holmes sitting in one of the antique green-velvet chairs, contemplating forensics in the soft light filtering through the paisley-printed draperies. Instead, the books on the shelves have titles like “The Birth of a Toy” and “History of American Toys.” The only modern touch is the Weyerhaeuser-developed, sustainable Lyptus-wood cabinetry. Its caramel-like luster glows as richly as the endangered Honduran mahogany it emulates.
To descend the basement stairs is to enter fully into the enchanted atmosphere of Hall and Bailey’s personal histories. There are walk-in-sized dioramas of the butcher shop that belonged to Hall’s father in Mount Vernon, and the Olympia pharmacy Bailey’s father ran for 50 years. There’s a bank vault and candy-colored Victorian shop fronts. Beyond the cobbled main street, lighted shelves and cabinets hold myriad toys, many of which wind up, twirl around and make music. Row upon row of tiny uniformed soldiers march through the cases lining the walls, including figures from the Nazi hierarchy crafted for propaganda during the war. “You never get lonesome around here,” concludes Bailey, pointing past the 7,000-plus rank-and-file soldiers to the puppets, airplanes, cars, ferris wheels and merry-go-rounds.
There’s even a rarest-of-the-rare exploding trench toy from World War I and a framed letter from Robert E. Lee to his daughter, dated 1861.
The kaleidoscopic effect of so many toys makes you feel both old and young, for you can’t help but respond like a kid to all the little faces, costumes and whirling, twirling parts. And yet, what a reminder of age to realize the very same toys that delighted us as kids, like Fort Apache and Howdy Doody, are now collectibles if not antiques.
It took Flume a year to design and build the library, and he’s spent another year-and-a-half on the toy-studded basement. Which isn’t long when you consider Flume and friends were making it up as they went along, for there’s no template for such custom creativity. “I don’t think I’ll ever find another job like this one,” says Flume. “It’s been like working for Walt Disney.”
Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of “A Pattern Garden.” Her e-mail address is email@example.com. Mike Siegel is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff photographer.