An unexpected visual arts gallery resides on the south side of Bank Street in downtown Burlington: Left Bank Home & Garden, a storefront owned by artist and interior designer Trice Stratmann. Two-dimensional works by Vermont artists adorn the walls, and the shop is stocked with furniture and artisan décor items whose distinctive shapes, colors and textures elevate them to the realm of functional art. It's also a gallery in a third sense: Left Bank displays the fruits of an interior designer's decades of immersion in visual arts.
Stratmann, now 54, has been an oil painter, a marble sculptor and a designer. Her store, she says, "is a total combination of everything I love." She scours antiques markets and trade shows for one-of-a-kind furniture, from vintage to contemporary. She also stocks homewares from artisanal lines and handmade craft items she found online or picked up during her travels.
During a recent visit, Stratmann shows off a floor-to-ceiling pole lamp; an antique leather chest from Mali; a sumptuously soft, double-woven throw from Scotland; a "sculptural" leather chair with distressed cowhide; and a contemporary red rug that adds pop to a corner heavy on brass and weathered wood.
"What I've tried to do in here is bring together a collection of old things and new things, all of which have something really lovely about them," Stratmann explains. "Shape-wise, texture-wise and color-wise. And the idea of juxtaposing something that's really contemporary with something that's antique is what I look to."
Stratmann describes her preferences as "eclectic," though she allows there's a definite aesthetic at Left Bank. It might be best described as "sophisticated comfort."
"Comfort is a major thing," Stratmann says. "I like things that have a familiar quality to them. Things that have texture, that are warm, that have some history to them, or else are handcrafted."
Also on display at Left Bank are exhibits that Stratmann curates, generally spotlighting paintings by Vermont artists she admires. At the moment, that's a selection of Vergennes painter Denis Versweyveld's soft still lifes in oil.
"I'm pretty picky about what I like," Stratmann admits, copping to a particular love for "landscapes with a lot of emotion in them." That would describe the upcoming show of paintings by Burlington artist Julie Davis. But Stratmann has also exhibited the pastel abstractions of Charlotte artist James Vogler.
"Having these artists has just been so great," she adds, "because I get to meet them and hang out with them at the openings. It's always so great to learn about their process and their technique, where they've been and that kind of stuff."
Stratmann's interest in an artist's techniques is personal as well as professional: She's been painting for about two decades herself. Her initial medium, however, was marble; as a student at the University of Vermont, she studied with the legendary sculpture professor Paul Aschenbach.
"I was totally consumed with it," Stratmann remembers. "I had several shows, and it was really fun. I got to meet lots of people and just really enjoyed the medium a lot."
Stratmann discovered her love of art and working with her hands early. Her father was a Navy man who moved his family around the globe; his hobby was woodworking, and he taught his daughter to restore wood furniture when she was still a kid. She developed a love for fabrics through her own hobby: sewing.
Stratmann remembers the family's stint in Japan as an early influence on her aesthetic. "[Japan had] that simplicity of form, the function, the handmade, tactile quality — really thinking of something as functional, but then figuring out how to make that function beautiful at the same time," she recalls.
After graduating from UVM in 1981, Stratmann stayed in Burlington to waitress while continuing to show her sculptures in the area. She met her husband, Frank von Turkovich, while waitressing at Déjà Vu Café. He was the bartender's roommate; the rest, Stratmann says, was history.
Once she was married and had two daughters, Stratmann put marble sculpture on the back burner. "It takes a long time to accomplish anything with the medium," she notes. She switched to two-dimensional art to satisfy her creative impulses — first with pastel, then watercolor and finally oil. Stratmann began showing her paintings in Burlington in the late '90s. In 2000, she was offered work in another arena: interior design.
Stratmann had worked for a design firm in Portland, Maine, during her husband's years in law school. Upon the family's return to Burlington, she found that one of her new neighbors was Kim Deetjen, a head designer at architecture firm TruexCullins. Stratmann went to work for Deetjen as an interior design assistant, and spent her days resourcing furniture, fabrics, carpeting and lighting for clients. She calls Deetjen a "great mentor."
"The whole firm was just this wonderful group of really creative people," Stratmann says.
When her kids reached high school, Stratmann took a second hiatus from working, but couldn't stay out of the interior design world for long. Birdseye Building Company in Richmond tapped her to launch an interior design studio under its umbrella. The firm already had a building team, a wood shop, and a metal and glass shop; adding an in-house design shop was a natural step.
"[Birdseye] was just really cool, because there are all these things that go into making a beautiful home," Stratmann says. Though she loved the creative energy of working for those companies, she recalls, she eventually realized that scouring markets for her clients had awakened a new dream: to open her own shop.
"I wanted to bring something to town that sort of combined the arts, furniture and fabrics and sort of put it all together," she says. "And I knew that having my interior design services, I could combine all that for people who needed it."
Her dream became a reality when her husband purchased a building in downtown Burlington with retail space on the ground floor. Stratmann opened Left Bank there in 2011. Her daughter, Julienne von Turkovich, graduated from Syracuse University with a BFA in interior design and joined her mom temporarily at the store. From the outset, Left Bank was an artist's space as well as a retail base — Stratmann began showing her own oil paintings there, and soon invited other artists in.
For many painters, Stratmann notes, it can be beneficial to show work in a home store. At Left Bank, paintings hang above sofas or beside lamps instead of on the usual stark gallery walls; that arrangement can contextualize the art for potential buyers.
"It allows people to get a little education about what looks good and how to place things, so it takes their inhibition away from perhaps not buying something," Stratmann explains.
Stratmann characterizes her client base as 35 years old and up. "It's been a lot of people whose children have finally left college, so they can afford to work on the house," she says. "Their pets have passed away; they don't have toddlers running around the house. It's basically empty nesters who are finally ready to make their space really beautiful."
Stratmann offers interior design services by the hour, and says her biggest tip to clients is often to pare down. "We don't need to have a lot," she advises. "Less is more. Just make sure the pieces you have are something that you love every day."