Any competent designer will attest that the skill of producing good work is to understand that which the ‘muddled’ client truly needs. An observation like this is particularly relevant as we set about a two week special, here in the Living section, observing two very different faces of interior design; ‘contemporary’ and ‘traditional’. Today, in the first of our tantalising two parter, we’re delving into the world of cutting edge modern design, a decorating arena with which we’re particularly comfortable. Next week we’ll be considering a more classic approach to high style and, while both subjects are different, each throws up endless possibilities to get the best from your nest. We hope you’ll enjoy our contemporary modern musings, but, if you’d prefer a more restrained journey into what’s hot and what’s not, next week’s story will position you comfortably on the dripping deluxe bullet train that’s heading your way. Hmm… option one, or option two; we can’t decide, it’s up to you.
So, as we were saying, today we’re a pair of modern marvels. Don’t sweat it, however, if you’re similarly inclined but unsure where to start; with a little forward planning you can achieve wonderful results. From our experience, many consumers who crave the modern look reckon their environments should be pared back like a spartan art gallery before cutting edge inclusions can be added…though in practise this isn’t the case. To be entirely honest creating spaces with only occasional items as punctuation is so not the way to go. Gone are the days when benign minimalism was considered de rigueur; today it’s perfectly acceptable to have a ‘fully stocked’ cosy modern abode. And for that we thank God; shouldn’t every home have comfort as its driving motivation?
The modern style high street, fortunately, has responded to this change in attitude and many acutely minimalist ‘makers’ now realise that cool product manufacture is one thing but serviceability and comfort are other matters altogether. When we compose our designs we always tackle function and comfort with equal gusto. We’re less inclined to specify statement pieces if they don’t properly serve the purpose for which they were designed. This in mind, we generally avoid classic ‘designer’ piece like Mies van der Rohe ‘Barcelona’ chairs or Corbusier’s Grand Confort sofas as they’re not quite as yielding, if truth be known, as they should be. Unless of course we’re tackling a commercial project - such as a dental waiting room or an office foyer - where standing on ceremony and sitting upright are more important that sinking into a yielding supportive nest.
Indeed when we envision a space we prefer to indulge our clients with as much comfort as possible. That’s why our sofas are generally hand built to specification by talented local upholsterers who can adjust back space, depth and filling to suit the requirements of each client. Consideration such as this takes design to the next level. This point raised, however, we’re modern kit fanatics and will happily pull from Toronto’s superb availability when specifying harder edged components such as case goods, lighting, tables and accessories. Okay, so there’s a wonderful shopping landscape in New York, Miami boasts some extra ordinarily good contemporary suppliers and Chicago has a retail sector that would make your eyes pop. But Toronto more than holds its own on the international design highway.
At the more affordable end of the Toronto market there’s a new kid on the block in the shape of Bo Concept, a European retail mecca that has existed across Europe for as long as we care to remember. With stores in Vancouver and Calgary already doing tremendous business the company logic is simple; affordable, of the moment furniture (much of it Scandinavian) with great build quality and manageable delivery times. In store last week, we admired the ‘Return Bench’; due to gravity defying structure, it’s a real eye catcher. Available in several finishes, the product’s wood veneer beam appears to hang in mid air, trapped as if floating between stainless steel wrap around legs. It really is rather lovely; designed as a side bench, pared back flexibility would make it equally at home positioned at the bottom of a bed or as a coffee table in a room with tighter proportions.
Further well priced modernist shopping can be found at Style Garage on Queen East where an imaginatively curated range is sure to please. Many items in the store’s inventory are rectilinear and ‘stretched‘ with credenzas and side tables, for the most part, built low and lean. Having grown, since opening, to also occupy the store next to their original Queen Street spot, the brand is now expanding even further and has just opened a branch in Vancouver. Veneered and solid wood furniture items typify the company look and, with a range that sits equally well in condo’s, lofts or suburban homes, we’d urge you to visit, whatever your geography.
As much as we admire the rectilinear shapes that typify Style Garage, we also enjoy some of their quirkier products such as the ’Chunk’ side table, a cute wee fellow that’s crafted from a solid 18” high hunk of Douglas Fir. Due to natural finish and organic leanings, ‘Chunk’ would be the perfect compliment to a glossy white credenza or perhaps positioned, one either side, next to a grey lined button tufted sofa. Design after all, is about ‘specification liberation’, or, in other words, being comfortable enough to become unbridled by the restraints of ‘matching’. Come on guys; let yourselves go a little; tossing into the mix an odd organic piece, along side a glass table, for example, or a glossy modular shelving system, will bring your project alive.
Up on Yonge at Summerhill, Hollace Cluny is another favourite C&J hang out. Setting out, as they do, to promote extraordinary modern home kit, they’re at the forefront of design and stock pretty much everything you’ll need to craft a modern aesthetic. As well as larger items they also carry lots of fun smaller pieces such as the new face of Spanish porcelain by Lladro. Forget the clichéd, stretched figurines more typically associated with the Latin brand; new wave Lladro includes immensely modernist whimsy like ‘Parrot Party’ an understated form that sees a tropical bird perched on a branch, an item that brings the company’s rich heritage into the 21st Century. We also love ‘Roll and Hill’, a bespoke lighting collection stocked by Hollace Clooney, which is made to order from the manufacturers studio in Brooklyn. We nearly wept when we saw Modo (designed by Jason Miller) a six sided spectacle of machined aluminium and glass and available in black, bronze, brass and copper. Only snag is it’s $7,500. Hey ho; we’ll start saving.
The grand daddy, however, of Toronto’s modernist shopping community is ‘Klaus’, a spectacular store on King Street. The high style emporium is owned and curated by the charismatic Klaus Nienkamper whose father, also Klaus, founded the Neinkamper furniture company, one of North America’s most respected contemporary sources. While many shops have modern inventory, few have more substantial connections to the design world than this eponymous resource. Walking into Klaus is like floating into design heaven. Spread across several levels, the modernist mecca expounds with the very best names in interior design. Names such as UK design aficionado Tom Dixon (who approaches home styling like fashion with seasonally proposed collections) are prominently positioned in the store and highlights include his ‘Beat’ lights, several of which hang above the dining table in our own condo. Splashes of Tom Dixon colour enliven the white painted gallery feel courtesy of the ‘Peg’ coat stand, a tripod based ‘totem pole’ designed to carry hats, coats and bags.
Stopping by with our Star photographer to capture the essence of Klaus, we lingered for a moment under the monolithic Ingo Maurer XXL Lamp. Like a massive upturned egg cup fashioned from fibre glass and aluminium (painted white with a jaunty red interior) you’ll need a gigantic room to accommodate this six feet wide state of the art illuminator. Standing below, posing for our snapper, our vocal emissions vibrated and hovered, trapped for a moment in the devastatingly beautiful form. If you’ve ever walked through the curvaceous twin walled ‘Tilted Spheres’ sculpture by Richard Serra at Pearson, you’ll be familiar with the type of ear tingling reverberation we experienced.
Another hugely respected brand that sits within Klaus is Moooi. Call by and you’ll see the by now iconic life sized ‘Horse’ lamp, an equestrian beauty that appears to have stopped, mid trot, to survey the landscape of interior fashion. Painted jet and awash with fairytale whimsy, it’s an item you’ll either love or hate; we, it has to be said, ride in the former saddle. If you’re similarly inclined, you might like to augment your menagerie collection by hunting down some associated items; the Moooi ‘Rabbit Lamp’, for example, or perhaps the ‘Pig Table’, are rather lovely. Okay, so you don’t want to go overboard on the zoo vibe, but why deny yourself a little fun?
You might imagine you’d feel intimidated in store but the environment in Klaus is actually one of the most welcoming in Toronto. Klaus, himself, is a veritable professor of high style and has an almost genius knowledge of contemporary furniture that he’ll happily impart should you stop by. When we visited we were looked after by Iona, an incredibly helpful team member who, dressed like an uber cool Sarah Jessica Parker in a synched in puff ball skirt, tailored blouse and designer glasses, ensured we were fully informed about every part of the store’s retail experience.
Whatever your brand leanings - and however high or low your budget - the Toronto retail sector has something to offer anyone who’s possessed of modernist predilections. Just like fashion, no-one wants to be a victim (or a slave to style) so, this in mind, remain aware of what’s happening and adjust and incorporate exciting ideas as, and when, they happen. Doing this will ensure your home moves with the times rather than being stuck in an arduous time vacuum. This, dear army of de rigueur style devotees, is the very essence of being a true modernist at home. Now go shopping!
Silva Upholstery -
Bo Concept -
Style Garage -
- ‘200 Tips for Modern Interior Design’ by Marta Serrats, published by Firefly Books.