Best of the City 2011: Our picks for the coolest home decor and other goods
1160 Queen St. W., 416-533-6362
The Solair chair is a lucky beneficiary of Toronto’s fascination with all things retro. Originally designed in Montreal by Fabio Fabiano and Michelange Panzini, it was a product of Quebec’s Expo 67 triumphalism and went on to populate motel patios up and down the Eastern Seaboard in the ’70s before going out of fashion. Two years ago, Queen West furniture store INabstracto staged a resurrection, and now you’ll find Solairs sitting ironically on Parkdale porches. Bruce Mau recently bought 10. Their bright colours and inviting dimple seat make it easy to see why they have a permanent spot in the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal, and why a few more around town wouldn’t be a bad thing. $129.
119 Church St., 416-941-0579
Everyone has a sanctimonious friend who only shoots pictures on film with her dad’s Pentax—because, she claims, the image quality is better. This is bullshit. The current crop of digital cameras take phenomenally good pictures. What they lack is character. Enter the Fujifilm Fine Pix X100. Designed to look like that old Pentax, the X100 features solid metal construction with a grippy plastic shell. More importantly, the aperture can be adjusted directly on the lens mount, which means no more fumbling with buttons on the back. $1,200.
Lee Valley Tools
590 King St. W., 416-366-5959 (plus two other locations)
Nothing about the urban woodsman trend is functional: toques and work boots in the summer, clanking keys on belt loops, plaid. But that doesn’t mean devotees shouldn’t be ready to chop some wood (they’re probably already wearing regulation-size safety glasses). For the loft-living lumberjack, there’s the Gränsfors Bruks axe, Lee Valley Tools’ finest specimen for wood chopping, splitting and carving and recreational hatchet throwing. Handmade in Sweden out of steel and oiled hickory, Gränsfors axes are perfectly balanced and ready for anything—whether that’s hanging over the fireplace, perching gracefully beside a box of President’s Choice pre-wrapped fire logs, or, you know, actually being used. Plus, each Gränsfors axe comes with a 20-year guarantee. It’s a tough world out there, and one can never be too prepared. From $111.
Reclaimed Wood Furniture
225 Sterling Rd., 416-910-5892
It’s a rare coffee shop west of Spadina that doesn’t have a reclaimed wood counter, and mostly, that’s a good thing. Salvaged wood slabs and stumps add an outdoorsy charm (see Axe, above). But not all reclaimed wood furniture must look like it’s been plucked from a summer-camp fire pit. The Brothers Dressler (designing twins Jason and Lars) use reclaimed wood to create furniture that actually looks like furniture. Their Onedge rocking chair ($1,700) is graceful and minimalist, while the Back to the Drafting Board chaise longue ($3,800), with its arched base and sculpted bed, expertly channels Le Corbusier. The real genius, though, is their lighting line, which features sprawling branch chandeliers (from $2,200); rather than looking like a part of a fallen tree, they stylistically evoke the shape of the tree itself.
Queen West Antique Centre
1605 Queen St. W., 416-588-2212
Parkdale’s Queen West Antique Centre is filled to the rafters with vintage designer tables and chairs—Eames, Nelson, Bertoia, Saarinen—that are conversation pieces in and of themselves. But peer deeper into the nooks and crannies of this cavernous space and you’ll find a bonanza of campy goodies, sourced from sales and dealers across North America: novelty oversized kitchen utensils, architect’s models, doctor’s office representations of naughty parts of the anatomy, and old family photographs ($1 each). For some borrowed approbation, entire bookcases are stocked with vintage trophies for women’s bowling championships and obscure golf tournaments (from $33).
163 Roncesvalles Ave., 416-537-3700
When Sara Jameson ditched her marketing job to open her Roncesvalles landscaping business in 2009, she was instantly inundated with clients, drawn by her commitment to power tool–free garden maintenance. That success has followed her to Sweetpea’s, her new Roncey flower shop, which opened last September and brings with it the same eco-friendly attitude that made her landscaping company a hit. She still spends much of her time in muddy steel-toe boots building clients’ gardens by hand, leaving the shop to two full-time florists. Jameson’s mom, a master gardener, even comes in a few times a week to answer customers’ gardening questions. Walk-ins love the posies—small, densely packed bouquets that look far too delicately arranged for the $10 price tag. The store buys direct from area growers and also sources from the Ontario Flower Growers Co-Operative, so nearly every petal is fresh and local.
Pure and Simple
41 Avenue Rd., 416-924-6555 (plus three other locations)
Kristen Ma launched her Pure and Simple cosmetics line 11 years ago with her mom, Jean Eng. They started out with cleansers and toners designed to help Ma’s own acne and have since branched out into 100 products, most of them vegan. The pair continue to add more foundations (in colours such as biscotti, taffy and fudge) and sparkly glosses. For frequent fliers, multi-purpose “face colours” can be used on eyes, cheeks or lips, cutting down on travel bag clutter. All of Pure and Simple’s products are made from pure minerals, lavender wax and organic oils—even the sunscreen is free of nasty chemicals.
Soil for a veggie garden
750 Danforth Rd., 416-266-3915
A healthy vegetable garden starts in the dirt, and few know soil better than father-and-son duo John and Tony Palma of Homeland. What began as a mom-and-pop grocery store in 1974 (you can still pick up your milk and eggs there on weekends) turned into a garden centre in the ’80s, when sales of their choice soil spiked. The Palmas preached the organic gospel before most of us knew it was a word. All of Homeland’s soil comes from unused farmland that has been stripped to make way for the city’s ever-expanding subdivisions, so there’s no need to worry about sullied dirt making it into the mix. John and Tony have seen a surge in demand for premixed soil for urban veggie gardens—they’ve witnessed a whole new generation of 20- and 30-somethings determined to grow their own food. $34 per cubic yard. Delivery available.
798 Dundas St. W., 416-203-2549
The backlash against disposable, particleboard kids’ furniture has begun at the Dundas West atelier Bookhou. John Booth (the “Boo”) and his wife, sculptor and textile designer Arounna Khounnoraj (the “Khou”) work only with natural materials, handcrafting each piece in small batches. One chair is all modernist angles, made from unpainted, steam-bent hardwood ($300 with a chic, removable grey felt cover), while a wee circular stool is made from solid blond oak ($95).
138 Cumberland St., 416-922-4248
At Augustina, laying down $115 for a toddler duvet cover sounds eminently reasonable. The store’s line of children’s linens is made from rapturously exquisite Indian cotton. Duvet covers, baby sleep sacks, crib skirts, sheets and decorative pillows come in made-to-look-vintage faded prints. Our favourite is a subtle rabbit patch pattern, with tiny florals, birdies and mini leafy trees on a backdrop of crisp, pure white.
Taps Bath Centre
1020 Lawrence Ave. W., 416-785-0224
Maybe it’s the opening of the Trump Tower in a couple of months, or maybe it’s interior designers’ fatigue with polished chrome—in any case, prepare for a completely unironic resurgence of gold bathroom fixtures. Available at Taps Bath Centre, Kohler’s streamlined, single-lever tap in subtle brushed gold, part of its new Purist series, will never be mistaken for a desperate attempt at bathroom bling. It’s as restrained as gold can be. $624.