A design lover’s guide to Toronto
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This article is part of a guide to Toronto from FT Globetrotter
Toronto is primarily renowned as a food city, generating acclaim for its abundance of lush Caribbean stews, silky Thai curries and prodigy-level pasta dishes. But few are aware that Toronto is also home to a thriving design scene, dotted with speciality vintage and design stores offering up an array of curios that will add character to any home.
It was once a city so sleepy that retail stores did not open their doors on Sundays until 1992, and some neighbourhoods remained alcohol-free until 1998. But thanks to an MVP assist from hometown rapper Drake, Toronto has shed its puritan past to become one of the most bustling, multicultural and stylish cities in North America. And for anyone looking to bring home something special, it’s full of treasures.
2959 Dundas Street West, Toronto, ON M6P 1Z2
Mjölk, a high-end design shop selling ceramics, art and furniture, is named after the Swedish word for “milk”, which informs the store’s guiding design principles: “pure, essential and democratic”. Husband-and-wife duo John Baker and Juli Daoust opened the store in 2009 and since then it’s become a temple of good taste among the city’s minimalist set. Baker and Daoust scout the world for artisanal creations and are renowned for their artful curation of Japanese and Scandinavian furniture that blends the functional with the eclectic. Objets d’art like a rough-hewn ash-glazed ceramic vase or an airy tambour-door oak credenza are intended to make pedestrian, everyday life that much more beautiful. Website; Directions
1 Davies Avenue, Toronto, ON M4M 2A6
Plunked down in a rather unattractive commercial parking lot is Guff, a legacy mid-century furniture store that is packed to the gills with Herman Miller chairs and premium teak credenzas. Among the crowded aisles, even visitors who can only pick up a souvenir that fits into a carry-on can root around like truffle pigs to find unexpected treasures like brass candlesticks or a Kate Bush LP. Even if brand-name, perfectly restored mid-century furniture at “pretty reasonable for Toronto” prices isn’t your thing, walking inside feels a bit like entering a time machine back to the Mad Men era, when interest rates were reasonable and doctors smoked indoors. Website; Directions
Kendall & Co
514 Parliament Street, Toronto, ON M4X 1P4
Kendall & Co is a maximalist’s paradise, eschewing the stark white cubes typically associated with design in favour of a busy, pattern-filled space that somewhat resembles Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. Founded in 1998, it produces custom upholstered furniture that combines vintage silhouettes with raucous patterns. Its unique selection of vibrant hotchpotch — a 19th-century Davenport desk sits comfortably alongside a polar bear-shaped rug — is well worth a visit (it ships worldwide). The entire store is a visual feast. Between wallpaper samples depicting flamingos amid lush jungle foliage and feather-upholstered Louis XIV settees, one hardly knows where to look. Appointment only. Website; Directions
5 Mill Street, Toronto, ON M5A 3R6
Stepping into Artemide, a lighting showroom in the city’s historic Distillery District, is like entering an alternate universe filled with peaceful orbs akin to a Yayoi Kusama installation — only all the orbs happen to be functional lamps that are actually for sale. The store carries some of lighting design’s greatest hits, and in the showroom you’ll spy Vico Magistretti’s bulbous Eclisse table lamp and the Tolomeo — a skeletal, craning desk lamp by Giancarlo Fassina that looks almost sentient. There are lamps that look like glowing Tesla coils and others that resemble wiggly caterpillars. It’s almost easy to mistake its triangular space for a museum-worthy exhibition of design. Artemide is more fun than a store that sells light fixtures has any business being. Website; Directions
70 Geary Avenue, Toronto, ON M6H 2B5
The brainchild of furniture designer Shaun Moore, Made is a utopia of eclectic Canadian design pieces. Part gallery, part gift shop, it represents artists and designers whose unique creations help paint an expansive portrait of what Canadian design can be. Inside are chairs by Ryan Legassicke where the legs have been replaced by a smattering of rough-hewn branches, nautical-cord pendant lights and a sprawling knotted chair made from industrial felt that inhabits the liminal space between furniture and sculpture. Sure, there are rustic touches, such as colourful wooden bowls made from lathe-turned logs by Calgary’s Loyal Loot Collective, but for the most part Made eschews the beaver-hewn aesthetic in favour of something more artful, quirky and hard to put your finger on. It’s all anchored by Moore’s own clean-yet-cheerful designs in wood and steel, some of which are now part of the decor in the city’s new Ace Hotel. Appointment only. Website; Directions
1160 Queen Street West, Toronto, ON M6J 1J5
This design stalwart has been open in West Queen West (which Vogue declared one of the world’s coolest neighbourhoods) since 2001; founder Kate Eisen used to live in a small apartment in the back. Now the mid-century-meets-Memphis Group store is home to a distinctly ageless aesthetic where classic Florence Knoll chairs mingle among toucan table lamps and the fried-egg-shaped Poppy Table by British-Canadian artist (and co-owner) Julie Jenkinson. Inabstracto specialises in Canadian mid-century-modern furniture designers, so the stunning credenza on display might be a Russell Spanner, Douglas Ball or any number of design luminaries whose work regularly passes through the doors. A visit here is a bit like a regional history lesson, in the best possible way. Appointment only. Website; Directions
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