Friday, February 23, 2007

Sneak Peek in Style: Interior Design Show 2007

Last night champagne flowed and painted-white cirque-robats glowed while media types mingled in an interior design fantasy world at the preview for the Interior Design Show 2007. I was fortunate to gain entry into the magical kingdom for a sneak peek at the fanciful design in store for us this year.

As expected, the usual design stars - Debbie Travis, Lynda Reeves and Brian Gluckstein - will be there peddling their wares, but none seemed to offer any notion of innovation or inspiration, except perhaps what we can expect the next hot colour of the season to be. Travis' "no photographs please" living space was decked in spooky black and orange. All I can say about that is "Boo!"

Moving away from the dens of domesticity, local Toronto designers were making a splash. Here are my top picks for Toronto design talent.

1. Adept with porcelain, artist Ken Gangbar, creates fluid sculptures and installations for clients from TO to HK. If you want to give ceramics a whirl too he offers workshops from his studio in Liberty Village.

2. Everything Queen East shop Up to You showed, I wanted to buy. Coolest are the wood carved clothes hangers depicting New York, Tokyo or Paris skylines, though they are $120 a pop and there's no deisgn for TO. There is an "I Heart ______(blank)" sticker though. That's where TO can go.

3. I was seriously blown away by the modern stand-alone apartment and eco-friendly fireplaces made by Ecosmart. No gas, no hard connection. Great for any place that needs a little warming up.

4. Utillity in a tile? That's where Utilitile comes in. I found these walnut wood tiles in the prototype section. Following form and function is truly the way to a Danish girl's heart.

5. Simple, practical shelving by Sheridan made a big statement. The statement is "I'm fun, and smart, dammit!" Made by, and for, students so it's got to be.

The Interior Design Show takes place this Saturday and Sunday at the Direct Energy Centre, CNE Grounds. Tickets are $16 online or $18 at the door.

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Bookhou Design's Book Smart Style

Among the other exhibitors at this weekend's Interior Design Show is a smart Toronto upstart called Bookhou Designs. The two partners, Arounna Khounnoraj who focuses on textile and sculpture and John Booth who designs furniture, marry their talent to create beautiful handmade products for your home that seem so obviously Canadian in their adorable and unassuming way.

Pillows and playthings are adorned with owls, chickadees or meadow sprigs, while lamps and benches' curvaceous lines appear playfully constructed. I'd seen their pieces about town in places like The Paper Place (887 Queen West) and Red Pegasus (628 College Street) but enjoyed browsing their site for a better look at what they do. I'd love to see Bookhou's textile line grow to include bedding with the same bright prints they use for journals, as above. Stop by their booth at IDS07 to see what more is in store.

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Toronto Tower On the Rise

There's nothing too exciting about Toronto's Yonge and Bloor intersection even though it's known as the busiest crossing in the city, connecting our east-west Bloor corridor with Yonge, the longest street in the world. That could soon change.

Developers, who have long considered building up the southeast corner, are finally pushing forward with their plans for a 60-story tower. The landmark tower, based on a proposal approved by city council in 2002, would include retail and residential space as well as a multiplex cinema.

Though it's popular to bash ill-fitting condo projects in this city, here's one that seems to makes sense. It could go a long way toward revitalizing the lackluster corner and it'll make use of existing amenities such as subway access. Increasing density along subway lines in the core is a smart move, especially where it fits into the flow of buildings already towering above the bustling streets below.

See what people are saying about "Toronto Tower on the Rise" at blogTO.

photo: nate archer

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Fully Loaded at the Auto Show

Last year my friend, actor and indie filmmaker Brett Reason, shot and cut a short video which followed four car junkies (including himself) getting wasted and heading to the auto show. Their goal? See how long they could sit in the Mercedes S550 before someone kicked them out. After he showed me the piece, we debated what the name of it should be. He thought Loaded at the Auto Show would be good, I figured Fully Loaded would be more slick. It was his bit, so he won.

Brett called a couple days ago to tell me what the slogan is for this year's show - it's Fully Loaded. I'm not sure if he was more excited that we nailed their ad slogan before they did or just because the show would be starting this week, either way he got me hyped to go and I'm no car buff.

While him and his buddies cruise the fast car corner I might see what's new in hybrids. If you're still driving an old jalopy maybe you should check it out too - Metro recently reported that the biggest emissions (up to 37 times the normal amount) can come from cars 20 years old and up.

Scrap watching the auto show's promotional vid on their site, there's nothing innovative about it. Instead, amuse yourself with a little dark humour at theigloo, where you too can get Fully Loaded at the Auto Show.

photo: Richard Tamayo

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Monday, February 19, 2007

Stylegarage Lights it Up

Well before the condo signs started popping up on Queen West, modern furniture boutique stylegarage had made its mark on the artsy neighbourhood. From its wrap-around windows lined with eye-catching lighting, the shop, on a quiet corner of Shaw, exudes muted and sleek sophistication. It was enough to draw me in. I'd been on a hunt for a wide and low television stand with large industrial wheels for awhile and decided to browse the boutique to see if I could find it.

Inside the design store, each modern line blended fluidly with the next, allowing their most stunning showpieces - made of grained walnut, oak, maple and douglas fir - to get full attention. Whether it's their leather sofas characterized by topstitching you'll love or chunky Canadian wood coffee tables it's obvious they design furniture to last a lifetime.

Since I've always lived in old Toronto houses with little built-in lighting I get especially excited for modern lamps of any kind. One brushed stainless-steel wall-mounted piece caught my eye. The simple style mixed with a clear vintage bulb and exposed filaments (also sold at stylegarage) would look fantastic in any pseudo-industrial space.

Though I didn't find exactly what I was looking for, friendly staff reassured me they could custom make most things. Seems they have a very close partnership with Toronto design manufacturer Gus Modern, the company that supplied the loft furniture for Martha Stewart's prime-time show The Apprentice. While Martha's run might be over you can still catch the design items at the Queen Street store or at the upcoming Interior Design Show - February 22nd to the 25th.

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Vice Guide to Travel Makes Toronto Pitstop

The journey starts in the Toronto office of Vice, in Parkdale, where Derrick Beckles is doing an impression of God creating woman (read boobs). It's the intro to Beckles' piece on Paraguay for the Vice Guide to Travel, out on DVD. Sitting with him is Johnny Knoxville to whom he reveals he's heading to Nueva Germania to see what still remains of the place that survived briefly as an "Aryan utopia" in the 1800's and later became a refuge for exiled Nazis after the war. The answer is not much, just a couple bricks left to disintegrate.

With no real story to follow Beckles piece starts falling apart here too. To keep it going he finds some backwoods brothers rumoured to have turned to cannibalism. He asks the geezers a few questions, none of which get to the heart of the dark deed. It's journalism-lite but Vice seems happy just to prove to us they can look danger in the face and take us along for the ride.

In the guide, which Vice co-founder Suroosh Alvi calls a "60 Minutes meets Jackass" kinda thing, Vice correspondents take us on a tour of 7 not-so-hot tourist destinations like the most radioactive place in the world, Chernobyl's Red Forest, and then a Pygmy village in the heart of the Congo in search of a dinosaur.

Finding a prehistoric beast or a wild boar with two heads presents a serious challenge and the guys in Vice don't always get their goal. Maybe that's why I was most impressed with Suroosh's own segment in which he hooks up a visit to the largest illegal gun market in the world in Darra, Pakistan, a place where we see kids casually making bullets by hand. The BBC couldn't gain access to this dangerous place but Surroush walks in, charms the locals, buys a gun and gets his money shot.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Happy Valentine's Day Toronto!

It's gonna be a wet and chilly day out there Toronto. Try and make it special by doing something a little extra for yourself or your love(d ones) for Valentine's.

Here are a few ideas, 416style:

Make your teeth sparkle.

Buy a bouquet of kumquats in Kensington Market.

Check out the new fitness facilities at 99 Sudbury.

Declare your love in the comments section of 416style and leave the page open on a shared computer.

Make your morning Eggo waffles into ooozy sweet tasting hearts.

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Friday, February 09, 2007

Get Outside

Last winter my Mags gave out on me, leaving a hole in my shoe between sole and leather. I'd had them for a few seasons and had put them to good use in the city slush. The sole is a good two inches up from the ground all the way around and made of rubber, perfect for Toronto weather. I'd hoped to get a new pair once this wintery weather started so I went back to where I bought them in the first place, Get Outside. It's my favourite shoe shop, along with heel boy, and it was voted best shoe store in blogTO's Best of Indie Toronto. They've got a ton of great trainers, like Royal Elastics which I love, but they didn't have a pair of Mags in sight. They seem to have switched to something called Clarks but they're not the same.

So now I'm stranded, with no winter boots to make my way home, and I can't seem to find a pair in the city that's got style but can also keep my feet out of the wet stuff. Even stranger is that many shoe stores are already pushing their spring line-up of strappy sandals. Where am I supposed to find my snow shoes now? Some friends have told me to make the hike to Trove on Bathurst, maybe they've still got some boots on sale.

photo: idiolector

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What About Wabash?

While the debate about gentrification in TO continues, many areas are receiving substantial funding to renew derelict sites across the city. The Distillery District was nothing but haunted halls used by film crews a few years back. Now the Brickworks will attempt to model the Distillery's success but with a more arts and eco-friendly community. Twenty million in funding will help to get the ball rolling on the site beside the DVP.

Yesterday, a new announcement of funding came in the tune of 3 million dollars, this time to restore Wychwood's TTC repair "barns" into what'll become known as Artscape's Green Arts Barns, offering a safe-haven to not-for-profit arts groups like The Storytellers School of Toronto and the Salvador Allende Arts Festival for Peace as well as environmental groups such as LEAF (Local Enhancement and Appreciation of Forests) and Citizens' Environment Watch.

Fortunately for everyone, environmental and arts causes are getting attention. They seem to have become as chic as Brad Pitt in his Gucci glasses pretending to build homes in India. But what about community centres? Are they not the centre of the community? And what about Wabash?

Just off Sorauren, close to Roncesvalles, two abandoned buildings sit on one side of a park just waiting for some love and attention. Years ago they housed a Linseed factory, now they are part of a plan for the future Wabash Community Rec Centre. One plan's price tag is $13 million and would include a full reno but no pool. For an extra $7 mil the building would be fully-restored along with the addition of a swank new clubhouse and a place for kids to play Marco Polo.

For some reason though, the project has been struggling for funds since day one, even though this area of Toronto desperately needs a place like this. Up until now, residents have been buying a brick at a time to help build Wabash. Just like the Revue Theatre, it was the residents who decided Wabash should be saved, but it would be great to hear that some level of government would step up to support the project or maybe Brad Pitt can come by and lend a hand.

image: Kevin Steele

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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

What's Your Sign?

Sandwich Board
Originally uploaded by Lex in the City.
I was in an early morning daze at a Timothy's recently trying to grab a cup of coffee when a man stormed in ahead of me and asked to speak to the manager. He was annoyed. I was annoyed. It was one of those mornings.

There was no manager on duty so the man pled his case to two staff staring back at him vacantly from behind the counter. It was about the sandwich board stretched out on the sidewalk in front of the coffee shop. The problem, he said, was that these sandwich boards take up too much space and cause unnecessary obstacles for the blind and also elderly people using buggies. It was a valid point, one I'd never previously considered.

These ubiquitous sidewalk signs can often be ugly, pointless and ineffective, especially if they're constantly blowing over. Though sometimes there'll be a chalkboard sign with a funny little phrase meant to grab our attention and make us smile, or they'll tell us about a new thing on a restaurant menu that can make our mouth water in anticipation. For stores yearning for more exposure a sidewalk sign is a good way to get passersby to stop and notice or allow them to look down the block to see what's coming up.

There is a better option though, especially on crowded sidewalks where stores are just trying to get some more brand exposure. In the distillery district most signs are mounted overhead so to be within a good sight line and also out of the way. The overhead signs add charm to the historic neighborhood and don't intrude on public space.

In the case of the man and the Timothy's sign, the man was pissed at the employees' lack of response and tore off to move the sign himself. A couple of days later the sign was back in the same spot, dominantly claiming half the sidewalk and not really having much to say.

See what people think about Sign Design at blogTO

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