Vancouver, British Columbia, takes everything in stride. It’s a temperate city, both in climate and in the attitude of its citizens. But just because it’s a stark personality contrast to most major metropolitan areas, doesn’t mean a savvy design scene is lacking.
If design encompasses the art of reinvention, then Vancouver knows all too well how to re-create. The city was completely rebuilt after a fire leveled most of the downtown area in the earlier part of the 20th Century. So the façade of this Canadian city, in most respects, seems quite young.With vigor on its side, Vancouver kept its design industry contemporary and local, so visitors looking to feed their craving for design won’t be left wanting. The city offers a broad mix of stores that run the gamut from antique to crafty to contemporary and chic, all set in newly gentrified neighborhoods.
To get an insider’s perspective of Vancouver’s design scene, we handpicked local experts to tell us what ‘design hits’ are a must when visiting “Van”: Patricia Gray, acclaimed interior designer (Patricia Gray, Inc.); Omer Arbel, creative director of Canadian firm, Bocci; and Jan Halvarson and Earl Einarson of the popular design blog, Poppytalk. Their suggestions will have you traversing most of Vancouver’s individual neighborhoods—the best way to soak up every corner of the city’s culture.
All three of our experts recommend making the trip to the 2 Museum of Anthropology, one of architect Arthur Erickson’s masterpieces, at the University of British Columbia. From the museum’s Great Hall, you can take in a floor-to-ceiling view of the Point Grey cliffs. Arbel calls the museum “a real contribution to international modernist discourse.”
When you’re ready to make your way downtown, stop by the 15 Vancouver Library Square, designed by Moshe Safdie. This seven-story structure, surrounded by a free-standing elliptical wall, features reading areas accessible by bridges and a roof-turned-public-garden. And since you’re already in the tiny neighborhood of Crosstown, you should take the opportunity to visit Provide. Recommended by Poppytalk for its selection of organic interior accessories, Provide’s clean space is filled with abstract art, fashionable clothing, and even kimonos by Human Nature that add to the store’s tranquil atmosphere.
From Crosstown you can easily walk to Yaletown, where you’ll find two of Gray’s favorites—9 Light Form and 7 The Cross Décor and Design. Gray shops at Light Form for the “latest and greatest in ‘designer’ lighting fixtures because their products are international cutting-edge.” She calls The Cross Décor and Design, “the hip place to shop” and says “their packing rivals Tiffany’s.” The beautifully expansive store has a 1914 heritage mark and features exposed beams in the ceiling and 5,000 square feet of luxury bedding, lighting, bath products, and vintage furniture.
While you’re still in the relative downtown area, you might head up to Gastown, named after infamous local, “Gassy Jack,” a late 1800s saloon owner. Stop in at 8 Inform Interiors and be carried away by its four-floor showroom with “the usual suspect brands,” according to Arbel, including Philippe Starck, Isamu Noguchi, and Eero Saarinen. But they carry other pieces that are more “magical and special” as Arbel notes, such as the the “Sponge” chair, designed by Peter Traag for Edra. Another wonderful perk is the architecture library filled with every book or magazine you could want on the subject.
Granville Island is always a definite destination in any guidebook on Vancouver. It’s not an island per se, but rather a peninsula that juts out into False Creek, filled with markets for artisans, food, and flower merchants. Within the Net Loft Building on “the island” lies a store called 5 Paper-Ya! that Poppytalk says is “the place to go if you’re looking to find anything paper related.” Here, you’re certain to find ornate and decorative supplies for your office: pens, seals, stamps, and origami materials. Once you’ve made your way into the Granville area, you can stop at 12 18 Karat for “contemporary products inspired by nature.” The store originally designed and imported floral containers for large volume users, but has since grown into the place for tabletop, textiles, and lifestyle products. Gray says the store’s accessories are “simple and totally unique” and adds she recently purchased a Selenite crystal log set for a client.
On the other end of the scale, the Vancouver antique stores don’t disappoint. 11 Panache Antiques by Granville Island is a good one to hit up if you’re looking for pieces from the 17th through the 20th Century, such as an exquisite shrine cabinet from the Meiji period. Gray has an understandable soft spot for this store—the owner gave her her first job back in the 80s—yet Gray wistfully mentions a “Lalique chandelier circa 1920 that I am coveting.” You’ll also want to visit 4 Architectural Antiques, recommends Arbel. This glimmering maze into the past boasts the largest lighting collection in North America, and they perform restorations on the premises. Beautiful gramophones are scattered throughout the store, among unusual pieces like an 1860 four-arm gas fixture and a 17th Century Celtic castle sculpture.
The next store suggested by both Arbel and Poppytalk is 13 Vancouver Special, a relatively new store named after the infamous house design from 1965-85 in Vancouver, Arbel says, adding: “Finally a young and intelligently curated design shop in Vancouver!” If you continue on the same street for another few blocks, you’ll reach 3 The Regional Assembly of Text that Poppytalk recommends for original papergoods designed by the owners. The tiny shop has an “old office” look with wooden and metal file cabinets, and a collection of vintage typewriters—perfect for their monthly letter writing nights. If you’re nostalgic for the days when typewriter font was the standard, then you’ll find yourself a couple hours later having forgotten what’s next on your schedule. It’s a paper junkie’s dream come true. Last but not least is 6 Liberty, a design store cultivated with strict taste by its managers, so when you step inside, it immediately feels like an Alice in Wonderland-world infused with shades of black, white, and purple that make stuffed crows, modern gothic chairs, and table linens shine.
A must-see when the sun goes down is the 14 BC Electric Building, renamed “The Electra” when its lights are turned on. Originally built for BC Hydro, one of Canada’s largest electric utilities, the building was a collaboration between the modernist architect Ron(ald James) Thom and the painter B.C. (Bertram Charles) Binning, who designed the blue and green porcelain mosaic tiling on the lower floors.
Closely situated near the airport, check out the recently completed 1 Richmond Olympic Oval. The city took sustainability to a new level when it decided to use local, resourced pine trees to create a “wave roof” for the structure. The links of wood panels create an undulating, rippling effect, a unique touch for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. But that’s just another example of Vancouver’s willingness to think innovatively and in the present.
Vancouver may be considered a quiet, placid city with a “take it as it comes” attitude, but its design industry holds its own next to the larger ones south of the border. And yes, it may be architecturally young, but Vancouver definitely doesn’t feel naïve. Globally aware and culturally receptive, you realize why Vancouver makes perfect sense to hold the upcoming 2010 Winter Olympic Games, a melting pot of cultures, athletes, and some design. Vancouver is ready to show the world that creativity flourishes best in a city where ingenuity is proudly upheld.
Story by Kyra Shapurji
Photography by Linden Hass
The architectural firm Loadingdock5 has continued to create innovative, sustainable design solutions within the urban sector. Werner Morath and Sam Bargetz started the New York based firm back in ‘97. We are blown away by some of the recent loft projects they have completed, all of which feature minimal décor, sustainable materials and lots of white. Enjoy the eye candy!
For more information on Loadingdock5, visit their site here.
Story by Kyra Shapurji
Photography by Tom Ackerman
Thom Filicia clearly has style. He was the ‘Design Doctor’ on Bravo’s Emmy-winning Queer Eye for five years and the spokesman for Pier 1 Imports; he now leads the Style network’s newest show, Dress My Nest. The self-described “democratic design snob” is anything but snobbish in his newest book, Thom Filicia Style: Inspired Ideas for Creating Rooms You’ll Love. LoftLife sat down with Filicia in his SoHo apartment to pick his brain about all things design and just what is up with “the bird thing.”
LOFTLIFE: In your new book, Thom Filicia Style, you talk about your appreciation for natural and organic forms. How did this become part of your design style?
THOM FILICIA: I tend to like things that are very clean and simple, things that lean modern. Sometimes people think of modern as machine-made and very cold, and I think natural elements are a nice juxtaposition. I like raw with refined. I like shiny with matte. I like having that yin and yang, if you will. It’s like wearing jeans with a really beautiful shirt, you know?
LL: In your new book, I was drawn to your self-deprecation. It was the most appealing aspect to the book for me. Your voice made it accessible.
THOM: I wanted it to be a fun read and about people expressing their own personality. I figured if I expressed my personality, it would encourage people to do the same with design.
LL: One of the case studies in the book is a Manhattan loft and a young couple preparing to adjust their environment for a child. How did you manage to maintain a young sense of style but also create a new style for a child?
THOM: Well, it wasn’t really about changing the style of the loft for the baby. It was about creating a comfortable space for the baby. So it’s a nice layout, and that was the most important thing. In addition to that, it was coming up with a baby’s room that felt organic and comfortable to the rest of the apartment. The apartment itself had many whimsical elements to it; I felt like it was the perfect space for a baby.
LL: In the philosophy of your book, you call yourself a “democratic design snob.” I wonder how you came to see yourself as a designer with that description?
THOM: I love great design. But I really do believe everybody should have access to it. I think we see it in the world of food, fashion, and now with interior design. I’ve never really believed that interior design and living well in an attractive environment is just for the one percentile. I always say: there’s no excuse to have bad taste anymore.
LL: Also in the book, you have a “K.I.S.S.” (“Keep it simple, stupid”) motto. How did you develop this motto?
THOM: If it gets too complicated, what’s the point? If you’re trying to fit a circle into a square, it’s not going to be worth it. In a way, I think that’s just a good code to live by. Keeping it simple is keeping it real.
LL: On your Style Network show, Dress My Nest, you use the everyday fashion choices women make to help them discover their own interior design style.
THOM: Does someone wear a lot of patterns? Do they wear a lot of solids? Are they wearing bohemian things, or very sleek or tailored things? When you open up someone’s wardrobe, it gives a great springboard. All of a sudden, people are confident and they start opening up about what they like.
LL: You’ve designed commercial and residential spaces, which can be very different experiences. What do you see as the similarities?
THOM: At the end of the day you’re designing for people. Whether you’re doing the interior of a car or a residence, it can be beautiful, but if it isn’t comfortable, or inviting, or human on any level, then it really loses. If people aren’t comfortable or they don’t like it, that’s not good design.
LL: You decorated the new W Hotel in Atlanta’s Buckhead neighborhood. How did you manage to create a successful marriage between a forward-thinking brand hotel and a traditional Southern location?
THOM: I thought to myself, OK, so let’s take the country club that everyone loves and goes to, with the wing back chairs and the crescent sofas. Let’s take that and make it hip and cool. I saw Buckhead as “Country Club Chic.”
LL: You’ve said the living room is your favorite to decorate. Why?
THOM: Because the living room sets the tone for the rest of the house. It’s the room I like to be in the most. I like to entertain.
LL: Throughout your design career, the emphasis on ‘sustainability’ has evolved ten-fold.
THOM: Well, it didn’t really exist when I first started. If it did it’s because you wanted something to look natural and organic. It changed in the sense of how people approach design now—the way we think of materials. Natural is not a death sentence anymore, in terms of it being unattractive. Natural things are really beautiful; we appreciate them.
LL: Your Riverhouse project (in Manhattan’s Battery Park) was all about sustainability. What were some of the first details you started to think about when you designed that space?
THOM: Well, I think the first thing you think about is the bones of the apartment. I was thinking: paint, wall coverings and their adhesives, floor finish, and flooring.
LL: Judging from your book, your show, and your website, it seems you have a thing for birds. How did your bird motif come about?
THOM: About five years ago, I bought two metal birds from this a guy on the street for $100. I also have a house in upstate New York, and there was this big, majestic eagle flying around one day. And I thought, ‘Those fabulous eagle consoles they have in the White House could be a very fun thing to do, but in a modern way.’ So, I started designing them for myself. All of a sudden it was like, ‘Thom has a bird thing.’ Then, the bird thing became ‘the thing’ for our show, which had nothing to do with me at all. It was the network who came up with the bird idea. Maybe I was a bird in a previous life? I don’t know what it is. I certainly don’t have anything against birds, but I’m not actively part of the Audubon Society or anything. And I’m guessing I should be, because apparently I love the form of the bird and I’m drawn to the bird. I got to go easy on the bird thing though, I don’t want people saying, ‘Here comes the bird lady.’
We are teaming up with Design Within Reach to celebrate our second issue. Four local experts will be sharing their thoughts on city life, followed by cocktails and hors d’oeuvres.
Join us! All are welcome!
There’s no denying the convenience of an iPod. But the digital revolution has come at a cost. In order to maintain manageable file-sizes, most mp3s contain music that’s been considerably compressed from the original recording. To combat the suffering sound quality, many music-lovers are going vinyl.
Records not only sound much better than mp3s and CDs, they look a much cooler too. Bob Dylan recently complained that CDs have “no stature” – and he’s right, they don’t. At least not compared to albums, whose covers often double as legitimate pop art.
Going vinyl can be daunting, however, especially for those of us who are unfamiliar with audiophile jargon – of which there is plenty! (Warning: the record-listening sub-culture attracts more than its share of obsessive purists.) It can also be a confusing process for someone on a budget. But fear not, Loftlife can help:
Go to eBay and get yourself an integrated amplifier. Since records require more amplification than CDs, tapes or mp3s, you’ll need to make sure the one you choose has a phono “stage” or input. This probably means you’re looking for one from the 70s or 80s. They usually run somewhere between $300-400. Don’t worry – these things are built like tanks. A few reliable brands to search for are NAD , the vintage line Scott or Marantz . (Note: your CDs and iPod will sound a whole lot better routed through one of these units as well.)
Next, get your turntable. The easiest way to do this is to hit up the friendly folks at needledoctor.com . They can find you the player that’s right for you and answer any questions you might have about the world of vinyl.
For those looking for true high-fi, the Rega P1 is the most bang for your buck at $400! And so is the Pro-Jekt Debut III at $330. For basic listening, head over to turntable.com and you will find turntables for $80. If you think you might want to try your hand at DJ-ing or scratching, be sure to get one with a dual-drive motor: Numark’s are normally a bargain.
Speakers. Since you now have more space to fill, you may want to trade in your old bookshelf speakers for some floor-standing ones. A great site for speaker reviews and all things technological is Unplugged The bad news is, a good-sounding set of floor speakers can be very expensive. So again, eBay or audiogon.com is probably your best bet, where you can usually score a good pair for under $500. Some quality hi-fi brands to keep an eye out for include Klipsch , Polk , Paradigm , and B&W .
Go out and buy some records! Check the phonebook first – most cities still have a store or two that specialize in vintage vinyl. Garage sales are also a great place to start, just make sure to check the condition of the record itself before making a purchase. Look to spend between $5 and $15 on clean copies of your all your old favorites. If you’re looking for rare albums, try musicstack.com or gemm.com. For newer and reissued records, check musicdirect.com or lightintheattic.com. You’ll be surprised at how many bands still put out their music on vinyl – most musicians even say it’s their preferred format.
Now – you’re ready to rock and roll. Believe us, once you’ll go vinyl, you never go back. Your ears will thank you!
Posted by David Zahl
This Thanksgiving, resist the urge to pull out your collection of turkey paraphernalia or pilgrim themed tableware. Instead, draw some inspiration from these modern takes on a festive thanksgiving tablescape.
Since their goal is to “make good design to as many people as possible,” it’s appropriate that the innovative, affordable, and quite funny Blu Dot wants to give you the time. Every minute of the day. Well designed, very cool, and completely for free. We must admit we have fallen in love with the Blu Dot Clock:
“Taking the form of a one-inch square on your computer desktop, the Blu Dot Desktop Clock displays a different image for every minute of the day—720 in all. A mono (hot linked) creation.”
So download it! We have here at LoftLife. It’s never been so fun to watch the clock.
A few weeks ago LoftLife partnered with DWR in Atlanta for “Lofts Within Reach” to celebrate our Winter issue. Four panelists and a studio full of loft dwellers talked about the distinguishing characteristics of a loft and intown living. Guests discussed the upcoming Castleberry Hill Loft Tour (CastleberryHill.org) , in the Landmark Historic District on the southwest edge of downtown, where former warehouses have found new lives as live/work lofts, cutting edge art galleries, shops and restaurants – with the best of each on display this past weekend (more photos to come).
Speakers tackled the design challenges of open plan living, offering ideas on storage solutions in addition to discussing the current multi-use furniture choices that are readily available. The event was genuinely educational amidst an energetic atmosphere that spread from speaker to participant.
Bottom line: we can’t get enough! Which is why this event marks the beginning of a new LoftLife community series that we plan to continue on a regular basis.
Posted by Erin Ryder
10/14/08 As self-subscribed “design junkies”, we’re forever seeking out like-minded addicts. We’ve scoured the blogosphere looking for gifted amateur design critics, and we found one with fresh sophistication at Style Court. We recently had the opportunity to get into the mind of Style Court creator Courtney Barnes. In our interview with Courtney, she explains her art history background and devotion to style etiquette.
LoftLife: Lets start with some history. What is your design background, and why did you start blogging about design?
Courtney Barnes: I’m not an interior designer, and I’ve been careful not to pretend to be one. My education is in art history, and I was a docent at the High Museum for five years. So my focus is often on pieces of furniture and the decorative objects. Blogging offered freedom and control – a chance to cover what truly interested me. (My day job is freelance writer.)
LL: Vogue says well-mannered and harmonious styles are best for entertaining in the home. It lists four essential ingredients: personal warmth, sincerity, understatement, and consideration. Which of these elements are the hardest to achieve?
CB: What I’m familiar with are the elements listed in Vogue’s 1969 etiquette book. Those are components that the editors said were essential for a harmonious, well-mannered house. So they were referring to everyday life too, not just guests.
I think it’s sort of like ingredients in a recipe – all are vital. Consideration is a challenge because you have to put yourself in the shoes of others: family and friends and new acquaintances. And it involves upkeep. Warmth and sincerity are easy for some people, but much harder for others because to have it I think you need to have passion for your house or apartment – or at least your things – and actually live in your home.
LL: You have a strong focus on the use of antiques that bring character and depth to a room. What is your strategy when shopping for antiques?
CB: Buy what you truly love. Don’t make a decision because you hope it will be a good investment. If you are curious to learn more about a certain piece, don’t be afraid to ask. A reputable dealer will be happy to answer questions, and many will let you take the piece (a chair, a coffee table) on approval for 24 hours to see it in the context of your home.
LL: Your blog displays a classic sense of style. What is your honest opinion of postmodern designs?
CB: I appreciate all types of design. I just happen to gravitate to more traditional stuff – it’s practical that I do because then I can work with and re-use things that have been passed down to me. And in terms of the blog, I skew toward the classics because when I began that was original. Hardly anyone else was doing it.
LL: Eyes may be the window to the soul, but someone’s bathroom can tell a heck of a lot about the owner. In your experience, what room is usually the most telling of the owner?
CB: Bedrooms and living rooms. People think it’s kitchens and bathrooms but I think those tend to just reflect – sometimes reflect – trends and budget. It’s books, collections, and art that really speak to the person’s soul.
LL: LoftLife often aims to help our readers deal with decorating small spaces. Can you give some advice for designing around large bulky pieces like television sets?
CB: Full disclosure: I only have one small TV on a bookshelf, so I’m not the best person to ask. I do think it’s been proven over decades by some legendary designers that big furniture actually looks great in small rooms. I have a large four-poster bed in a smallish room, but it is the main focal point. It does not compete with a mammoth chest.
LL: Hypothetically speaking, you walk into someone’s home and you instantly know they have southern style. What’s your first clue?
CB: Probably just the presence of something that looks like it was passed down – like an oriental rug, Chinese vase or classic sideboard – it doesn’t have to be a traditional interior. Many of the youthful Southern designers working today like to do modern rooms with one inherited piece.
LL: You showcase stunningly beautiful textiles on your blog, some of which are bold and visually seducing. Is there a trick to layering fabrics without making a room look crowded?
CB: Thanks. It’s really subjective. Some designers like to stick to guidelines that might involve having only one very large floral and then complimentary stripes or geometrics, perhaps a smaller print mixed in. Those who are not maximalists may only want one print as a focal point mixed with solids. But others say there are no rules. It’s just what pleases the eye. They think of textiles like art and just continue adding them.