Photography: Dustin Rabin, Andrew Richard Designs
Unique finds, from vintage to mid-century modern, underscore the independent design spirit of this district.
Just east of the intersection of Queen and Berkeley Streets, a parade of well-heeled professionals, arty students and long-time locals pass by a streetscape of quirky merchants, eclectic galleries, and pint-sized film and theatre studios.
Among them, it’s not unusual to spot celebrity designers—or their harried assistants—ducking into one of a growing cluster of home decor hot spots.
There are practical reasons that design shops are sprouting. It may be one of the few spots in Toronto where finding street parking is not an impossible task, and because it’s still on the verge of being a design destination, rents are reasonable.
At 323 Queen St. E., there’s Kiondo, where Christopher Johnson sells fine African art, furniture and textiles. He moved there in 2009 with his wife, jewelry designer Laura Serrafero, from King and Dufferin Streets, which was becoming too pricey and crowded for their taste.
One of the most arresting storefronts is Ethel, 20th Century Living (327 Queen St. E.), which sells vintage modern furniture, decor and accessories. It’s owned by the chatty, amiable, Shauntelle LeBlanc, who has an encyclopedic knowledge of mid-century modern furniture and its Canadian manufacturers, which she shares generously with curious clientele.
Ethel boasts a constantly changing array of vintage pieces, with everything from typewriters to teak dining sets to Tiki mugs. Keep looking and you’ll spy other unusual finds, such as a Russian propaganda poster from the ’80s.
LeBlanc decided to target affordable design, as she’s not snobbish about labels. “People get hung up on names, but mid-century modern doesn’t begin and end with Knoll and Herman Miller,” she explains.
Vintage pieces from local and regional furniture makers of mid-century modern pieces are, for example, of special interest to LeBlanc, who notes that Kitchener-Waterloo was at one time a manufacturing hub.
“After the war, a lot of craftsmen, woodworkers and cabinetmakers from Eastern Europe and Germany settled there. They either started their own companies or were employed by other companies to make furniture,” says LeBlanc. “Anything from that area and that period is going to last—the people who made those pieces were true craftsmen,” she adds.
Like Johnson, LeBlanc moved to the area in part because of rising rents at a previous location in east-end Leslieville. Asked what she likes about the locale, she says, “I love that it’s real, a bit gritty. It’s in transition. People here don’t want something homogenized.”
In fact, the area might be experiencing the same kind of shift underway just a five minute walk south at Parliament and Adelaide Streets, where high-end outdoor furniture store Andrew Richard Designs opened in 2011.
When it’s time to take a break from browsing, head across the street to the cheerful, casual Redline Coffee and Espresso Bar (354 Queen St. E.), where owner Julie Van Der Lugt is justifiably proud of her handmade syrups, which go nicely with organic coffee. If you’re peckish, there’s comforting baked oatmeal and sandwiches for breakfast, homemade soups and grilled cheese at lunch, and coffee-friendly cookies and sweet breads all day long.