When I was a kid, one of my favourite activities was rummaging through my Nana’s old clothes and jewellery, searching for little imaginative treasures to play with. A lovely, elegant woman, she gave us free reign to her cases and closets, and we would find the most unexpected items to ooh and aah over.
L’Atelier is the furniture store equivalent to my Nana’s wardrobe – and I mean that in the best sense. Still at its same location after 25 years, this trove of unique and beautiful finds is an ever-changing space for stunning design. It was here that I saw my first tree branch chandelier, its twisting wooden spires a miracle of engineering and attention to scale, form, light and shadow. I still regret not buying it. For such a large space, this Rosedale gem is positively packed to the rafters with the quirky and sublime; it’s almost like a jumble shop, except you don’t have to sift through decades of junk to find something fabulous.
The store’s owner, Youssef Hasbani, is constantly updating L’Atelier’s inventory, making frequent buying excursions both at home and abroad to winkle out something new and unexpected for his clientele. When we speak by phone, he’s about to board a plane for Paris (I manage to remain civil despite my intense jealousy).
“I’m going to look at beautiful vintage lights this trip,” Hasbani says cheerfully. “I generally do prefer these buying trips to shopping off the internet. And it’s exciting to go searching in Morocco or India as well as throughout the States.
“Of course it involves some hassle, dealing with shipping and brokerage, and it’s not for the faint of heart when you’re dealing with remote places. But I like it. The travel, the bargaining, the discoveries. Yes, it’s still very exciting for me.”
Hasbani’s credentials as a designer serve him well on these trips, keeping him in tune with current styles without being too faddish or predictable. He buys what he likes, and what he knows will stand the test of time both physically and aesthetically.
“You have to go with what’s happening,” Hasbani says. “I try to be ahead of my game, as a rule. Back when I first opened people really liked a more Italian, 18th and 19th century look. It was more antiques, with more architectural pieces, like Biedermeier and Empire. Now it’s more 20th century, which is nice because I’ve always liked simplicity.”
Naturally, there are those pieces that are hard to part with when it comes time to sell. Currently Hasbani covets a rosewood wardrobe with goatskin and bronze paneling, as well as a painted secretaire in the style of Italian ballroom. And in recent memory are a pair of life size zinc angel wings that he still half-wishes he’d kept for himself. But there always seems to be a longstanding client who he knows would love whatever’s caught his eye, and he’s happy to see his favourites go to a good home.
“I’ve been open for so long that I’m dealing with different generations now as they create their own homes,” Hasbani says. “We have all the ladies we used to have, and now their children are coming in as well. It’s a very rewarding cycle.”