One’s sense of personal décor starts at such an early age. For me it was airplane wallpaper on my bedroom ceiling and a Wonder Woman motif that made my clueless father thrill at his son’s early interest in half-naked females. My sister favoured purple wallpaper emblazoned with images of Jimi Hendrix–style rock gods. Of course, over time our styles progressed — I went eclectic/minimalist, while my sister has never found a Sears living room set she didn’t adore.
Then, of course, there’s the inevitable Ikea phase of early adulthood, where the amazement of finding super-cheap furniture is quickly consumed by the realization that it’s engineered to fall apart about two weeks after the warranty expires. But when the real search for lasting furnishings begins, there are few places better than Toronto’s King Street.
Stretching eastward several blocks from the St Lawrence Market, this stretch boasts some of the chicest, largest (and frequently costliest) purveyors of furniture, ranging from quaintly traditional to cutting-edge modern.
Stacaro has a nice blend of both styles in its 225 King St E location. There are classic dining-room tables and kitchen dressers built in solid hardwood, but also a collection of eclectic soft furnishings and accessories to spice up even the most staid décor. My favourite is an armchair upholstered in a gorgeous fabric adorned with the Union Jack ($690). Stacaro’s lamps are equally unique; I’m quite taken with a line of Elementaire lamps with bases of bundled, reclaimed wooden branches and sticks. They’re not cheap ($599 for the floor lamp, $299 for the table version), but they’re definitely eye-catching.
Just across the road is Montauk Sofa (220 King St E), an industrial-style showroom devoted to a futuristic aesthetic. Some of these pieces are definitely not for condo living (they do have smaller scale, as well), but they are both visually stunning and sumptuously comfortable. Many of the materials are reclaimed, like a massive set of concrete coffee tables ($9,000 each) that are deadly chic — as well as deadly painful to the shins if you run into one (yes, I’m a klutz). The huge sofas range upward from $7,000, with the look and feel of pieces that will last the owner’s lifetime, and then some.
Where Montauk’s style is a sort of cool, Icelandic modern, the fashion-forward style of Calligaris’s (170 King St E) Italian furnishings is warm and contemporary. The colour palette is especially interesting, with vibrant reds, gorgeous charcoals and even a shade of jaundiced brown that reminds me of something my toddler produces after eating too much pineapple (the adorable saleswoman, Carol, likes to call it “grellow”). Yet somehow the shade works beautifully, particularly when paired with one of the firm’s sleek red chairs ($195). Carol also shows me a condo-lover’s dream: a coffee table that quickly and soundlessly whisks upward into a dining surface for up to six people ($1,350). I also covet a selection of glass-blown sculptural lamps that are both gorgeous and functional.
There’s quite a lot of condo-scale furniture on the King Street stretch, a natural reflection of nearby urban development. Quite a few shops feature space-saving and multi-use pieces, but Positive Space Interiors (167 King St E) takes things to a whole new level. The custom beds feature a massive amount of storage built into their bases, with pull-out drawers that are reminiscent of those old-style captain’s beds so many kids grew up with in the 1970s and ’80s. But these sleek, attractive beds are anything but kids’ furniture, and the storage is cunningly concealed with recessed hardware and contemporary lines.
Many of the King Street furniture stores are themselves decorated within an inch of their lives, each article carefully and artfully placed to create a studied ambiance. Then there’s the jumbly fabulousness of Office & Shop Furniture (181 King St E). Full disclosure here: I purchased a custom-made leather club chair from the affable owner eight years ago, and I have to tell you it is still like new. But this place specializes in odd little finds as well as classic desks, chairs and cabinets from bygone eras. I pick up a sweet little ladybug table light ($45) and am sorely tempted by some of the other leaded-glass Tiffany-esque lamps. You will always find something cool here, and you can’t beat the affordability.
Perhaps the most outrageous lighting on King Street can be found at Trianon Design (247 King St E). Swags, chandeliers and table lamps are crowned with shades made entirely of ostrich, turkey and other exotic bird feathers dyed in vivid pinks, greens, blues and yellows. They’re over-the-top, slightly impractical and utterly fantastic.
After all this modernity, it’s a little refreshing to walk into the AGA shop (150 King St E). As the owner of a vintage 1950s AGA stove, I can tell you that these little buggers heat a home like nothing else, while providing the best baking oven you’ll ever use (ambient heat rather than localized elements prevents scorching of any kind). Most of the models here are of the classic variety, though with some updated modern hardware and features. Prices vary and the sizes range from tiny to grandiose, but even just wandering through this lovely shop is a balm for the soul.
Given the proclivity for assemble-it-yourself budget stores in and around the GTA, it’s heartening to see that beautifully crafted furniture, made for a lifetime of use, still sells in Toronto. And that’s the thing about higher-end furniture, really. It may seem outrageously overpriced compared to its Swedish cousin, but that Ikea couch is probably going to collapse into bits of cotton and powdered wood fibre long before these babies’ springs just begin to ease.