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family affairs: a series

Although the Art Shoppe’s new Toronto location sees less foot traffic, window displays remain a hallmark.Kevin Wong

Located on a sparse strip of road a few minutes' walk from the bustling shops of Toronto's midtown design district, the Art Shoppe's new showroom – a glass and steel monument to nearly eight decades of design – is a far cry from the family-owned furniture emporium's beginnings 78 years ago.

In 1936, Leon Offman had established the Art Shoppe after moving to Canada from Poland; having started out as an upholsterer and furniture maker, he stocked his store, on Yonge Street near Eglinton Avenue, with a huge selection of well-made furniture from North America and Europe, ultimately making it a go-to for homeowners and interior designers alike. In the new showroom's entryway, historic photographs and renderings dating back to the 1940s show a 930-square-metre space slowly expanding to take over the surrounding barber and coffee shops. After his son, Martin Offman, took over the business, the store sprawled to over 6,500 square metres over three floors (Today, it isn't unusual for older patrons to reminisce about running up and down the curving staircase as children while their parents shopped for sofas or dining sets. Last week, it was announced that the site, to be developed by CD Capital Developments and Freed Developments, is slated to house a project called the Art Shoppe Lofts + Condos, featuring residential lobby spaces designed by none other than Karl Lagerfeld.)

Martin Offman's three daughters – Carolyn Offman, Amy Heckmann and Cathryn Walderman – now run things, although their father is still the CEO. And while some things – such as the store's location – are changing, others haven't. Many of the employees, for instance, have been working for the company for more than 25 years – the warehouse manager for over 45. "It's like they're in the family," Carolyn Offman says. The offerings on the show floor, moreover, have remained pretty much consistent. "We always had modern in the store," Offman says. "That was one of the things that was unique about the Art Shoppe way back. We knew traditional and we knew modern. And we have been continuing – literally continuing – what our grandfather started."

Despite construction delays and the usual headaches associated with such a move, the transition to the new location took only a few months – thanks, in part, to many of the office workers donning their sweats and hard hats to wrap and prep the 7,000-plus furniture pieces then in stock. Size-wise, the new space is akin to the old one, although it covers a single floor, with vignettes arranged within features such as partitions, changing floor treatments and drop ceilings to create a cozy feel beneath the soaring 5.5-metre-tall ceilings. Design elements – including frosted-glass panels and the outdoor Art Shoppe sign, individual letters that date back to a renovation in 1980 – made their way over from the shop on Yonge as well.

The same goes for traditions. At the old location, elaborate furniture displays and high-end design arrangements in the front windows became an institution among passersby; bus tours even made it a stop on their tours of the city. Although the new location has far less foot traffic, there are two windows beside the entryway, one for a modern arrangement and one for a more traditional showing, visible to patrons as they make their way from the parking lot to the front door. "We're proud to be here," Offman says of her store's new neighbourhood. "The Art Shoppe is a Toronto icon. It was a landmark at Yonge and Eglinton and we're hoping that this will become landmark, too."