For the increasing number of Torontonians who find themselves spatially challenged, the question of what to do with their tiny dwellings looms large.
The answer, as offered by award-winning Batay-Csorba Architects, is “not much.”
While the husband-and-wife team of Jodi and Andrew Batay-Csorba currently offer only retail spaces as inspiration, these work for our purposes, since the first, Milky’s Coffee, is rather kitchen-like, and Headfoneshop, a place where serious audiophiles drop thousands of dollars on headphones, is as cozy as a living room.
Each is a paltry 300 square feet, yet there are dozens of little ideas to digest. But the most important is as follows: Leave people with one lasting memory. I can relate to this; two decades ago, I attended a writer’s workshop taught by a Toronto Sun crime writer who penned teeny 300- to 400-word columns, and his advice was “leave the reader with just one image.”
At Milky’s, which opened its door three months ago on Dundas St. W. near Bathurst St., that image is what’s on the walls … and floors and ceiling. As president of flooring shop Relative Space in the King Street East Design District, Milky’s owner Fraser Greenberg had a product, says Mr. Batay-Csorba, that’s usually used in a more traditional and ornate way, but, subverted here, it “would produce a caffeinated space … but not in a way that’s jarring.”
It would be, he continues, “a highly tailored and impactful moment in someone’s day; and this idea that it would be a grab-and-go, so that the moment is short.”
He’s right: It’s so thoughtful, all one will likely remember are the bowties, diamonds and trapezoids, all interconnecting and all made of milky-white and golden wood (with bits of marble), spilling across all surfaces. Perhaps, if one is really design-conscious, it might also register that the takeout cup is the only thing that sports any colour (coral) at all. This, says Mr. Greenberg, is because he wanted the “focus” to be “on the people here who are drinking,” and because that period each morning before he’s had his go-go juice is when he’s “most vulnerable [to] having my mood affected.”
What his customers won’t notice – but might register subconsciously – is that all logos and company names have been removed from the coffee machines and (most) packaging. And that shelving isn’t the standard chunky stuff from the Swedish big box store, but rather done in crisply tailored, thin, cantilevered metal as designed by the architects.
Mr. Greenberg is just fine with us not noticing everything; his goal was to create a space that makes people happy, where interaction with strangers happens more readily because of a lack of table and chair ‘islands’ that allow laptoppers to camp for the day.
“You’re setting up a framework for people to interact,” Mr. Batay-Csorba confirms, which makes me think of how supermarkets influence behaviour by forcing shoppers to walk past the impulse-buy potato chip on their way to the necessary milk. Here, at Milky’s, it’s a kitchen party whether folks like it or not.
“Well, not everyone buys the chips, but most do,” Mr. Greenberg says with a smile.
At Headfoneshop, the opposite is true. Once inside this dark, masculine space, one becomes an island in a herringbone-floored ocean of calm. Perched on a simple stool with soft leather cupping one’s ears, nothing can break the musical spell you’ll find yourself under.
Spend an hour comparing products. It’s cool with laid-back owner Charles Park, who floats around the space like a customer, since there’s no sales counter. Or spend three hours, since these babies will likely cost more than your first car.
That’s if you can find the place: Tucked between flashing bubble tea shops and gaudy nail salons at Emerald Park towers at Yonge and Sheppard, Headfoneshop hides behind tinted glass trimmed with stainless steel …rather like a slick Marantz receiver from the 70s. Only peeks of light-bands blocked by some sort of sculpture are visible.
The “sculpture,” it turns out, is an ingenious headphone shelf/light diffuser/art object made of bent metal, powder-coated panels that the architects invented because “there’s no model” for a store like this, Mr. Batay-Csorba says. “So an incredibly quirky program, very abnormal, but perfect for us.” Covering one wall and the ceiling, the origami-like panels are what will stay with customers.
And because Mr. Park had few programmatic requirements beyond how to display headphones and tuck away cords, the Batay-Csorbas let their imaginations run wild.
“It’s about this testing music laboratory,” Mr. Batay-Csorba says as he stretches out on the long, built-in couch the couple designed for the space, which, while living room-esque, was actually inspired by jazz clubs. “A jazz club is dark, you really feel the atmosphere,” he explains. “You sit down and you just enjoy and groove out, so why don’t we bring in some of those materials, rich woods, velvets …” he trails off.
Soon, the conversation turns to mp3 vs. CD vs. vinyl, Bebop vs. West Coast Jazz, how Mr. Batay-Csorba played sax in high school, and, after Katrina, his opportunity to work on a new home for the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra. He adds, however, that he knew so little about the genre he had to binge-watch the Ken Burns mini-series.
As Mr. Park loads up music for a new customer, we reluctantly leave his cozy, smoked oak confines for the flashy, noisy mall. Time to calm the nerves with another cappuccino.
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