king east design district

The top 10 furniture and design stores on King East

The King East Design District is the name given to a loose collective of Toronto furniture design stores and home showrooms centred, fittingly, around King East (between Church St. and Parliament St.). Though we have tons of local and national homegrown design talent to draw from in Toronto, international designers have by and large chosen to converge on King; some of Italy, France, and Scandinavia's best and most enduring designers are all located within a short walk of one another, and all available for the cherry-picking (or, for those with more limited budgets, the appreciative ogling).

Here are my picks for the top furniture and design stores in the King East Design District.

Klaus by Nienkamper
Industrial design and fine art merge at Klaus, where nearly every item - from a life-sized horse lamp by Moooi ($9250) to a collection of artful household objects from Eclectic by Tom Dixon - would look as perfect parked in an all-white gallery, next to a placard of an artist's statement, as it would beside your TV unit. Grounding the three-floor store full of mad statement pieces: the in-house line of modern, no-nonsense sofas and chairs.

Nothing's quite as it seems at the RADform showroom, hidden away in the George Brown campus. The practical is tucked imperceptively into the whimsical: Stately vases ($232, from Ibride, a line exclusive to RADform in Toronto) disassemble into sets of serving dishes, toy submarines ($100) hide soap dispensers and cotton-ball holders for your bathroom counter, and stacks of giant playing cards or headless dog sculptures (about $400) make for sturdy seating or shelving. You'll also find overstuffed industrial-chic sofas and chairs (which hide pull-out beds under the felt slipcovers, natch).

The window-shopping afforded by this flamboyant decor shop at King and Sherbourne alone is enough to brighten a dreary day. Taking its name from a little retreat in the estate of Versailles, the store mixes custom pieces (goose-feather lighting fixtures, anyone?) with real-deal antiques. Check the tags for a piece's backstory: "Chicken wire armoire, hand painted walnut, early 1900s, France, $7500." While not all of the prices seem immediately justifiable, if you've ever wanted to liven up your place with an authentic Louis XIV chair reupholstered with penguin-print fabric, or perhaps a 1940s buffet lacquered bright yellow, this is your spot.

Ital Interiors
The product offerings at Ital Interiors - which, true to the name, focus on imports from Italian brands like Molteni & C and Flexform - are selectively-chosen and sparsely-displayed, in a restrained colour palette of greys and taupes. Despite that, the King and Berkeley showroom manages to read as remarkably inviting, from a showpiece Living Divani modular sofa (made of natural leather that feels like butter to the touch) to a jawdropping Boffi grey-marble sample kitchen.

Studio B
This massive showroom on the sleepy stretch of King east of Parliament is segmented by designer, with rich indoor pieces, like Holly Hunt leather-wrapped desks and gloriously-grained wooden shelving units, a stone's throw away from inventive outdoor furniture like nylon rope-back outdoor sofas by Kettal. Along the western edge of the showroom, there's a large selection of design classics by Walter Knoll and Herman Miller.

Devoted to the eponymous Italian brand's wares, Calligaris' aesthetic is colourful and vibrant while still rooted firmly in functionality. Hits of teal and mustard, and light retro touches like lozenge-shaped tables and cocoon-like chairs, are offset by clean-lined sofas and coffee tables in wood, glass and steel finishes. (Basically, this 100-year-old company makes what all your brightest, wackiest IKEA pieces want to be when they grow up.)

This cavernous open showroom boasts three concrete-and-glass floors of furniture from a surprisingly-tight selection of mostly European brands. B&B Italia rules much of the first floor, which features sculptural-yet-cozy furniture like the Husk armchair ($4066); you can also check out some lighting from Flos. Further up, there's a wealth of iconic pieces from Ligne Roset, including the French company's Ottoman and Togo sofas. Odds and ends live downstairs, including Artemide lighting fixtures by Issey Miyake tucked into a far corner.

UpCountry / Andrew Richard Designs
UpCountry's showroom, spread over two huge floors, follows the beat of its own drummer (Charlie Watts, perhaps, or Keith Moon). Mixed in with the KEDD's standard modern aesthetic, you'll find clubby, antique-like items like studded leather chairs and beat-up storage trunks, and a hearty dose of British iconography from the U.K.'s Timothy Oulton. Head to the back and you'll find the equally-massive Andrew Richard Designs, arguably the city's best-known resource for outdoor furniture. The eponymous local designer uses a patented synthetic weave called Solartex (with a few touches of wood, steel and even outdoor leather) to fashion everything from sleek sectionals and dining sets to mid-century modern-style tables and Louis XV armchairs.

Suite 22 Interiors
Suite 22 Interiors, located on Richmond St., is the brand-new downtown outpost of the four-year-old Italian modern furniture showroom in Markham. Though the atmosphere inside is bright and relaxed, their design cred is serious - sofas by Arketipo, modular couches and storage by Lago, and cheeky seating and shelving by Casamania all make an appearance, rounded out with Kartell accessories and Spectral entertainment units with built-in speakers from Germany.

Ma Zone
And now for something completely different: Ma Zone is all about colour, whimsy, and - refreshingly, for the area - value-oriented design buys. They have something for everyone, though everything may not be for everyone - does anyone really buy blown-glass knick-knacks anymore? The appeal of their kitchenware selection, however, is undeniable - handsome bottle-shaped spice grinders from MENU, anthropomorphic kitchen gear from Alessi, and sleek cookware from Iittala. I bet a set of polka-dot forks and knives would offset that poured-concrete dining table nicely.

Did I miss your favourite? Leave your picks for the top KEDD design stores in the comments.

Photo of Klaus by Dennis Marciniak.

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