In Business: Art Interiors ring in 20 years

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To mark their 15th anniversary, Lisa Diamond Katz and Shira Wood held a big art exhibit at Art Interiors.

The show, “15 years, 15 style makers, 15 artists”, featured pieces of art chosen by well-known interior designers such as Brian Gluckstein, Candice Olson and Sarah Richardson, and House & Home editor-in-chief Suzanne Dimma.

“It was a like a wedding,” Wood says from the second floor studio space on Spadina Road, north of Lonsdale Road, describing the workload and planning process that went into the event. “We didn’t want to do that again five years later so what we’re doing for this milestone is we’re doing something fun.”

To mark their 20th anniversary, Art Interiors has instead opted to give away art — for free. Through a different weekly contest on Facebook, Twitter or an in-store initiative, customers can take home pieces like an $1,800 painting.

“It’s also a way of giving back to our clients,” says Diamond Katz, who grew up in Forest Hill.

Diamond Katz and Wood first opened the gallery in 1993 after graduating from university and realizing there was a niche for an unintimidating place for people to buy original and affordable works of art. An artist herself, Wood says she also understood the struggle of finding a place, as an emerging artist, to show and sell her work.

“We wanted people to come in and feel welcomed,” she said. “The setup that’s here is more like the back room of a gallery, which is more engaging — people can feel comfortable actually touching the art, flipping through it.”

The gallery offers the work of mainly Canadian artists but also features some from Italy, England, Korea and Russia. The artwork lines the walls for customers to browse at their leisure. Although prices range from $25 to $6,500, most of the artwork is under $500.

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Wood says they also offer advice and education around a particular artist. “Any requests like who is the artist, where are they from, their education, what shows they’ve had, the media — we will tell you how it’s done, what to buy,” she said.

With customers ranging from the novice art buyer to a seasoned collector, Art Interiors clients also represent a wide age range.

“We have retired people moving into a condo to people in their 20s buying their first piece of art — or even 13-year-olds,” Wood said, adding that some of their clients are people looking for Bar Mitzvah gifts.

The walls in the gallery change on a weekly basis to display different artists and artwork throughout the year. There is also an annual show “Festival of Smalls”, which starts Nov. 9, where the walls are adorned with pieces of art at affordable prices — from $55 to $250.

“Anyone who has ever wanted a piece but can’t afford one by the artists can now afford a piece by them because they’ll all compromise their price point so that they can be a part of the show,” Diamond Katz says, noting the festival usually sees “a lineup out the door.”

From working with celebrity designers to maintaining longtime staff and selecting work from artists, the pair say the people they’ve been able to meet are a highlight of the last 20 years. Another thrill is seeing the pieces they selected to carry in-store on TV while watching a home interview or seeing photographs of how clients have incorporated their artwork in their homes.

While the industry has changed in the past two decades, they note their advice to clients has remained the same when it comes to selecting art: “Go with what you love.”

“A lot of people think of buying art as the last step in the decorating phase, which kind of drives me nuts because people should just buy art because they love that piece and not because it’s the last thing to put up on the wall,” Diamond Katz commented. “People have to stop thinking of it as something to decorate your wall; they have to think of it as something you’re starting to collect and something you’re going to have enjoyment from.”

When clients walk in with a paint swatch or the colour of their furniture set, Diamond Katz and Wood immediately tell them to put it away, they say, because they want them to like a piece of art before they find a place for it in their homes.

“Go with what you love,” Wood repeats. “Don’t buy for investment; buy for what you love.

“Lots of things will no longer be with you in 20 years, but art you’ll always have.”

Biz Battle: The scoop on the area’s longtime ice cream rivals

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Our local cold war

The Village Chill and Dutch Dreams are two of the oldest and most popular destinations for ice cream in the Forest Hill area. To satisfy our sweet tooth, the Town Crier set out to discover what sets these destinations apart from the competition.

Opened in 1985 by Theodoor Aben, Dutch Dreams has been a neighbourhood fixture at Bathurst Street and St. Clair Avenue West with its bounty of sweet treats and eclectic décor, which has even been the setting of a Spice Girls video.

Second generation owners Theo and Dina Aben (who met at the shop when Dina came in as a customer) now run the business, which boasts between 32 and 50 kinds of kosher ice cream. There is also red velvet cheesecake and a variety of homemade desserts.

Chatting in the back seating area inside the shop, Theo Aben recalls how his grandmother used to serve him ice cream in the same fashion.

“Our ice cream is all served with whip cream and fresh fruit, which is a Dutch signature in Holland,” says enthusiastically, with a smile. “My Dutch pancakes are extremely popular: people drive from all over to have them, and it’s my grandmother’s recipe.”

Having been part of the business since he was 12, Aben says he’s been able to serve three or four generations of customers.

Many couples, whose first date was at Dutch Dreams, have also taken engagement photos at the shop. He’s also witnessed several proposals.

Much like fashion, ice cream is trendy, with flavours frequently going in and out of style, Aben contends.

“Pina Colada was one of our best sellers and then, about 10 years ago, I don’t know what happened, but we couldn’t give it away to anybody — like, nobody wanted it,” he says, his eyes widening. “And then, all of a sudden, there was this surge of Pina Colada lovers that just showed up, like three years ago, and now I’m going through it like crazy.”

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Although The Village Chill has been part of the neighbourhood since 1988, manager John Kin’s parents have been running the Lonsdale Road and Spadina Road shop for the last year.

The family business is home to 25 flavours of ice cream, although the shop also stocks extra varieties, such as lime sorbet and bubble gum for those customers seeking the “less popular” dessert flavours.

While ice cream is a big draw for customers, Kin notes many people also come in for the fat-free, low-calorie frozen yogurt.

“You can choose any two flavours, then we blend real fruit, Oreos, Smarties — even coffee,” he says from behind the counter, stating that being friendly is also key to their success. “If people request it, we also do multiple flavours for the ice cream.

“A kid once asked for five flavours in a small, and we said, ‘Sure thing.’”

The ice cream parlour also features ice cream cakes, and sells Dippin’ Dots: small ice cream balls flash frozen with liquid nitrogen in flavours such as banana split, cookie dough and cotton candy.

Working alongside his brother James, Kin says having customers remember their names is a frequent highlight of the job, but he also recalls receiving a letter in the mail after a customer came in without any cash.

“We actually had somebody send us a cheque from the United States because they didn’t have any money,” he says, noting the shop doesn’t accept debit or credit cards. “It’s an amazing place; people are really nice.

“We just really like the neighbourhood.”

Dutch Dreams The Village Chill
Established: 1985 1988
Nearest intersection: Bathurst Street and St. Clair Avenue W. Lonsdale Road and Spadina Road
Kinds of ice cream: 32 to 50 kosher
flavours
25 to 28
Owner’s favourite ice cream Moose Droppings Bordeaux Cherry
Most popular flavour: French Vanilla Chocolate but Moose Droppings is a close second
The scoop: In true Dutch tradition, ice cream is served with fresh fruit and whipping cream. They make their own desserts including the waffle cones and Dutch pancakes made from a secret family formula. Also sell tubs of ice cream. Also serve smoothies, shakes, fat free low calorie probiotic frozen yogourt and Dippin’ Dots, an ice cream snack of little balls that have been flash frozen with liquid nitrogen.
Open year round? Yes, but with shorter hours in the winter No, open from April until it gets cold, usually around November


This article was originally published in the September 2013 edition of the Forest Hill Town Crier.

Ice Cream Battle

Local Designer: Live Beautiful

DESIGN DUO: Live Beautiful’s Laura Hart, left, and Alison Nasmith show off pieces from their Rough and Tumble collection at Aime, a Yorkville boutique carrying their line.

DESIGN DUO: Live Beautiful’s Laura Hart, left, and Alison Nasmith show off pieces from their Rough and Tumble collection at Aime, a Yorkville boutique carrying their line.

While taking a jewellery-making course, Laura Hart and Alison Nasmith ignored their instructor’s design advice, which proved to be a key step in starting their own business.

The wide band ring — made much bigger than their teacher saw fit — wound up being the first piece they sold upon launching their jewellery line Live Beautiful online nearly two years ago.

“Someone from Australia bought it and it was really exciting,” Hart says.

“It was amazing because at that point we had this little Etsy shop and maybe our friends and family would buy things but it was like somebody bought it from Australia!” Nasmith adds. “It was cool and she got it and she loved it and to make something for someone and to know that we’re a part of their life in that little way is great.”

In contrast to poorly made, cheap and mass-produced items, the pair hope to challenge the marketplace by creating unique, handcrafted and sustainable jewellery using recycled materials, found objects and vintage pieces.

“We try to find ethical stones and small suppliers so we’re trying to put a positive product out into the world that still looks great,” Nasmith says. “We offer jewellery with a conscience so a big part of our brand is making everything by hand.”

In April Live Beautiful’s most recent collection, Rough and Tumble, debuted at three stores in Ontario including Aime boutique on Davenport Road, where they held a launch celebration in early May.

This month will also mark the release of the company’s bridal creations, which along with their other pieces are created in their Annex office near Bloor and Bathurst streets, featuring statement pieces that incorporate embroidery, beads and vintage lace.

“It’s very special to be part of somebody’s day and to create something old,” Nasmith says, adding a lot of their bridal work is custom made and she also designed her own wedding ring. “I love using pieces from people’s collection like working with their grandmother’s broach and turning that into a bib necklace. It’s personal and beautiful.”

Prior to this endeavour, Hart and Nasmith became fast friends while attending university in Kingston, where they fittingly worked together in a jewellery store and would constantly critique newly arriving stock.

Several years later they decided to take a jewellery-making course to spend more time together and to do something creative.

WHAT'S THE STORY? Laura Hart and Alison Nasmith create jewellery with a conscience made with materials sourced from small suppliers. Many of the pieces have a back story like the Herkimer diamonds, which are from an Amish farm in upstate New York.

WHAT’S THE STORY? Laura Hart and Alison Nasmith create jewellery with a conscience made with materials sourced from small suppliers. Many of the pieces have a back story like the Herkimer diamonds, which are from an Amish farm in upstate New York.

“We just kind of realized that we had a talent for it, as we were making stuff in the class, we were like this is something that feels right, it feels natural,” Hart says. “It was coming from us organically, like we weren’t really trying to do things but they were just coming out really cool.”

With varying skills and aesthetics, the pair say they bring different things to the table and complement each other well.

“I have maybe like 700 ideas and maybe three of them are good,” Nasmith says. “I just try a bunch of different things and lots of our designs are kind of accidents. I’m trying to do something else and then I’m like I don’t like it like that but maybe if I do this instead and there’s things I’ll do half way and Laura will come and tell me how she sees it.”

While their personal favourites of the current collection include the large Roxy studs and the bullet shaped Presley earrings, a popular draw are several pieces made with Herkimer diamonds they carried over from a previous line.

“A big thing we do is work with people on Etsy, we just feel like it’s a great community and they’re all small businesses all run by individuals and we want to support that,” Hart says. “The Herkimers are great on many different levels. They are beautiful pieces, people really respond to them aesthetically but they have such a great story.”

With a background in academics, Nasmith devotes a lot of time to researching where the materials come from, the story behind it and making sure everything is conflict free to see if the items suit their brand.

While investigating a batch of Herkimer diamonds, she learned they were from an Amish farm in upstate New York.

“The story just totally captured my heart,” Nasmith says. “They kind of come naturally through soil and they’re quite tough and the farm has horses that plow the fields and the stones were bothering their hooves so they let one miner very infrequently come to the farm and clear them out so its easier plowing and that’s where we get the stones. We paired them with 100 percent recycled metals from a supplier where our purchase goes towards animal welfare organizations. It looks great and it feels great, it’s like a lovely ethical piece and it really embodies what we’re trying to do with the line.”

As the business venture continues to grow, Hart and Nasmith hope the values of the brand will resonate with customers who also like the designs aesthetically.

“A big part of what we’re trying to do is create something that has a story,” Hart says. “It’s creating something that is different and hopefully they’ll want to invest in something they can keep forever and pass on to future generations. That would be the greatest thing if we could create something that people wanted to keep forever.”