If you’re going to launch a business amid a pandemic, best do it alongside vintage furniture, gorgeous artwork and a basset hound pup
It’s doubtful that Michelle Donnelly, a creative director, and her husband Mark Puchala, an artist, will forget the launch of lark DFF (the initialism stands for drink food flora). With sustainable design at the fore, the service sees spring water and oat milk delivered in svelte glass bottles that are picked up after use, sanitized, then filled and delivered again, like a modern-day milkman. Their first clients were restaurants and hotels, but almost immediately following a pilot run, they had to pivot – hard. COVID shut down the city’s hospitality industry – their clientele – leaving their self-funded business adrift in the lockdown. Needless to say, it was a memorable takeoff, if not a smooth one.
Since then, they’ve been working from their vintage-furniture-filled home, making the now direct-to-consumer lark work in uncertain times. And with 17,000 bottles and 3,000 boxes diverted from landfill – the true measure of a business that puts sustainable design front-and-centre – work it has. Below, they walk us through their home and headquarters.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Designlines: Who lives with you?
Our son Jack, who’s 12. He’s into skateboarding and sculpture. There’s also Gustav, our 10-month-old basset hound who loves to chew on everything.
Designlines: What part of town is your home located and how long have you lived there?
Our home is in the West End, in Beaconsfield village. It’s functional: it can be a chill retreat, a great place to entertain and we also have a couple of great spaces to work in.
Designlines: How old is the home or what style is it?
Our home is a Victorian built in the 1890s. We loved the scale. It’s wide for a Victorian and has great ceiling height. The facade was covered in brick from the ‘80s so it was stripped of its charm and the house was abandoned when we bought it. Weeds were growing inside the house and someone had set part of a room on fire. It looked like a haunted house. It scared other buyers away. We saw the potential and went for it. We had to completely gut and rebuild it, keeping a few original elements where we could.
Designlines: What are some of your favourite aspects of the home?
We love the original archway in the dining room and the ceiling height throughout. We created a central kitchen, the main components of which are made of the home’s original doors. The addition is clad in reclaimed barn board that goes from inside, on the ceiling, to the outside cladding, connecting the interior and exterior. The back garden and salt water plunge pool are a great everyday escape, too. We never have to leave and fight cottage traffic.
Designlines: How did your relationship with your home change during the pandemic, or how did it serve you differently?
We created an upstairs home office that was more private for all the conference calls, but we frequently use our dining room as an office space so we can look after Gustav.
We both have worked from home on and off for years, so the pandemic did not really change our use of the home too much. Lark’s product development happens at an outside facility, but our ideas happen mostly in our kitchen or when cuddled up on our couch.
Designlines: Moving forward, with home-time now more important than ever, are there further changes you would like to make to your living environment?
We’re looking to create a serene bedroom for ourselves and get a king size bed. We really need to prioritize rest and sleep. Hopefully we’ll have it ready for winter.
Designlines: Creativity and business wise, what strides were you able to make during the enforced time off? And what about personally?
Just ensuring the business could succeed during COVID has been our focus. With Indigo and lark on the go, we definitely didn’t have time to perfect our sourdough.