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Our Crazy-Comprehensive Guide to the Toronto Design Offsite Festival 2017

How to navigate an action-packed week of blockbuster design events

By Eric Mutrie

Toronto never lacks for innovative and artistic exhibitions, even in the coldest of months. In fact, January in the city is a full-blown design tour de force. The Interior Design Show (IDS) welcomes an all-star lineup of international talent, while the ever-growing Toronto Design Offsite Festival (TO DO) now encompasses more than 100 additional events showcasing our thriving local design scene.


From January 16 to 22, follow all the action as we hand out 100 Loves tags to the best products (& other cool stuff) encountered at these events and more. Our daily design week dispatch posts will summarize everything we saw and loved while taking in the many mind-expanding events happening across the city. And be sure to follow us on Instagram for from-the-field updates.

The excitement kicks off at TO DO’s festival launch party at the historic Church of the Holy Trinity (19 Trinity Square) on Monday January 16. Below, we flag 11 other can’t-miss product launches, exhibitions and installations taking place in the days that follow. See you there!

Chroma shelves by Annie Tung and Brad Turner.

1. Bright

Illuminating Canuck design.

Known for casting a spotlight on Canadian designers, east-end retailer Made Design introduces the latest wares from Vancouver-based Annie Tung and Brad Turner. The duo’s new collection, first introduced last fall at IDS West in Vancouver, is a playful study of the way that different shapes and materials engage with light. Disc-shaped acrylic shelving throws rainbow-hued shadows, while test tube-esque pendant lights hang from suspension cords snaked through sculptural glass piping.

Free, Made Design, 394 King St E
Jan 17-22. Opening reception: Thu Jan 19, 6-9pm

dl-0117-designweek-greentea-2JAVA STOP: The lush living wall at the back of Tandem Coffee (368 King St E) isn’t the Corktown café’s only notable greenery – it’s also renowned for its Matcha green tea lattes.
RETAIL THERAPY: Made is located in the heart of the King East Design District, so its neighbours are some of the city’s poshest retailers. Klaus, Kiosk, Italinteriors and Suite 22 all import statement-making furniture by top European brands.

Umbra's slick new exterior. Photo by Laura Cawardine.
Umbra’s slick new exterior. Photo by Laura Cawardine.

2. Compact Living

Space-saving prototypes, plus a flashy new facade.

No one gets efficient home accessories better than Umbra, which is known for its playful bath and kitchen staples. In partnership with TO DO, the powerhouse manufacturer showcases 11 designer prototypes by the likes of ceramicist Alissa Coe and quilt maker Libs Elliott. Each object is envisioned to make the most of tight living quarters and, based on visitor and jury response, the best of the bunch may be put into production in the future. Outside, another must-see: the Kohn Shnier-designed two-storey flagship’s pink fins have been replaced by iridescent strips resembling shimmering oil puddles.

Free, Umbra Concept Store, 165 John St
Jan 16-22. Opening reception: Tue Jan 17, 6-9pm

tomdixon-meltJAVA STOP: Refuel at Hot Black Coffee (245 Queen St W), where Tom Dixon’s molten lava-esque Melt pendants – available at Klaus – glow above the bar.
RETAIL THERAPY: Nearby, Morba, CB2, Neat and Urban Mode keep the Queen West crowd supplied with everything from bull-shaped towel hooks to Scandi-style sofas. Like Umbra, all four offer furniture and homewares that are big on personality but still (relatively) budget-friendly.

Memories Relocated by Kaitlyn Bourden

3. Come Up to My Room

Historic lodgings transformed by alt art.

Multi-disciplinary creatives check in to the 128-year-old Gladstone Hotel to mount site-specific installations in the lobby, hallways and guest rooms. For this year’s theme, Transplant, more than 55 designers remark on the movement of people and ideas. The eclectic mix of edgy and unexpected work includes Grove Collective’s garden of mechanical plants, plus Kaitlyn Bourden’s Memories Relocated, which wraps latex around furniture pieces hand-carved by the artist to resemble tables and chairs from her childhood.

$10, Gladstone Hotel, 1214 Queen St W
Jan 19-22. Opening party: Sat Jan 21, 7-10

dl-0117-designweek-jimmys-3JAVA STOPJimmy’s Ossington outpost (15 Ossington Ave) embodies Queen West’s edgy rock ‘n roll attitude with a mix of metal and leather seating, plus unexpected accents like taxidermy geese.
RETAIL THERAPY: The more things change, the more they stay the same. Quasi Modo made the move to a new location farther west last year, but its selection remains as timeless as ever. Classics by the likes of Knoll have been in production since the ’60s.

Wave bowl by Nate Asis.

4. Do Design

Window displays with serious wow factor.

The latest creations by emerging and established designers take over storefronts along Dundas West. This year’s exhibition again spotlights fresh product design – see the reversible candleholders by Cindy Rendely Architexture and rippled ceramic dishes by Nate Asis – plus socially-minded initiatives. Programming includes talks by Luke Anderson, whose StopGap Foundation ramps make raised entrances accessible to those in wheelchairs, and Oasis Skateboard Factory, which runs business and design programs for youth.

Free, Various venues along Dundas West (between Bathurst & Grace)
Jan 19-22. Guided walking tour: Sun Jan 22 at 2pm (meet at Caldense Bakery)

dl-0117-designweek-federal-1JAVA STOP: Start your Dundas street crawl a little further west with brunch and a cup of joe at the Federal (1438 Dundas St W). We’re especially partial to the resto’s Cubano. (Just be sure to get there before 10am on weekends to snag a seat!)
RETAIL THERAPYEasy Tiger is an airy boutique packed with playfully chic office accessories and homewares. It’s the ideal place to source a succulent planter for that friend with quirky, discerning taste.


5. Evolution

Futuristic environments and contraptions inspired by biology.

Nature’s influence on designers can be seen in the sweeping organic curves of a wingback chair, or the rawness of a live-edge dining table. But many of today’s most tech-savvy makers are now looking beyond the natural beauty of the environment to instead study its inner workings. Curated by former TO DO executive director Sanam Samanian, this biomimicry-themed exhibition presents conceptual experiments that demonstrate how technology can be used to emulate – and expand upon – natural phenomena. Look for an immersive installation composed of mechanical fauna by architect Philip Beesley, plus new work by Fugitive Glue, Brent Cordner and more.

Free, Design Exchange, 234 Bay St
Jan 17-Apr 28. Opening reception: Tue Jan 17, 6-8pm (invite only)

dl-0117-designweek-cafeplenty-1JAVA STOP: With a palette of crisp white tile and elegant millwork, Café Plenty (1 King St W) is a calm, heavenly oasis in the heart of the bustling Financial District.
RETAIL THERAPY: A slight trek west, Swipe is a mecca for design book lovers. The neighbouring Spacing Store boasts a spot-on selection of city-themed merch (think neighbourhood-themed tote bags and magnets modelled after subway station signage).


An early sketch of Jaime Hayón’s planned Stone Age Folk installation for Caesarstone.

6. Interior Design Show

Fresh bathroom fixtures, dazzling feature exhibits and all-star speakers.

Canada’s largest contemporary furniture and design show is where to spot burgeoning trends and learn from design superstars. This year’s international guest of honour is Sir David Adjaye, fresh off the opening of his bronze-toned National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington. Another famous visitor, Spanish designer Jaime Hayón, will use Caesarstone to create a playful pop-up environment inspired by folklore. Also here, up-and-coming locals are celebrated in Studio North and Prototype, while independent designers manufacturing small-batch collections showcase wares in the Maker section.

$20, Metro Toronto Convention Centre, North Bldg, 222 Front St W
Jan 19-22. Opening night party: Thu Jan 19 7-11pm ($56).

David Mazel Tov by Louie George Michael.

7. Living Well

Design: the ultimate antidote to the winter blahs.

Curated by TO DO, this exhibition explores the ways that design improves our health and happiness. Handsome wood and soapstone side tables by Jake Whillans are the perfect pedestals for mood-boosting indoor plants, while Oscar Kwong‘s cast aluminum incense burner encourages mindfulness through quiet rituals.

Free, Craft Ontario, 1106 Queen St W
Jan 16-Mar 18. Opening reception: Sun Jan 22, 3-6pm

dl-0117-designweek-sjcb-1JAVA STOP: Opened last spring, Sam James’s latest location (917 Queen St W) adopts one of our fave trends – perforated metal – with a bar and bench seating made from mesh screens. A moody graphic mural by artist Jeremy Jansen decks one of the walls.
RETAIL THERAPY: Both Stylegarage and Inabstracto achieve a distinctly West Queen West vibe by juxtaposing clean modern fare with vintage and industrial finds.

A Memphis-inspired design by Alastair Martin shown at last year's edition of TCOUO.
A Memphis-inspired design by Alastair Martin shown at last year’s edition of TCOUO.

8. Tables, Chairs & Other Unrelated Objects – Six

Out-there riffs on traditional furniture forms.

OCAD U’s student show collects conceptual furniture a couple of degrees removed from your average living room environment. Curated by recent graduate Alisa Maria Wronski, the exhibition balances functional side tables with sculptural statement pieces that challenge traditional ideas about seating. Past editions have presented a number of playful, Memphis Group-inspired designs, plus an equestrian saddle-esque stool and a wireframe rocking chair

$10, Gladstone Hotel, 1214 Queen St W
Jan 17-31. Opening party: Sat Jan 21, 7-10

Walnut, leather and blackened brass fire tools by Thom Fougere.

9. That Is Best Which Works Best

Timeless designs inspired by the Shaker movement.

Junction boutique Mjölk continues to add to its line of exclusive homewares envisioned in collaboration with top international talent. This year’s collection introduces functional objects that look simultaneously contemporary and quaint. Knockout pieces include fire tools by EQ3 creative director Thom Fougere and a toolbox by Norwegian designer Hallgeir Homstvedt – both manufactured locally.

Free, Mjölk, 2959 Dundas St W
Jan 18-22. Opening reception: Wed Jan 18 7-10pm.

dl-0117-designweek-eamesshell-1JAVA STOP: Pull up a bright orange Eames shell chair at Full Stop (2948 Dundas St W). The large mural of a retro jetliner covering one wall makes a fun selfie backdrop.
RETAIL THERAPY: Mjölk‘s clean-lined aesthetic is the exception in this neighbourhood, where most design shops focus on vintage and reclaimed decor. At Smash, for example, the well-curated mix of industrial finds includes such gems as old storefront windows and vintage streetcar signs.

Ceramics by Knotwork LA, from Outside the Box - Los Angeles.
Ceramics by Knotwork LA, from Outside the Box – Los Angeles.

10. Outside the Box

Design capitals send creations from afar.

You are where you design. That’s the idea behind this joint WantedDesign and TO DO program, which collects accessories and objets d’art shipped in a bankers box from designers based in New York, L.A., Detroit, and other North American cities to reflect the prevalent design aesthetic in those cities. Several common threads emerge – Detroit rocks an industrial chic aesthetic, while San Francisco Bay Area makers embrace a calm, beach-y style. This year introduces new cities into the mix, including Asheville and Medicine Hat.

Free, Gladstone Hotel Art Hut, 1181 Queen St W
Jan 16-22. Opening reception: Sat Jan 21 5-8pm

Knitted Dress by Erwin Wurm. Photo by Delfino Sisto Legnani.

11. Work: Visual Arts Exhibitions

The festival’s most dramatic fashion statements.

Harbourfront Centre woos this month with four design-heavy shows. In Katharine Tessier’s Everyday Lighting, multidisciplinary Craft & Design Studio residents illuminate the waterfront arts hub with luminous prototypes. In Workwear, a co-production with the Instituto Italiano di Cultura, bold looks by Issey Miyake and Vivienne Westwood inspire the fashion-forward set. Rounding out the programming is Melanie Egan’s The Essentials, a jewelry exhibition, and Workaday, a collection of the curious tools artists make magic with.

Free, Harbourfront Centre, 235 Queens Quay W
Jan 21-Apr 23. Opening reception: Sat Jan 27 6-10pm

dl-0117-designweek-boxcarsocial-1JAVA STOP: Pairing reclaimed wood tables with industrial-style metal seating, Boxcar Social’s Harbourfront location (235 Queens Quay W) is a ruggedly handsome hangout spot. The 200-seat café doubles as a licensed bar with a formidable selection of craft brews.
RETAIL THERAPY: The Harbourfront Centre Shop offers ceramics, glassfware, textiles and more created by artists-in-residence from Harbourfront’s own Craft & Design Studio. It’s perfect for discerning tourists seeking unconventional Toronto souvenirs. 

 Attention all out-of-towners!

dl-0117-designweek-drakehotelroom-1The Drake Hotel’s Design Lovers package scores you a 10% room discount, a complimentary copy of our sister magazine AZURE (plus a one-year digital subscription), and hand-picked gifts from the Drake General Store.

Book online with promo code IDS.

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