No Mean City: The World of Architecture, As Seen From Toronto

Jun 22

Tour: Mjolk by Studio Junction

2010 / Categories: Uncategorized

If you want it done right, do it yourself. The gutsy young architects who run Studio Junction, Peter Tan and Christine Ho Ping Kong, would be too modest to put it that way – but they’ve accomplished some extraordinary work by building their own designs, with Tan sawing, milling and finishing the fine-grained details.

Case in point: Mjolk, a design shop in Toronto’s Junction area.

The interior design had much to live up to: the store’s proprietors Juli Daoust and John Baker sell only the finest Japanese and Scandinavian design, from Aalto to Fukasawa. And they are obsessive and very knowledgeable design bloggers. SJ responded with display shelves and interior elements that show impressive craftsmanship and creative, unexpected uses of wood.

(That’s also what SJ delivered in their home-slash-studio, which I wrote about for Dwell last year.)

And at Mjolk, Tan led the building team, taking the space from a wide-open art gallery to its current state in just six weeks. Tan “was here all the time during construction, doing the really filthy work,” says Baker. “They treated this place like it was their second home.”

From the front of the space, you can see the major architectural moves: a drop ceiling and floor made of white-stained Douglas fir plywood. To the right is a C-shaped showcase, made of computer-milled plywood and topped with a teak veneer. It’s one of two long displays that help invite shoppers into the store. “In retail, you always want to get people into the middle and the back of the space,” says Ho Ping Kong. “It draws you into the space, but also it has a lightness to it. And because it’s clad in teak, it’s a nod to all the classic Danish design in the store.”

On the opposite wall there’s an innovative kitchen unit made of oiled teak and black powder-coated steel. The slits cut into the teak let dishes stand up to dry – or, in this context, to be seen by browsers.

The counter stretches out into a cantilevered display shelf.

The most spectacular moment is the desk: a chunky counter in Douglas fir (see image at top of post), placed in front of a curvy feature wall. The desk surface echoes the fir on the floors, but this is left raw, so it has a tactile beauty that really sinks in when you sit down on an Aalto stool to complete your purchase. As for the wall, “It’s clad in offcuts” – leftover scraps – “from our workshop and the workshops of our friends,” Tan says. The range of different wood species and stains harmonizes with other materials nearby.“If you introduce a new wood, it fits in,” Tan explains. Everything doesn’t have to match.

The wall (left) was actually created for an exhibition at the design show Come Up To My Room, and altered to fit in the Mjolk space. That allowed the designers to finish the construction in six weeks leading up to last Christmas opening. Other than the screen, “The rest of it, we essentially designed on the fly,” says Ho Ping Kong. “And I think working in that way, with very limited time and not too big a budget, stimulates creativity.”

The last thing to be completed was a glass-and-wood wall at the back of the store, which divides the floor from a back room. It’s a clearly Japanese touch. “The back wall does have the suggestion of a shoji screen,” Tan admits. And in its modernist yet timeless simplicity, it’s a match for a pale, perfectly hewn Fukasawa cabinet nearby, another piece of modern design influenced by ancient craft traditions.

And that’s the essence of this project. Tan says the closest connection between the store and its stock, between Studio Junction and Hans Wegner, has to do with care and quality. “Really, what we borrowed from them was the emphasis on quality of building,” he says. In other words, there is beauty in doing things right.

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