When everything from computers to pickup trucks is getting the eco treatment, it’s startling to think that the fresh-cuts at your local florist aren’t actually very green—not with all the unsustainable farming methods and unfair trade practices and greenhouse gas–burning transportation involved. But the most recent floral trend to hit Toronto is environmentally friendly bouquets, all locally grown tulips or eco-certified calla lilies or wild hosta leaves. They come in lush, overgrown arrangements that look like they were plucked straight from a backyard garden—because, ecologically speaking, they might as well have been. Bouquets from $50. Sweetpea’s, 163 Roncesvalles Ave., 416-537-3700.
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The Bang and Olufsen BeoPlay A9 plays music wirelessly from iTunes or any music streaming service, and it plays it loudly—a killer bass reflex and typically crisp B&O sound quality will put your current iPod dock to shame. But why do we really love it? Because unlike most speakers, which are designed to be inconspicuous, this one is self-consciously stylish. It looks like an audio version of the iconic Eames DSW chair, and it’s about the same size as one when mounted on its teak (or beech or oak) tripod. That is, the A9 is a significant piece of furniture in its own right—possibly the most exciting piece of furniture in your house. $2,999. Bang and Olufsen, 175 Avenue Rd., 416-935-1919.
In the past few years, upcycling has taken a high-end turn, with a spate of designers transforming trash-bound castoffs into splurge-worthy luxury items. One of our favourite indulgences comes from the South African firm REcreate, where designer Katie Thompson has turned an old faux snakeskin suitcase into a covetable throne swathed in button-tufted black velvet and supported by turned-wood legs. The chic, playful piece combines the whimsy of vintage, the sleekness of contemporary design and the quality of great craftsmanship. In the past, repurposing old junk was a practice born of economic necessity and enviro-friendly good will—nice sentiment, ramshackle results. But a luxe repurposed chair with plush upholstery and fine wood detailing? That’s something we can get behind. $942. recreate.za.net
Who actually likes the smell of lavender, anyway? Scented candles, once the exclusive domain of frilly spas and tacky ex-girlfriends, are making a decidedly masculine comeback. The aromas are dark and earthy, with olfactory notes of sandalwood, tobacco, cognac and moss. Just don’t go looking for one of these bad boys in a store that specializes in bubble bath accessories—like lots of good grooming and decor products now, they’re found at high-end clothing stores and other purveyors of the super cool.
Cire Trudon Balmoral, $85. Sydney’s, 682 Queen St. W., 416-603-3369.
Izola Sandalwood, $29. Roots, multiple locations.
Saturdays Surf NYC Santalum and Cedrus, $48. Jonathan and Olivia, 49 Ossington Ave., 416-849-5956.
Le Labo Calone 17, $82. Jonathan and Olivia, 49 Ossington Ave., 416-849-5956.
In November, the California-based electric car manufacturer Tesla Motors opened its first Canadian store at Yorkdale, finally making it possible for Torontonians to purchase the future. The Model S, Tesla’s new flagship, can go zero to 100 clicks in less than five seconds and tops out at 210 kilometres an hour. It looks a little like a Maserati—but performs better. And it does all of that without using a single drop of gasoline. Instead, the car runs on a battery—charged by plugging into any 220-volt wall outlet—and can travel up to 480 kilometres before juicing up again. It’s not just the absence of an internal combustion engine that sets the Model S apart. It’s also the little things, like the key fob, which automatically unlocks the door as you approach and turns on the motor as you sit in the driver’s seat, no button pushing required. And the door handles, which retract into the body for better aerodynamics. And the dashboard, which is a giant iPad-like touchscreen, complete with Internet connectivity. We want one—very, very badly. From $103,000. Tesla Yorkdale, 3401 Dufferin St., 416-787-8006.
The new Nest thermostat is brilliant, in a HAL from 2001 kind of way. Not only does it adhere to commands sent from your smart phone, it also learns your patterns and adjusts to your schedule in real time, as you use it, no programming required. It knows when you usually get up, when you go to work, when you come home, when you go to bed. It can give you digital readouts of energy usage and automatically adjust to make you both comfortable and economically efficient. There’s good reason this thermostat—a normally boring appliance if ever there was one—is so cool. It was developed by Tony Fadell, the man who oversaw the iPod and iPhone divisions at Apple. A few years ago he jumped ship to tackle home temperature control, and amassed a Silicon Valley dream team of designers and thinkers who defected from Apple, Google and other tech industry powerhouses to help him do it. The results are nothing short of revolutionary. The only thing it doesn’t do is play music. Yet. $250. nest.com
Bev Hisey has a mission. The Toronto-based textile designer, who recently converted her Dundas West studio into a gleaming white showroom, wants her cushions to be talked about. So she makes them in a series of shocking bright colours. And she makes them in contorted shapes. And she makes them in a blown-up pixel pattern—a nod to computer-processed precision—even though they’re all artisanal, handmade one-offs. (The dhurrie panels are hand-woven in India, then stitched together and stuffed in Toronto.) We like them for all of those reasons, but mostly just because they’re pretty. From $130. Bev Hisey Showroom, 1066 Dundas St. W., 416-703-3418.
In ice, as in everything, there is an ideal form. Contrary to what cheap plastic ice trays and automated ice machines would have you believe, that form is not a cube. It’s a sphere. Round ice has less surface area than square ice, which means it melts more slowly—it’ll chill your whiskey without diluting it before you’ve had a chance to down it. The problem is that a perfect sphere is almost impossible to mould in the freezer—blame it on the properties of liquid and the forces of gravity, which not even the most ambitious artisanal imbiber can tame. But there is a solution: a novel Japanese ice maker that melts a square peg into a round hole. The two anodized aluminum halves, when soaked in hot water, gently warm ice cubes into submission in about 30 seconds, leaving one-inch ice balls in their place. $300. Williams-Sonoma, 100 Bloor St. W., 416-962-9455.
Bookcases are not supposed to be fun. The good people at IKEA have been reinforcing that idea for years, mass-producing mind-numbing quantities of the humble Billy, which does one thing—holds books—reasonably well. The Tangram bookcase from the Italian furniture maker Lago gives this way of thinking a giant kick in the pants. The shelves, modelled after the ancient Chinese tangram puzzle, come in seven pieces (five triangles, a square and a rhombus) that can be configured in more than 6,500 ways—a cat, a stork, a fish blowing bubbles or a baseball player in mid-slide, to name just a few. And they’re available in 23 colours, from staid taupe to flashy tangerine. They’re brazenly decorative, borderline silly and undeniably awesome. They also hold books. From $2,100. Suite 22, 160 Bullock Dr., Markham, 905-554-6084.
The woods are supposed to be romantic. Our collective national identity depends on it. Remember those youthful summers at camp, where we learned how to do the J-stroke (and how to make out)? Or the northern lights? Or those Coureur de Bois Heritage Moment commercials? For urbanites whose idea of roughing it is ordering rare venison at a restaurant or looking in the windows of Mountain Equipment Co-op, Mother Nature can be a hard sell. But glamour and camping don’t have to be mutually exclusive—there’s a host of products available to make the woods just a little bit friendlier. What follows is an urbanist’s guide to not roughing it in the bush. Read the rest of this entry »
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Why buy a camera? It’s just another gadget that only does one thing—a fatal flaw in the age of multi-tasking, especially when our smart phones take pretty good pictures (the new iPhone 4S includes an embedded camera with a screen-shattering eight megapixels). But that doesn’t mean they can’t be better. Enter the Olloclip, a lens attachment that lets iPhone users go full-Karsh. Developed about a year ago by an amateur photographer in California, it features three interchangeable lenses—fish-eye, wide-angle and macro—in a tiny, pocket-friendly design. Clip one on, and the iPhone camera gets a range of shooting options otherwise available only with a professional photo kit. Because the action’s all happening on your phone, these amped-up pics can be Instagram-ed and posted to Pinterest immediately. Let’s see a DSLR do that.
$70. Apple Store, 220 Yonge St., 647-258-0801.
The Triumph Thruxton is a screaming mass of curves and chrome and undeniable retro cool—the amped-up automotive equivalent of a straight razor shave. It looks like the famous café racers of the 1960s, a direct descendant of the kind James Dean and Steve McQueen rode (or at least straddled for photo ops). And while it looks great, its styling cues—skinny wheels, low-rise handlebars, minimalist body—are built for speed. The 865cc eight-valve DOHC parallel twin engine is big and loud and capable of taking you from Dark Horse to Dark Horse in unheard-of time. Then again, this bike will also elicit lustful stares parked in front of said cafés on a sunny afternoon. Riding it is just a bonus. $10,799. Ride Motorcycles Toronto, 7730 Islington Ave., 905-851-8000.
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It’s loud and fearless and showy. We like it
2012 is shaping up to be a preposterously fun year. Spring showed up early. Bryan Adams is touring again (woot woot!). And the city’s tastemakers are all wearing super-bright colours. It’s a trend inspired by nostalgia for the sporty vibe of the ’80s and ’90s: neon is back, and while there aren’t any jumpsuits, casual is the thing (sorry, Mad Men). But this time around, it’s more sophisticated.
Trying to combat the rain—or the cold half-snow that passes for April rain—with a flimsy corner store umbrella is a futile endeavour. Which is why we’re happy to report that traditional full-size umbrellas are making a comeback. The best of them is the English-made Swaine Adeney Brigg, carried by both Prince Charles and that dude from The Avengers. Note its hand-carved oak handle (also available in chestnut, bamboo and Malacca), adorned with a gold collar; its high-tensile steel ribs, strong enough to carry a full-grown woman from rooftop to rooftop; and its ample canopy of durable nylon that promises to keep you Sahara dry. $579. Betty Hemmings Leathergoods, 162 Cumberland St., 416-921-4321.
Good food comes at a price. For dedicated kitchen design geeks, that price is $18,000, which is what it costs to own Aga’s newest cooker, a 970-pound cast-iron behemoth dubbed Total Control. It operates like a traditional Aga—using stored, radiant heat to produce constant cooking temperatures and therefore tastier, juicier food—with a high-tech twist. This one can be switched on and off in a matter of minutes or programmed to turn on automatically at a certain time. And if that doesn’t make your mouth water, this will: an iPhone app for long-distance preheating is in the works. The Aga Shop @ Grange Toronto, 150–154 King St. E., 416-943-0242.