Sugar high

Small is all right with Prototype Design Lab. The 11-person office, headquartered in Toronto, does handle large industrial assignments but, says associate Brenda Izen, the Prototype team particularly relishes small-scale projects, “because we can control and custom-design all the elements.” One such project was Fritzy’s, a family-operated yogurt shop that opened in 2012 on Spadina Road in Toronto’s tony Forest Hill Village. The pre-existing space offered the young design lead only 800 square feet to play with – footage that ran in a long, narrow line from store-front to back. 

Looking at this shotgun configuration, and thinking over the client directive for “a  fun place where young high-schoolers could go on a date,” Izen found four images reoccurring to her, images that she presented in photo form to the owners: “The first was a sort of psychedelic effect, similar to blurred traffic patterns in a long exposure. Then  images of candy, a carnival, and an old-time soda-fountain counter.”
These themes were deliberately turned loose in a modernistic mash-up of motifs, with custom steel-and-Corian tables and chairs running down one side of the shop’s centre aisle and a powdercoated steel counter down the opposing side, kitschy red diner stools bolted in place along its length. The tunnel-like space, painted and lino-tiled creamy white and light grey, received a strong punch of candy-apple red and bright turquoise – the store’s logo colours – in the “carnival booths” of rectangular countertop with overhead return that made up, respectively, the back service bar and front eat-in area. 

“Everything was built to be interlocking and linear,” Izen says. “It’s a narrow, straight space, almost like a tube, and I wanted to accentuate that feature.” Adding greatly to this effect were scores of backlit plastic strips, vividly coloured in fuchsia, apple green, azure and orange, set in random streaks along the walls and ceiling. A metallic mirrored wall at the back of the shop reflected these lights into infinity. With a focal point fixated beyond the furthest reaches of the shop’s interior, customers couldn’t help but be mesmerically drawn in towards the self-serve frozen yogurt machines and bulk candy dispensers at the very back. 

These kinetic, almost frenetic, streaks of coloured light were designed to give rise to several curious sensations: general exhilaration, a vague disorientation (“It gives you a bit of a high, like a sugar rush,” says Izen) and, most of all, the feeling that you’re careening through space, as if on a carnival ride. Thus, perhaps, the reassuring anchorage of stools bolted to the floor.

It was a great place, and one that had already attracted attention from the design press. Then the owners decided to move their family business to Aurora, just north of Toronto. Fritzy’s Yogurt on Spadina has since morphed into a Freshii vegetarian franchise and the decor, including the light streaks, has gone green, too. Fritzy’s Yogurt on Wellington Street East, Aurora, has tried hard with Izen’s help to recreate the gaudy, hyper atmosphere of the original. But without the original’s awkward-to-work-with-yet-ultimately-worthwhile tubular dimensions, a bit of the fun has gone missing in action.  cI