Grandeur in Gastown
Last December, while most of the country was participating in classic Canadian winter, a few of us flocked to South Beach for Art Basel and Design Miami. During the annual exhibition that attracts gallerists and A-listers alike, we had the privilege of attending an intimate gathering hosted by Avenue Road co-founder and president Stephan Weishaupt in his striking 1932 Art Deco home (originally designed by local architect Martin L. Hampton); Weishaupt’s third residence after Toronto and New York. Complete with fluted columns, terrazzo floors, and whitewashed walls, the eclectic dwelling is curated with contemporary and vintage gems by an impressive ‘who’s who of design’ from Oscar Niemeyer and Paola Navone to Michael Anastassiades and Kelly Wearstler.
Fast-forward months later — and 4,500 kilometres northwest — to the launch of Avenue Road Vancouver, the retailer’s inaugural appearance on Canada’s west coast. Located in the city’s oldest and arguably trendiest neighbourhood, this Gastown outpost represents the latest addition to Weishaupt’s roster of flagship showrooms in Toronto and New York, and residential concept spaces in New York and Miami. He felt the area had a high design consciousness, making it a strong market for the company. “We have many exclusive brands to North America and this helps us expand their profiles, not only within the city, but to all of western Canada. We are always exploring ways to connect with a design-minded audience.”
It was then decided Avenue Road’s new abode would be a century-old warehouse located in the Downtown Eastside, at the corner of West Pender and Hamilton Street. “We didn’t set out to select a heritage site, but we were drawn to the building because, much like our pieces, it had stories to tell, having been home to a newspaper and a furrier for decades,” recalls Weishaupt. “The dramatic scale of the building enables us to present a series of shifting scenes that people can discover as they move through the space and create both intimate and epic moments.”
To execute the conversion, Weishaupt brought in Toronto firm and long-time client Abraham Chan Design Office (ACDO), a boutique studio specializing in luxury retail, hospitality, and residential projects across the globe. “Working alongside Stephan, we conceived an interior that could act as part gallery and part residence. It involved the transformation of the existing architecture into something more to display Avenue Road’s luxurious and eclectic collection,” said Abraham Chan, principal of ACDO.
Over two storeys of the 12,000-sq.-ft. structure, Chan devised a space that would accommodate Vancity’s cosmopolitan yet laidback culture and character. “It was critical to retain the ambiance of an international curator such as Avenue Road, but also reflect the beauty of the area’s raw nature; these became our inspirations. We also collaborated with local artists to ensure the design would be uniquely Vancouver. It’s all in the details.” Art studio Moss & Lam, for example, hand-fabricated one of the main in-store installations: an energetic feature wall comprising 1,200 glistening ceramic petals glazed with various shades of blue on custom blackened panels, evoking the movement of the ocean, one of British Columbia’s main attractions.
The result is an exquisite juxtaposition of raw and refined. Throughout the contemporary space, flashes of materials and finishes contrast one another: exposed wooden beams frame softly lit walls and smooth sandblasted marble sit alongside textured grey oak flooring. The standout architectural element, however, is a pairing of warm Douglas fir columns and beams — preserved from the original building — with illuminated heavy steel arches. The grand but intimate move recalls both the vernacular architecture of Gastown and the natural scenery that surrounds. Filling out the upper level is sumptuous furnishings from the likes of Canada’s Yabu Pushelberg, Jacques Guillon, and Unit Five, plus international names such as Christophe Delcourt, Bruno Moinard, Van Rossum, and Kvadrat by Raf Simons.
The equally dramatic main floor showcases another handmade composition: a spirited flight of Pacific loons developed by porcelain manufacturer Nymphenburg from Munich (Weishaupt’s place of birth); an extensive collection of the German brand’s objects and tiling are also on display. In addition, this level houses Avenue Road’s exclusive category specialists The Rug Company, Wittman by Jamie Hayon, Tribù outdoor furniture, Obumex kitchens, and Apure lighting for Porsche Design Studio. At the entrance of the shop off Hamilton Street, revered local architectural florist Hanna by Celsia Floral welcomes customers with a sensorial experience (a future tea salon is also brewing).
“We converted the warehouse into an urban environment that would be a bit more personal, with custom spaces that would encourage customers to explore, allowing them to enjoy the process of discovery,” says a satisfied Chan of the final product. Adds Weishaupt, “The Avenue Road concept is as much about how different inspiration and elements come together as it is about the story of any individual piece. This helps make the showroom an elevated yet unintimidating place people can visit frequently for inspiration, and not only when they have a project to work on.”
Photography by Richard Powers