How History Grows: Florette

A restaurant rooted in nostalgia.

Photographer: Scott Norsworthy

Entering Florette, a modest new restaurant on Queen Street West in Toronto, one immediately notices the massive barrel-vaulted ceiling that extends the entire space. Backed by impressionistic floral wallpaper, it creates an immersive effect reminiscent of a greenhouse or solarium. “We wanted to create a welcoming environment for the community, not something implanted that didn’t feel like it belonged” says owner Jerry Zhang.

Designed by Toronto-based Denizens of Design, the restaurant represents the organic evolution of inhabited spaces and their history. Dating back to the late 1800s, it has been a multi-generational home, art gallery, karaoke bar, gay club and dive bar. Understanding the community that has grown around the space was a keystone in the design process. “It had been built up, torn apart, built up again,” says Zhang, “but each time leaving little mementos and Easter eggs of the many spaces that existed before.”

Photographer: Scott Norsworthy

“We love the ceiling and people have really responded to it, but we never start a project with a particular feature in mind. We let research and listening drive the process” says Denizens’ principal Dyonne Fashina. “The vault is eye-catching from the street and all-encompassing once inside, but it wasn’t intended as a photo opp. We see it more like a giant hug for our guests.”

Cutting across individual cultures and identities, Florette provides a strong sense of familiarity for the existing community while welcoming in newcomers. Gimmicky concept spaces are fleeting; Florette offers sincere roots and authenticity, not pretension. Zhang describes it this way: “Good food, good drinks, good times, with an emphasis on warm comfort. Somewhere you can go with friends and loved ones and feel like you’re always home.”