Travel

Day trip to Kyoto

September 26th, 2011

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We stayed the night in Kanazawa, and the next day we caught a 3 hour train to Kyoto. We checked in to the Kyoto Hayatt Regency, one of the most beautiful hotels we’ve ever stayed at. It was designed by Takashi Sugimoto and it’s stunning lobby is filled with back lit pattered mill paneling. The Japanese restaurant in the basement is furnished with George Nakashima style shaker furniture and the food is spectacular, you just want to sit at the bar and watch the sushi chef work away sipping some Japanese whiskey.

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We decided to hit the back streets during our day in Kyoto, but we underestimated how hot it would be in September. It was unbelievably hot, and we didn’t really have a grasp on how far all of the places we wanted to visit were from each other.

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I always see beautiful cars in Japan, I’ve always admired these old Fiats.

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One of the shops I really wanted to visit was only a couple blocks away from our hotel. It’s a mom and pop shop that carries an amazing collection of hand hammered kitchenware.

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Most of the pieces are hand hammered aluminum, but you can find lots of beautiful copper and brass products as well.

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A fantastic collection of brass ladles, it’s a shame because I don’t think you can actually sell brass kitchen products in Canada anymore.

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The cane wrapped handles paired with the copper was just beautiful.

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I guess every country has their own version of the crazy pigeon lady.

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We spent most of the day walking the back streets of Kyoto and passed so many beautiful courtyards.

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A cute little French cafe, we’d love to stop in but we’re on a mission!

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The must see place for us was the Sfera gallery, which was designed by one of our favorite architect firms Claesson Koivisto Rune.

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The facade is made of die cut metal cladding with repetitive organic patterns. The building itself is on another level, there is a gallery space, a store, and a bar / cafe in the basement. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take any photos inside so you’ll have to check out CKR’s website for some images of the interior.

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We headed downstairs to the cafe and had some much needed ice coffee.

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The cafe backs onto an alley and we had the whole building to ourselves so we took our time and enjoyed the nice breeze.

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We were allowed to take some photos of the basement, so here you go.

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We needed to have some food so we headed out to Efish, a cafe that was recommended to us by a reader.

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There was a beautiful view of the river and they had a special pineapple beer on offer that I really enjoyed. We just has some sandwiches which were nothing really special, the big feature here was the nice vibe and the view.

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Just next door was a legitimate char cedar temple, it really put our charred cedar store facade to shame. It had the texture of reptile skin and the burns were through.

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We had some amazing luck during our trip because it turns out our friend Liza from Frederica was in Japan at the same time as us. There’s nothing better than visiting with friends when you’re in another country and we decided to meet at our hotel for a drink before heading out for dinner.

Liza snagged a reservation at a highly local recommended restaurant which promises a quiet meal on the river. The only problem was navigating through the winding back streets to actually find the restaurant. We were in very good hands because Liza used to live in Osaka and can speak Japanese fluently, she even has all of the gestures down pat, it’s amazing to watch her interact with locals.

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We entered a beautiful and narrow restaurant and walked through to a back patio.

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It was a beautiful evening, the temperature had cooled down, the sky was clear, and stars started dotted the skyline. The only problem was someone across the river murdering a saxophone.

This might have been his/her second time playing the saxophone, they were struggling through scales for hours and the peak effort was a failed attempt at Somewhere Over the Rainbow. The good thing was the sake was flowing and we all had a great sense of humor about it and just allowed the performer to entertain us.

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There were too many plates to photograph, I swear there was 15 courses, we lost count after 10, and we were full after 5. It was epic, but in the best way possible.

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Did you know you aren’t supposed to pour yourself sake? You’re supposed to serve others and let someone else serve you. I was wondering why Liza kept pushing sake on me!

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The most interesting dish of the night was this little river fish. Apparently the fish is too sensitive to be hook fished, so they use cormorants (a river bird) to catch the fish. It was grilled and had an interesting texture to it, almost grainy. We definitely won’t forget this meal, thanks again Liza!

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Day trip to Kanazawa

September 23rd, 2011

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We arrived in Japan on Monday the 12th, we were only going to be in the country for 5 days and we wanted to explore as many regions we could. The first thing we wanted to do, was hop on a train and visit the beautiful city of Kanazawa. We got up really early and caught the first train leaving, we only had coffee to hold us over on the 3 hour train ride.

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By the time we dropped off our bags at the hotel is was still pretty early in the morning and most of the restaurants near by were closed. We discovered a cool looking ramen place that was remarkably open, we shrugged and sat at the counter.

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We love these hand hammered pots, we see them all over. We have a bit more refined and artisan made version of these pots in our store for sale (while quantities last)

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The ramen turned out to be the perfect breakfast. The cook used a blow torch to char the pork a bit, and topped everything off with half a hard boiled egg. It was like having bacon and eggs! It would also be the best ramen we would have on the trip, so if you’re in Kanazawa keep an eye out for this place.

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In the afternoon we trekked out to the local market street, the off street that wasn’t full of chains where you can really start to appreciate the charm of the city.

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A cute shop called Gallerie Noyau, unfortunately it was closed.

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We did have some luck with this beautiful metal works shop, the owner had handcrafted jewelry, cutlery, and a collection of ceramics and glass.

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Kokon makes handmade leather shoes, I love seeing workshops with front retail spaces.

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Being in Kanazawa we had to visit the 21st Century museum by one of our favorite architect firms SANAA. The musuem has a circular glass facade so at points you can see right through the building to the other side. The exhibition rooms are box shaped rooms surrounding a central circular courtyard.

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SANAA also designed all of the furniture inside and outside, the outside acts as a park and gathering place for museum patrons.

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One of the most famous features of the Museum is this illusion pool, you may have seen a video of it before. Unfortunately the underside was closed when we were there.

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The famous Rabbit chairs which are used in many of SANAA’s buildings, they even have tiny scale models of the chairs they place in models of their buildings. There were tons of beautiful details inside the museum, but we weren’t allowed to photograph them for you. So just Google it!

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It would have been amazing to have another day in Kanazawa, the pacing was really laid back. We’ll be back!

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Helsinki: Day two – day trip to Porvoo!

June 17th, 2011

We woke up day two with a smile on our face, because we were going on a day trip out of town. We had already planned to have some breakfast at Cafe Bar No. 9 located on Uudenmaankatu. The only problem was we were way too early! Breakfast isn’t served during the week until 11:00! Thankfully there was a beautiful little cafe called Cafe Fleuriste just a few steps away.

The cafe is a brilliant concept, a flower shop and cafe in one! The inside felt like a real authentic Parisian cafe, and the coffee was fantastic.

How could you walk by this place without peeking in?

Well we killed some time and walked over to Cafe Bar No. 9 for some much needed breakfast.

A really good platter of food, I had just finished a coffee a few minutes before so I opted for fresh squeezed orange juice, always a good decision.

A cool art installation was happening down town.

After breakfast we met up with Milla and Hiro from Kauniste and Minka, Milla’s sister at our hotel. We piled in Minka’s car and headed for our day trip to Porvoo.

We were really excited to meet Milla and Hiro because we never had a face to put to the people we talk to through emails! Kauniste is a special brand for us because we were the first retailers in North America to carry their linens, and it’s always been our go to gift recommendation. I mean they’re $20 bucks and they’re hand screened!

We were in Porvoo to check out the local antique shops, and of course the beautiful old city. Milla told us that a lot of tourists forget that the city is real and people actually live in all of the homes. Many tourists end up peeking through windows and hanging out in resident’s backyards.

It is really easy to think that way, it feels like an open air museum. Plus the gaggle of teenagers on school trips add to the congestion in narrow alley ways.

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We really loved this painting.

A big collection of Finnish glass, the purple i-glass decanter (top left…can you see it?) was really tempting but it was still over 100 euros.

We tried our luck at the local Salvation Army type place. Minka and Milla found a book on foraging mushrooms. It was so interesting to hear how connected to nature a lot of Finns are, they told us that it is not uncommon for neighbors to lie about having mushroom patches to keep all of the mushrooms for themselves.

Mushroom season in an exciting time!

A vintage Wirkkala vase for 17 euros.

A quick stop to get some chocolates.

Lunch time, there is one really good place in Porvoo for lunch, I’m not sure what it is called but it was the perfect place to sit outside and have some lunch, and a pint.

The interior was warm and woodsy, there was a little salad and soup bar set up inside.

Juli had the quiche.

I had the roast beef with root vegetables. The Marimekko dishware was a nice touch–love this line.

This shop wasn’t open. What a tease! It looked like it had some of the best selection…

Peeking in the resident’s backyards, like a bad tourist.

We’re sad that we didn’t get a proper shot of Hiro and Milla! We thought we would at the end of the day but Hiro left us before the end and we missed our opportunity.

We love white plaster covered bricks, it reminds us of Alvar Aalto.

Afterwards we headed over for some tea and biscuits at Milla and Hiro’s studio.

In the studio each of the tea towels are hand screened and hung up to dry.

Milla, Minka, and Hiro: Thank you so much for spending the day with us, we had a wonderful time with you guys! Hopefully we’ll be able to return the favor if you ever come to Toronto!

After our visit we headed over for an early dinner at Ateljé Finne, the former studio of famous Finnish sculptor Gunnar Finne. There are those white plaster walls again.

The restaurant is really beautiful but we didn’t get any shots of the inside because we didn’t want to weird out any of the other diners.

Juli started with a salmon and sesame spring roll.

One of the most delicious things in the world – white asparagus soup, so good, so buttery.

For the mains Juli had the fish of the day, which was caught that morning.

I had the protein and starch dish, delicious.

We walked our dinner off and headed back to the hotel.

There’s a little more travel posting to do, but it may get spread out among other content. Thanks for traveling with us!

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Helsinki: Day one

June 13th, 2011

My thoughts about Helsinki writing this first day post is that Helsinki has everything going for it. It has a design district where everything is within walking distance from each other, it easily has the best coffee, and has the best food for the best prices in all of Scandinavia.

When we last visited we arrived near the beginning of mid summer, so we had to rush to see everything before things shut down for the holiday. This time we wanted to really sink our teeth into this city, and see as much as we could in our few short days.

We stayed at Hotel Anna, which is a small hotel in the middle of the design district (this is a return visit – comfortable, wifi, tv, great location, big rooms). We arrived, checked in, and immediately headed towards Ravintola Tori for some lunch.

Take note they also offer a great breakfast here during the week!

I think this was fried herring and root vegetables.

I had the ragu with eggplant and potatoes.

The interior is nice and bright with a good amount of seating.

The must see of Helsinki design is the Design Forum shop, which stocks everything from ceramics, to glassware, modern puuko knives, and always has an interesting exhibition going on.

Too bad we’re not allowed to take photos in here!

A window we always like walking by is the counter-part showroom to “ModernDesign.fi“, except this carries more of their rare furniture pieces. If you visit Helsinki you will walk down Annankatu and pass “Modern Design” and you will be curious enough to enter. It’s a store that has everything that you’re looking for, but at a very high premium.

I love the Wirkkala coffee tables, and the Aalto side table with rattan handle. I’ve never seen that piece before.

Another favorite spot is this underground Antique market, a couple of years ago it had an amazing assortment of cool things, including old Aalto exhibition posters and Finnish glass. This time around they looked more spare, I regret not grabbing some posters last time we were here.

They had a couple 1950s Spanish chairs that were just beautiful, it’s a piece that ages like wine.

A quick snack across the street at Cafe Succes.

They serve arguably Helsinki’s best Cinnamon buns on plywood trays, super tasty and the coffee is pretty good after all the bad cups we’ve been having!

We stumbled across a beautiful little Japanese gift shop called Common, they had an amazing collection of Japanese stationary and ceramics.

A bunch of cast iron pot by Timo Sarpaneva.

For dinner we went to Lupolo which was only a couple blocks from our hotel.

It’s a cosy local place which had some interesting vintage details, including a teak paneled ceiling. Plus the Kartio glasses are a nice touch.

Watermelon salad.

We followed with a melt in your mouth delicious scallop with a white asparagus puree.

Our main was a hamburger with potato wedges. The burger and lager really hit the spot for us. We really loved this place, and if you visit Helsinki, you will love it too!

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Stockholm part 3

June 9th, 2011

We arrived at the Iris Hantverk shop for our next meeting.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Iris, it is a brand we have been carrying in our store since the first day we were open–in fact, our first sale was the concrete shaving kit by Lovisa Wattman! Iris Hantverk employs visual impaired craftspeople to create beautiful handmade brushes as they were made in the 19th century. Each individual bundle of bristles are bound to hardwood handles with wire as opposed to adhesives, and all of the bristles are natural from horse and goat hair bristles, to tampico and palm fibers.

It’s a very exciting time for Iris Hantverk after collaborating with industrial designer Lovisa Wattman to create a collection of new and refined brushes that were both functional and beautiful.

We met with Lovisa at Iris Hantverk’s Kungsgatan location.

The shop carries an amazing assortment of everyday living products along with their entire collection of handmade brushes.

I kind of like that there are multiples of everything readily available to be snatched up and be placed in a shopping basket, it just makes you want to buy it all.

They even make their own soap to sell through the shop.

We got to see a bunch of large push brooms that we haven’t been able to import because of prohibitive shipping costs.

Vegetable scrubbers so you can clean root vegetables without removing the skin, which is where a lot of the fiber and nutrients come from.

Broom root, washing up whisks.

We asked Lovisa whether or not she takes inspiration from the brushes of the past. She told us that she tried to approach designing the brushes from a purely functional stand point, and their forms come from the relationship of how the user holds and uses the brushes. Each brush sits comfortably in your hands, and brushes that need to be dried like bath brushes and kitchen brushes come with holes for hanging.

Waiting…and famished!

Our next stop was Café Valand, which is steps away from the beautiful Stockholm Public Library designed by Erik Gunnar Asplund.

Café Valand opened in 1954 by Magdalena Åström, and it was designed by her husband architect Stellan Åström, both of whom still work in the Café! Our one snag was that the cafe is cash only, and our cards weren’t working at the bank kiosks. After a bit of begging on our part, they graciously allowed us to pay with euros (Magdalena was heading off on a vacation and needed the Euros anyway–talk about timing!).

We chatted a little and mentioned we were from Canada, I really wanted to talk with Stellan, but his hearing isn’t very good and along with the language barrier, it just didn’t work out. We ordered some sandwiches, coffee, and some dessert and sat down to take in the space and have some much needed sustenance.

The cafe is remarkably preserved, the couple used only the best materials.

A beautiful brass and glass case for sandwiches and desserts. The teak paneling is gorgeous.

Ring for service.

A collection of pitchers and a little wrapping station.

“Please order here – dining at the tables”

The coffee here is actually quite good, a welcomed change from most of the mediocre coffee we’ve been having on this trip.

I wonder if this rotary phone has always been here?

Our last stop of the day was to meet Lincoln Robbin-Coker at PR firm IBEYOSTUDIO. The entrance is an obscure black painted facade which you might walk by without hesitation.

Inside is an industrial space featuring art, clothing, and Stockholm’s Fredericia furniture showroom. IBEYOSTUDIO’s concept is a really interesting one, not only do their offices offer PR for their clients it also acts as a space to display their work, and a place to put on events and exhibitions. The enviroment is like a high-end clothing / furniture store.

The Nara coat stand by Shin Azumi, we have one on display in our showroom if you want to see it in person.

A seating area with a Børge Mogensen sofa, and wing chair and an Icicle table.

Believe it or not, one of our favorite places to eat in Stockholm is a Czech restaurant called Soldaten Svejk, located in Sodermalm. It’s a locals only kind of place (don’t expect amazing service as a non-local), but it’s great food for a great price.

We really love the illustrations on these menus.

We’re creatures of habit so we stuck to our favourites: Above goulash soup, which is spectacular.

Juli got the pork schnitzel.

I got the scary good deep fried cheese.

After dinner we took a walk around taking in our last night in Stockholm.

Mobler means furniture, it was a name we were originally considering for our store name.

Well, next stop Helsinki!

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Stockholm: Day 2 part 1

June 2nd, 2011

Our second day in Stockholm we started the day by walking to Skaningen Kaffebar for a quick coffee and croissant before our day of meetings.

Too bad we only have a few days in Stockholm, I would have loved to come back and try some more of these treats.

I loved the small white tiles along the bar, and the seafoam counter top.

That morning we were eager to get to our first meeting to meet Claesson Koivisto Rune, one of our favorite architect firms and a collaborative that may even be Sweden’s greatest contemporary designers. If you are not familiar with the name, you have probably seen their work:

The No. 5 house and The Råman house

CKR consist of three founding members: Mårten Claesson, Eero Koivisto and Ole Rune, but now they have a team of talented designers designing anything from napkin rings and shampoo bottles to residential and commercial buildings.

It was Ola Rune that took us into a back room where all of the prototypes and models were kept.

Such an amazing collection of different materials, the piece they had just finished mocking up was a new cell phone for the Chinese market, a simplified version of a phone without a touch screen, it’s made for one thing: talking.

I can’t help getting distracted walking through the studio.

During our sit down I had the opportunity to nerd out on some of our favorite designs and builds. We also inquired about a modernist bracelet called the “Eve bracelet” that I thought was only sold for a short period during an exhibition. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that the bracelet was still being produced and we only needed to walk a few blocks from our next destination to visit the Gallery where it debuted and is still carried.

Thank you for spending the morning with us CKR! We’re exciting to bring in a slew of your new products soon.

We headed over to Gallery Pascale to meet with Pascale Cottard Olsson. Ola Rune had called her up beforehand to let her know we were coming. It was a pleasure getting to meet the person who runs the only design gallery in Stockholm.

The current exhibition was displaying a series of mouth blown vessels by CKR. If I didn’t have another country to visit I would have loved to pick up a white glass vessel.

Here are the Eve bracelets which won the S-design award. Juli picked up a black piece while we were there. We’ll be getting a bunch of these in the shop next week hopefully. Stay tuned for an update on twitter when they come in!

Just a short walk away is Sibyllegatan which boasts some of the best design stores in Stockholm including Modernity, Jacksons, and the Asplund store.

We had to rush over to our next meeting at Asplund. This year in my opinion they really showed everyone they do more than just amazing storage pieces.

In this photo the Vass cabinet designed by CKR, coming this August to Mjölk.

You can see in this photo many of the beautiful new pieces being showcased. The far top left is a set of leather mail boxes called ‘Brev’ which means letter in Swedish. It is finished with natural leather that will get darker with age. Designed by Emma Olbers, it’s still in the prototype stage. Also, seeing in person the FUNK cabinet (top right, wall mounted in blue) with the natural leather handles was really great – we picked up a small bed side table version for the shop, but any combination is available.

ZOO tables by CKR, a collection of small coffee tables made from copper, brass, and stainless steel. Only 100pcs will be made so if you are a big fan of their work and want something uber special you can order a piece or three through us.

It was a beautiful day and we wanted to have lunch in the park so we headed to Nytorget Urban Deli to get some gourmet take-away.

This place is what every grocery store should be like, wood bins holding fresh produce, and a amazing collection of  cheese, and cured meats.

Mjölk!

Fresh orange juice anyone?

In the end I picked up a meatball with tzatziki and root vegetables dish, and Juli got a salmon salad. Both were fantastic, and I heard their restaurant/bar is phenomenal.

Well we’re getting close to the end of our trip, we wish we could post more often but we’ve been in the middle of a big move, but more on that later…

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