Tim McKeough -- Interior Design, 4/1/2007 12:00:00 AM
Behind an austere storefront on Toronto's fashionable Queen Street West, the only signs of bling are draped on a single spotlit mannequin. Along the walls on either side, a series of white ribs protrudes beyond recessed display cases, keeping merchandise hidden from passersby. "It's interesting to watch," Dialogue 38 principal Bennett Lo says. "People stop and do a double take, because they're intrigued by the store but don't know what it is."
Eko is, in fact, a jewelry boutique that treats shopping as an exploratory activity. Using a clean, contemporary look rather than cases of glittering baubles to entice shoppers to step inside might seem unorthodox, but owner Mina Yoon has sought the unconventional ever since opening Eko seven years ago. When the time came to renovate and expand, she pictured something simple yet captivating.
Already familiar with Lo's numerous Toronto restaurants, Yoon gave him carte blanche. Envisioning a spare, fluid, well lit space where jewelry is admired like artwork, he began by opening up the rear storage room, three steps up, thereby expanding the rectangular sales floor from 580 to 860 square feet. He unified the two areas with flooring of blond ash laminate.
The white ribs marching down each side—as well as wrapping the 13-foot ceiling—alternate with the glass-fronted vertical display cases. Viewed head-on, the cases reveal necklaces, bracelets, and earrings, predominantly 18-karat gold pieces set with semiprecious stones. Everything is mounted on white magnetic blocks that make rearranging a snap.
As shoppers move farther inside, toward the stairs, they may not notice that doors to the private second floor and basement storage are concealed in the display cases. More noticeable is how the ribs increasingly protrude as the walls and ceiling shrink inward. "Everything bunches together at the stairs, the transition point between the two areas, then releases," Lo explains. This approach has the added benefit of creating a false perspective, so the room appears deeper than it really is.
The view terminates at the rear focal wall, which will showcase rotating installations. The first is by Lo and Yoon, who layered squares of white organza and translucent Japanese paper in a textured collage. Future installations will come from students at the nearby Ontario College of Art & Design.
Underscoring the front-to-back emphasis, a 23-foot-long combined display case and cash-wrap counter runs down the center of the main space. This gleaming cantilevered structure, built of veined Cipollino marble and glass, keeps the cash register out of sight, in a compartment under the counter—picking up on the game of retail peekaboo.