In the heart of the city in Toronto, Canada, innovative designers and architectural teams at Kilogram Studio have recently completed the repurposing of a beautiful historical space as a retail spot called the Down the Rabbit Hole Store.
The first step in the project was to strip down the space that was already there. The intention of this was to reveal and showcase the beautiful 100 year old masonry walls and copper plumbing systems that were hiding behind a rather bland plaster walling. This exposed aesthetic brings the authentic history of the building much more to the forefront in the new space.
Despite the fact that this spot was already being used as a retail space before and is being renovated to serve as the same thing now, the nature of the project is still slightly unique in that the use is dual-purpose. Rather than housing a singular company, the space is actually now a co-location shared by a plant shop and a cold-pressed juice store all at once.
This means that the space had to meet some unique goals in order to satisfy the needs and requirements of both halves of the store. Within that, teams installed millwork fixtures, overhauled interior finishes, swapped out lighting, constructed a new storefront, and even did a little bit of landscaping. The overall goal, besides meeting functional requirements, was to create a space that fits the brand and identity of both clients, each of which melds and meshes well with the other.
The typical layout for retail spaces in the small downtown store spots of Toronto is often narrow, long, and a little bit dark. designers for this project, however, wanted to flip that around, brighten things up, and re-imagine it. To do so, they used Alice’s fall down the rabbit hole, from the classic Lewis Carroll story Alice in Wonderland, as their inspiration.
The store and the layout of the building is actually more of an experience than the average retail space already just thanks to the building and how it sits. Rather than having the classic street level storefront and immediate entrance combination that’s typical in most areas, this space features a small frontage leading to a laneway that leads to a rear garden that’s removed from the sidewalk level.
In this way, the choices and designers of store owners subverted the regular customer experience. This is actually indicative of a small and slow but very presence shift by small local businesses to actually get away from the classic storefront all together, reducing competition for space and taking advantage of newer and unique spaces by paying more attention to alternative opportunities just like laneway networks.
The fact that the store lies at the end of a laneway worked perfectly with the designers’ and owners’ fantasties and their Wonderland inspiration. The idea was to create an enticing little display at the street mouth of the laneway, leaving the actual storefront to emerge along the journey away from the sidewalk like a destination at the end, drawing customers into the space out of sheer curiosity if not actual desire for the quality product.
The Victorian-era brick building in which the store sits contributes to the old fashioned but intriguing Wonderland fantasy as well. The old brick facade along Queen West is patterned with natural visual texture and repetition but with the occasional contrastingly coloured brick or inconsistency that looks natural, interesting, and authentic to the building’s history.
The entrance to the retail space is a little bit tucked away, but not in a way that hides the store from customers and makes it hard to find. Instead, taking the path up is part of the experience. The garden outside, which meshes well with the plant store at the end of the lane, lets people pause for a moment in appreciation even as it draws people inside. There is even a lovely shaded bench here where people and their dogs are welcome to relax before visiting the store or when they come out with a juice.
The way the new store was renovated ties once more into the green world in how sustainable it is. Large inset doors take advantage of sun, shade, and breezes and create a fantastic cross-ventilation that reduces the need for powered heating and cooling systems for at least parts of the year (besides during Canada’s harsh winters).
Inside the space itself, the design was specifically conceptualized to address the needs of a food-based and a plant-based business. In fact, attention was paid to these requirements all throughout, with designers fully integrating those needs into the space overall. The teams opted to do what they could to deconstruct the spatial division between customers and staff, weaving the shop and the community that is fosters together so it’s more like a space to be enjoyed and less like a service place.
In every element possible, locally reclaimed, natural, and sustainable materials were chosen. This is true for the structures that actually makeup up the store’s layout, the furnishings, and just about every detail incorporated. This is part of what reflects and ingrains both clients’ ethos and values throughout the customer space and experience.
The space inside is fluid and accessible. The plants and drinks available for purchase are simply to reach and peruse but are also displayed in a way that makes them look like part of the decor scheme. The space feels fresh and new but at once somehow homey and old fashioned, perfectly paying tribute to the fact that the building itself has been standing in that spot for literally 100 years.
Photos by Scott Norsworthy