365 Roncesvalles Ave,
Our pieces are unique—many are found nowhere else in North America.
They may have been struggling with a late winter bout of flu, but Deborah and David Peets were still able to brag via email about some of the features that makes their Roncesvalles furniture shop distinctive.
Technically, the Green Light District that now sits at 365 Roncesvalles Avenue is the second iteration of the Peets' furniture and accessory shop. They opened the first one years ago in Ottawa, but took the name and idea with them when they came to Toronto in 2011. Their current location is a small (by furniture standards), cheerful place where you can find such items as paper wall hangings, a saddle-leather counter stool, a wooden mini-bar, and a selection of very textured white dishes called Wonki Ware (so named due to the fact that no hand-made piece is exactly identical to any others).
Having a 'hand-made component' to their stock seems to be important to the Peets, whose inventory has kept a consistent character despite the passage of time and change in location.
Our style has not wavered over the years. We're still drawn to mid-century and Scandinavian influences, also minimalist lines in natural materials—leather, iron, paper, wood, clay.
Although the pieces are brought in from different designers all over the globe, they manage to present a rather consistent character.
A comment we've heard from visitors to the store many times has been, are all our products from the same designer? It suggests to us that it's our style and look that we keep going back to. People see a unity to our pieces even though they originate in so many different countries.
With their online store up and running, the Peets can now attract customers as diverse as their stock. As it is, they're already getting the odd out-of-town visitor.
Local customers support us very much, but Roncy as a destination continues to draw new visitors from all over the city and we need that,
the Peets have told me.
We have lots of repeat customers locally of course, but also across the city and some still from our time in Ottawa as well.
It says something about a store when people come from Ottawa just to shop there. I wondered if the Ottawa customers had been any different from the Toronto ones, and the reply was 'yes'; apparently, denizens of the capital are less likely to let snowy weather get in the way of their shopping. Either way, it seems there's a good line of communication between the Peets and the people who buy from them.
People always come back or email us pics of what they've done with our pieces. We love that, and we''ll Instagram them if they don't mind.
There's also a lot of communication with the actual creators.
We buy direct, never through catalogues or middlemen. We travel to find all our pieces and in doing so we get to know the designers in person,
they explained to me.
Most of them are small scale and they stay in touch throughout the process of an order. This means that if we have an issue, we can connect directly and get it sorted. Also, we get to know first hand how products are made, how they were inspired, where the materials come from. Customers really like to hear some of the backstory of a product—it makes them feel a real connection to the piece.
According to the Green Light District website, all of those pieces use only natural materials, and are made with 'a commitment to eco and social consciousness.' When I asked for an example, the Peets told me about the woman who makes their hand-hooked rugs.
She uses reclaimed, up-cycled cotton to make the rugs, and it comes from the clippings of garment factories. She uses natural dyes. She works the cotton into her own patterns and has it delivered to her employees who are women with families. They are then able to complete the hand hooking while never leaving their own homes; they're able to create income, but at the same time, their family life doesn't suffer.
I'll admit, I didn't expect the business of selling furniture to be terribly exciting, but the Peets' approach sounds a little bit more like an international treasure hunt than a boring job pushing chairs. For one thing, they love to travel, and tend to find new designers in their travels.
We attend furniture design shows all over the world to source new products. We also like to just walk the streets in cities we've read about as having up and coming design scenes. We've made a lot of good connections that way.
I asked where they planned to 'walk the streets' next.
We are hoping to be able to return to South Africa later this year. We've got a number of suppliers from there already, and the design scene continues to thrive. It's one of the few countries where the Canadian dollar has not deteriorated in the past year too. Also, it's such a beautiful country!
In fact, South Africa was the setting for one of the Peets' more notable furniture-finding adventures.
We spotted a fabulous chair, completely unique, in a magazine ad for a restaurant located along the coast outside Cape Town. We called and called the restaurant but they never got back to us. So we went out to find the chair, showing the pic to the owners of all the furniture shops we could get to, searching on-line as well.
It took us a week but we finally connected and arranged to meet up with the designer in his far suburban studio/workshop. Getting there wasn't easy—he had to tell us where to meet him and then we followed him through some pretty derelict parts of town to the studio.
We spent the afternoon with him, getting to know each other and seeing his amazing work. Not only was his work impressive, so was the fact that the people he employed were so enthusiastic in their work and dedication to him. It was only when we mentioned how seemingly remote his location was that he told us that, yeah, municipal transport was very erratic so he'd made arrangements to pick up and return home all his employees every day in a van. It was great for them of course, but to him it meant he could count on them getting to work.
He was surprised at our enthusiasm for his designs—to that point he'd only sold domestically. We still order products from him; he's been our single biggest supplier for eight years now. His name is John Vogel, and he's since gone on to rave international regard as a designer. But we knew him before all that.
Maybe someday we'll be saying something similar about David and Deborah Peets.
MEET THE PHOTOGRAPHER: BEA LABIKOVA
Bea is a Toronto based musician, photographer, teacher and a multidisciplinary visual artist. Growing up surrounded by her fatherâs antique camera collection, Bea was naturally inclined towards photography since an early age. She loves taking portraits of unique faces and always tries to capture the colours of the world around us. Her main areas of interest are documentary, performance and travel photography.