West Elm on the West Coast


Anyone who enjoys design porn as much as I do will likely have already heard this by now, but West Elm has opened its doors on South Granville in Vancouver! Located between 13th and 14th Ave., their showroom is a decorative feast for the eyes. http://www.westelm.com/customer-service/store-locations/vancouver/
West Elm décor, furniture and fabrics have graced the pages of Canada’s House and Home magazine for years – interesting, modern pieces at affordable prices – but until now, the only Canadian store was located in Toronto (unfortunately many of the items/ads in House and Home are located in Toronto, but this is changing as Vancouver asserts itself more in the design world). West Elm is another store in the string of recent retail migrants from south of the border, including Anthropologie (on South Granville) and Nordstrom’s (arriving 2015 in the old Sears downtown).
West Elm is sister store to the more formal Pottery Barn and Williams-Sonoma; however, it is by far the cooler, older sister with a rebellious streak, who travels the world in her artistic pursuits. In fact, one of West Elm’s recent deco lines harks from designers in South Africa, who use vibrant colour palettes and joyful patterns.
From furniture for the living room and bedroom, to lighting, drapes, rugs and decorative wares, West Elm has a great selection of styles that strike a balance between modern industrial and traditional marbles and woods. These things are often combined to create unique pieces, such as the Wood Tiled 3-Drawer Dresser, seen below.

 

The cost of items seems to be on par or cheaper than many other furniture stores in Vancouver.  You can find table lamps from $69-$200, bed sheets at $79 for a queen set, and side tables for $200-$300. The rugs come in several desirable patterns and colours, and you can pick your size. Most of the largest rugs (8 x 10) range from $500-$900.
Even if you’re not in the market to redecorate or refurnish your place, West Elm is worth checking out.  You never know what you might find/need/want once you get there. And don’t forget – the Interior Design Show West is September 27-30at the Vancouver Convention Centre. http://idswest.com/Every year, the West Coast is making more and more of its mark in the design world, and rightly so!

A tragic hero for the modern day screen

There are few well-written, tragic characters on the screen these days.  While we often sympathize with characters who suffer terribly, we feel a familiar pity for them, and only rarely go through the catharsis meant to be induced by tragedy: shedding an embarrassed tear in a movie theatre, or sobbing uncontrollably in the comfort of our own home. We are comforted by this “release” of our emotions, or even by the reminder that our own circumstances aren’t so bad after all.
So what is the difference between tragic characters who are “familiar” and those that tap into true emotion? Do universally tragic characters exist? And what determines whether that character will resonate on a personal level? Going back to the classics, a tragic character is defined by his or her tragic flaw, and also by his or her potential for greatness. They must “fall” from an elevated place in order for the tragedy to be more fully realized. Typical tragic characters from the classical cannon are Oedipus, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, while more modern ones can be found in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, or in many of Ernest Hemingway’s novels.
One of the best written tragic characters is Shakespeare’s King Lear. With Lear, we feel a deeper sense of pity than with other characters. Perhaps it is his age, or that he was once a great leader who lost it all in the end, including his own mind. Or maybe it is the undying faith of his daughter Cordelia, who even after he exiles her, returns to save her father from the torment of her sisters. This in itself is an indication of the man Lear must once have been – a loving father, a powerful soldier, a husband. Regardless of what it is, this character taps into a different, more profound sympathy that is difficult to put into words.
Even though Shakespeare was writing hundreds of years ago, modern tragedies tend to focus on similar topics: war, family relationships, death, and loss of purpose or identity. Boardwalk Empire, now in its second season, is not a tragedy in the classical sense, but it has its fair share of tragic characters. The most moving of these is Richard Harrow, played by British actor Jack Huston. Similar to Lear, Harrow evokes emotion more deeply than what we are accustomed to. Aptly named, as he is truly harrowing, this supporting character is a young WWI veteran who ends up in Atlantic City after he is befriended by one of the main characters, Jimmy Darmody.
Once a dapper soldier, Harrow is also one of the most recognizable characters, as he wears a mask on half of his face to cover up a tragic war injury. Despite the attempt to make the mask “match” the rest of Harrow’s face, it is poorly made, and his face looks slightly askew. The face plate is held in place by his glasses, and has hair to match his moustache – it is made somewhat ridiculous, evoking even more sympathy for this sensitive young gentleman who fought honourably for his country.
Harrow rarely looks people in the eyes, and struggles to speak, drink and eat, embarrassed by his affliction. Even though he is more comfortable without it, Harrow is fearful of removing the mask because of the effect it has on other people. While sleeping mask-less on a couch in the female protagonist’s home, her children run out of the room screaming in fear.
Yet, we can see that Harrow still cares about his appearance: he dresses nicely, takes good care of himself, and is physically fit. And the only thing he wants out of life is the love of a family. This is where writers Nelson Johnson and Terence Winter have done an expert job in tragic depiction – Harrow travels light, but is never without his talisman. It is an old book, plastered with magazine images of families: wives cooking dinner, children playing with their dads. A woman with which to share his life is Harrow’s ultimate dream, a dream that his friend Jimmy, with his wife and young son, takes advantage of again and again. Similar to Lear, Harrow desires a simple life after all he has suffered. But the audience knows deep down how difficult this will be for him to find, and we see that Harrow knows it when he attempts to take his own life.
It would be very easy to make this character more laughable than tragic; however, Jack Huston is a superb actor who captures the gentle, fragile and kind nature of Harrow, while creating mannerisms that never fail to highlight the difficulties of this man’s life.
It is rare to feel so genuinely for a television character, but Johnson and Winter have managed to achieve this with the character of Richard Harrow. They have written an uncommon tragic hero who is so very real, and who achieves a deeper connection to human suffering. He is just one example of how far television writing has come in recent years.

Waste Reducing, Appliance Recycling and Living in Containers: Three Green Initiatives for 2012

For many of us, the environment is at the top of our priority list when it comes to lifestyle. And businesses are catching on: people are more in tune with green ideas, and businesses are using incentives such as being carbon neutral as a way to attract customers. Recently, three green initiatives have been getting media attention in Canada, which are not only innovative, but in some cases, have the possibility of changing our culture entirely.
The first idea was presented on Dragon’s Den, and is called Event Water Solutions. This group from Orillia, Ontario has devised an ingenious way to reduce waste from water bottles at events. Essentially, they bring in a large sink system with several taps that hook into a local water supply. To avoid cross contamination, the Event Water staff fills the bottles for event-goers. If clients don’t have a water bottle, they can purchase one from Event Water. As a customer, this is a great way to save money, especially considering that bottled water is more expensive per litre than gasoline (think about that next time you leave your home without your own water bottle!). When questioned by the dragons as to why companies would want to implement something that reduces their profit margin, the team responded by saying, “We’re getting calls everyday”. It may be idealistic, but this could represent a real shift in cultural thinking: it is better to reduce landfill rather than making a quick buck. This is long term thinking rather than short term gain.
Next, we have Unplugged Small Appliance Recycling Program in British Columbia. According to the Unplugged website, in BC alone over 2 million small appliances end up in landfills every year; this means potentially hazardous materials going in to our environment. This recycling program, which has over 100 depots in British Columbia, is the first of its kind in Canada. They will recycle broken or used appliances, from toasters to electric toothbrushes to microwaves. Despite the small fee to cover the costs of staffing and recycling, it is well worth the positive effects on the environment. Visit their website for more information on how recycling reduces waste and energy costs in BC, and where you can recycle your small appliances.
Finally, a green scheme worth considering for long term urban development in Canada is the housing innovation of recycled shipping containers. A recent article on the Yahoo Canada home page describes a single mom in California who built a home out of a shipping container for $4000. She did the renovating herself; cutting out spaces for windows and doors, then adding insulation to both the walls and the floor. This woman, who has gone back to school, chose to live mortgage-free and spend more time with her daughter, while helping the environment by using recycled materials for both the central home and an extension to the space. Although it is unclear how much the land cost to build it on, Lulu has picked up on a revolutionary idea that is getting more and more media attention.
Yet, shipping container living has been around for several years now. In 2006, the History Channel ran a story about “Container City” located in the docklands of London, England.. Here, people can rent out 300 sq. ft. (the size of one container) of live-work space for $80-140 per month. It’s a cozy, but affordable space for people on a budget, especially here in Vancouver where renting 500 sq. ft. can cost upwards of $1500 per month. Built with 100% recycled materials, this Container City is a prime example of how to improve living conditions while being environmentally conscious.
In Canada, we have our very own container architect, Keith Dewey, who is the owner and designer of Zigloo.ca (zigloo.ca). At approximately $150-250 per sq. ft. to build (compared to paying $600+ per sq. ft. in Vancouver), these Zigloo homes are affordable, compact, and modern, and are making use of materials “destined for the scrap yard” as Dewey states in the Vancouver Sun (http://zigloo.ca/vancouver-sun-zigloo-article/). Dewey indeed lives in his very own container home on Vancouver Island, which cost a total of $360, 000. A Zigloo has also been designed for a residence in Squamish, titled the “Squamish Cargospace Living Project” (http://zigloo.ca/squamish-cargospace-living-project/).
Squamish Cargospace Living Project
 This home boasts the following green attributes: geothermal heating, wind power and a water recapturing system. It is unique, yet modern, and is reminiscent of Cam Frye’s super posh 80s home in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Other designs include enviro-friendly items like a green roof. Affordable housing has been on the political table for years in cities all across Canada, so my question to politicians and urban planners is what are you waiting for?
Our country and its people are doing impressive things to help the environment, and these three ideas only have room to grow. You don’t have to live in a Zigloo to be green-friendly, but consider other ways you might reduce, reuse and recycle materials in your life. It is cost-effective and better for our planet in the long run.

80s fashion makes a sneaky comeback

Photograph: Cine Text/Allstar
What is it that makes a decade fashionable? In the 1920s, the style was suited to high rolling gangsters and bootleggers and their mistresses; in the forties we have style icon Katharine Hepburn, with her long-sleeve, elegant dresses. By the 1950s, Marilyn Monroe’s glamour emerged, a dress paired with satin gloves. While the early sixties saw the high-waisted, very feminine skirts and dresses, now picked up as a style by Banana Republic. Several decades throughout the 20thcentury strike me as recognizable, distinguished, and appealing to modern day men and women.  With the popularity of the show Mad Men, based on the advertising executives of Manhattan in the early 60s, the fashion world has taken its proper cues and many people are tuning in to vintage looks for occasions both casual and formal.
However, something more unappealing has made its way back into the fashion industry: the 1980s.
Black sunglasses with neon arms, in the vein of Tom Cruise in Days of Thunder, are given out for free by phone companies; bright yellow, pink, and blue neon clothing abounds in both teenage and adult venues. And then there’s my own recent purchase: a pair of massive, light pink flower earrings (from Aldo) that are strikingly similar to earrings I have in my costume box. They belonged to my mother in the eighties. When I got home and tried them on (they looked hideous), I realized that I subconsciously thought they were cool. This is what the fashion industry does to us, and what it did to us again and again during both the eighties and the nineties.
Anyone who graduated from high school in those decades can attest to the fashion atrocities that have now become their prom photos for life: perms, flower print dresses, the “Rachel” haircut (which was actually really cool at the time, I have to admit), a lot of curls and poufs of hair, usually in the front, held in place by a Goody metal clip and a lot of hairspray. Also, high-waisted, baggy pants are making a comeback, which I will a) never look good in; and b) never fully understand. The only person who could really pull those off was MC Hammer.
Were those other decades truly fashionable in the sense we think they are? Or is it the ability to be picky and only choose the best fashions from those eras that allows them to be timeless? Perhaps we need more distance from the eighties and nineties in order for them to be more attractive. But when an image of Michael J. Fox (as adorable as he was) from Back to the Future 2 comes to mind, I can’t help but think those fads have met their expiry date. My advice to you, which you may or may not choose to take, is always consider this: if I look back at this in 20 or 30 years, will it still look good? However, if you catch yourself buying a scrunchie, it’s already too late.

Winter in Vancouver

As a recent emigrant to Vancouver from Toronto, I have come to my new city with an ingrained skepticism derivative of the age-old battle of east vs. west. But I did come here with good reason, and climate was certainly one of the major considerations for making the move. The autumn and early winter here have lived up to the reputation that Vancouver is a rainy, cloud-covered city that challenges even the most optimistic attitude, but I have become more accustomed to it (as I was told I would) and am having a minor love affair with my Hunter rain boots (superficial, I know, but we need to find our small comforts amidst the rainy days).
Although I love the snow covered lawns and evergreens of Toronto winters, I am starting to believe that the milder weather here, and the close proximity of snow when you’re missing it (Mount Seymour, Grouse Mountain, Hemlock Resort, and Whistler Mountain) are things I could easily become accustomed to. And it isn’t always grey – we’ve recently enjoyed almost a week of clear skies and sunshine, and as long as it isn’t raining, the mild temperatures afford plenty of opportunities to do a variety of outdoor activities. I would still argue that July is the best time to visit Vancouver, but if you chose to visit in the winter, here is a list of my favourite things to do outside this time of year:
1.       Walking
a)      The Endowment Lands near UBC – this extensive forest-covered group of trails are a great option, especially if you think it might rain. There are hundreds upon hundreds of old-growth trees, many of them cloaked in moss. Other groups of trees appear in curious formations that seem to creep along the forest floor, their arms reaching in all directions. And if you pay attention, there are always trees that spark the imagination – like the dead tree that looks remarkably like the mouth of a smiling crocodile.
Enjoying a Bean Bros. coffee along the Spanish Banks
b)      Spanish Banks (West of Tolmie St. on NW Marine Dr.) – if you park in the first parking lot and walk to and from the western tip of the Spanish Banks, you’ve covered almost 2.5 km of this beautiful oceanfront trail. With ample mountain views and opportunities for both people and dog watching, this walk will not disappoint. Be sure to watch the ocean too – if you’re lucky, you’ll see some of the wildlife – like a seal!
View of downtown from Kits Beach
c)       Kits Beach (on the west side of Vancouver) – go to Viva Fine Foods and Bakery (1555 Yew St., between Cornwall and York) to grab a latte and a delectable cookie to make your walk along the beach even sweeter. This walkway is often very busy with both tourists and locals, and with people young and old. Even in late December, you can witness people playing beach volleyball, while smiling kids enjoy a new playground next to The Boathouse Restaurant (previously The Watermark). You can walk all the way to Granville Island taking this ocean side route, but it is a long walk to do in the winter, and you might consider taking public transit for the way back.
Southlands trail on the Fraser River
d)      Southlands (south of SW Marine Dr. on Blenheim) – this little-known nook of Vancouver is as pastoral as the city gets. Chock-full of horse stables, nurseries and farms, there is plenty to see in this area, and there is a lovely trail that follows the banks of the Fraser River if you drive all the way to the end of Blenheim, turn right on Celtic Ave. and then left on Carrington. Here you will find a small parking lot and a trail that goes both east and west from the bridge to Deering Island. At one point on the east trail, you will have to walk on the road (east on Celtic) to catch the trail again. Gleaming new houses and a golf course provide sightseeing on your left, while the Fraser River and the mountains offer views on your right. Sunsets here are breathtaking.
Stay tuned for other great winter activities to do in and around Vancouver!

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Seattle: What’s Good Part Two

From the myriad of intersecting lines at city hall to the modern interpretation of the age-old library, Seattle has some very distinct architectural features that make walking around the city pure delight. While walking down James Street into Pioneer Square, a parking lot perched at a 45-degree angle seems to grow out of the sidewalk. Unassumingly, the entire side of a towering skyscraper on 5th Ave. is done in a simple, tiled mosaic of different colours, which you could easily miss if you weren’t paying close attention. Architectural gems, both hidden and on display, become more striking as you journey through the streets of Seattle.
The central library, located at the corner of 5th and Madison is a building made almost entirely of glass, and looks more like what I imagined the recent addition to the ROM in Toronto to be (instead, they ran out of money and replaced the glass with metal). Seattle’s library was designed by Rem Koolhaas, and the Dutch influence is apparent in the library’s geometric lines and splashes of bright colour amidst an overall more neutral colour palette. There is an entire section done in the colour red: walls, ceilings, floors, staircases, doors. It is both overwhelming and awe-inspiring; it feels as though you’re travelling through a human body, all red on the inside. The escalators aren’t difficult to miss either. They jump out at you, illuminated and fluorescent yellow, taking you all the way up to the top floor Reading Room, which captures the essence of reading pleasure. The glass walls and ceiling provide tons of natural light, even in the Seattle gloom, and people sit in absolute silence. Surprisingly, the entire library seems extremely quiet, or perhaps the acoustics are built in such a way so as to distil noise.
In addition to great architecture, seafood is also at a prime in Seattle. You can buy all sorts of strange, large fish with wide-eyed stares at Pike Place Market (where they throw fish just for your entertainment), not to mention piles of Dungeness crab you can eat to your heart’s content. Clam chowder is a popular staple in the market and throughout the city, and it is the perfect, hearty remedy for a cold day in the Seattle rain.
If you’re looking for a more substantial meal than soup, you can head to Blueacre Seafood Restaurant located at 7th and Olive (http://blueacreseafood.com/) owned by Chef Kevin Davis and his wife Terresa, who was our hostess that evening. She was charming and personable, offering advice on what to eat and claiming “I married my husband for those crab cakes.” The service was friendly and professional overall, and the meal was truly gourmet without being overly expensive (this was in fact one of the owners’ mandates when they opened the place, and they have succeeded). Having filled up on too many carbs, I chose not to have a starter, but they brought me two complementary smoked salmon bites, which I always equate with pure class.
It’s these small touches, such as lemon-infused butter for the bread and horseradish brown butter for the main, which make a meal memorable. I also liked that for many dishes, you can choose either 5 oz. or 8 oz. of fish, so you can leave room for dessert if you wish. My main consisted of parmesan crusted Alaskan halibut, which was crispy on the outside but tender on the inside, truffled parsnip puree, which tasted like a lighter and more complex version of mashed potatoes, wilted spinach, and the brown butter that garnished every bite and disappeared too quickly.
Even with a bottle of wine, this meal for two was under $100, making it a top choice for a delicious and memorable dinner out. If you only have one dinner out in Seattle, make it Blueacre.

Seattle: What’s Good Part One

Having only recently moved to the west coast, this trip to Seattle is my first. I was told it was just a smaller version of Vancouver, but it is so very different from our city across the border. First, Seattle has a longer history than Vancouver, which means more shops, restaurants and buildings with an authentic charm from decades past. And of course, one of the most striking things about Seattle is the architecture. I think as far as a city downtown goes, Seattle is one of the finest for design.  Elements of it remind me of Boston, New York and even London, likely because of the antiquated feeling to places such as Pioneer Square.
On Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour, we learned that Seattle was established in the 1850s, when settlers from out east courageously ventured west to start a new town in which to turn a profit. Its first industry was lumber, but coal and gold also became important resources before the 1900s. The tour is underground because the current city is built above the old town. After a series of city planning blunders, including building on piles of sawdust landfill and constructing 10-35 ft. town walls to help with the gravity flow of sewage disposal and to avoid high tide, the streets were covered with bricks reinforced in the shape of Roman arches. This project was inspired by the need for safety in the streets: several people fell to their deaths off the town walls, while others had heavy objects, such as cast iron stoves, fall on them from the ledge above. It was an informative and entertaining tour with guide Rick, and I would recommend it to anyone who visits Seattle. The tour is 90 minutes in length and the cost is $15.
Next thing on my list is coffee. Coffee is good in Seattle, and probably keeps much of the population not only caffeinated but in the green, as it is so readily available. No doubt, we went to the first-ever Starbuck’s store near Pike Place Market (http://www.pikeplacemarket.org/), shedding light on their popular brew called “Pike Place”. It was decent coffee, but it definitely wasn’t my top cup this trip. We enjoyed a great local brew at Melrose Market’s (http://melrosemarketseattle.com/) Homegrown Sustainable Sandwich Shop located on Capitol Hill. Also worth mentioning is their breakfast sandwich made with local ingredients and packed with flavour. The sandwich comes with a semi-runny egg topped with cheese and avocado on a massive sesame bun, with a side of warm oatmeal. At $6 this is a top economical choice for a hearty and healthy breakfast.
Finally, my best coffee in Seattle was at The Cherry Street Coffee House (http://cherryst.com/) near Pioneer Square, the original site and namesake of the café, which has now spread out to four other locales in the city because of its popularity. We were drawn to the place because of the funky neon sign (of which there are many in Seattle, giving it an authentic 1950s vibe), and were pleasantly surprised by the high quality of the food and the complex, but smooth taste of the coffee. I enjoyed a delicious lox and cream cheese bagel, with a side of tomato ginger soup. If you’re looking for a quick, affordable lunch in a comfortable setting, The Cherry Street Coffee House is a fantastic bet.
Stay tuned for more Seattle highlights, including architecture and seafood in my next blog post!