'Not everything is precious - you want to live with your stuff'

Cult Shop Flexibility, practicality, style and whimsy - all under one roof, a true advantage in the dead of winter.

As visitors to the Winter Olympics now under way in Vancouver will discover, one of the city's oldest neighbourhoods is fast becoming one of its trendiest, following decades of neglect. Loft-style condos are breathing new life into the once-derelict, century-old buildings in the Gastown area on the edge of the city's core. That is making Koolhaus feel right at home. The home-decor retailer was ahead of the curve when it moved from upscale Kitsilano to Gastown just over two years ago, but that positioned it in a prime spot when the construction crews moved out and the area's new residents started moving in.
All those slick new open-plan spaces are crying out for stylish contemporary furniture, which is what the store has been known for since it branched off in 2003 from the Toronto retailer, UpCountry, and rebranded itself as Koolhaus. "We knew this was going to be a hot, hip, trendy, artsy sort of area, and we felt that would be a good fit for us," says Koolhaus's merchandise manager, Gary Christianson.
Koolhaus takes its design cues from classic contemporary and mid-century modern furniture and is strong on multi-functional pieces, such as beds and ottomans that flip open to reveal hidden storage. Both are a natural fit for open-plan condo living, where square footage and storage are usually at a premium. So is furniture that's designed to be comfortable and can withstand the wear and tear of daily life. Christianson points to a modern version of a harvest table, with a metal base and a top made from wood salvaged from old Vancouver buildings.
"You look at each piece and can see where the old nails were," he said. "There's a texture to it - when you run your hand across the wood it kind of undulates under your hand and you can feel the grain." The bonus is that you wouldn't have to worry about a dropped fork or a spilt glass of wine - any abuse would only add to the character of the surface: "It's about being practical. Not everything is precious - you want to live with your stuff."
There is a healthy dose of whimsy here too. A tongue-in-cheek touch of Canadiana is on display in the Timber Table, $325, a small acrylic side table imprinted with a wood-grain graphic. Or, if you want to add a bit of backwoods lodge flavour to your contemporary space, a hand-carved wooden stag's head, $895, will fit the bill. Koolhaus isn't alone in betting on the rebirth of Gastown, once better known for its souvenir shops and dodgy street life. A number of hip fashion boutiques and restaurants have moved into the area, along with contemporary furniture retailers such as Nood, B&B Italia and Bulthaup kitchens. They join Inform Interiors, the upscale contemporary furniture retailer that has been a fixture of the neighbourhood for years.
"It has become a real artistic, design-driven area," says Christianson. For Koolhaus to have taken a risk on the district before that was a reality, is pretty - well - cool. Koolhaus, 1 Water Street, Vancouver, + 604-875-9004. www.koolhausdesign.com