Some of the most architecturally banal apartment buildings came out of the 1960s.
That being said, I firmly believe that a building is much more than a pretty face. While their facades are non-descript, these brick boxes fit very well into the quiet tree-lined streets of our older residential neighbourhoods and busy commercial thoroughfares alike, providing much-needed affordable housing and residential density.
With regular care and maintenance, their modern lines and durable brick veneers result in a dare-we-say timeless aesthetic. (Check out Silver Heights on Portage for a good example).
What’s particularly interesting to note is that the signage on many of these minimalist tenements is highly stylized.
Perhaps the original developer wanted some level of artistry and character to set their project apart from the competitor’s building just down the block? And why were graphic design and architecture so different during this time period? While architects embraced modern minimalism, graphic designers favoured serif fonts and custom scripts.
Food should be an experience, not merely sustenance.
Ray Oldenburg coined the term the “third space,” defining the places in our cities that are neither the home nor the workplace. They are the anchors of community life and are essential to foster civic engagement, promote democracy, and facilitate broader creative interaction.
Great ideas have historically been generated and shared at local pubs, coffee shops, and restaurants. This is why I advocate for the thoughtful design and execution of their physical spaces. As with all interior design, it’s not about buying the nicest stuff you can afford and putting it in a room.
The following were evaluated on the basis of knowing themselves and executing their space to be conducive to human comfort and interaction.
Say what you will about Earls, but you have to admit that the Western Canadian chain understands the importance of quality design. Earls Restaurants Ltd. has its own in-house award winning design division, e+ Design and Construction, based at their head office in North Vancouver. Here in Winnipeg, the St. Vital location stands out by having a cohesive design aesthetic that encompasses the exterior structure as well as the decoration and details.
The space is enormous and there’s a lot of design to discuss, but the overarching feature is the execution of 1960s interior design and architecture. We all know the ’60s are so hot right now, and it’s great to see the mid-century modernism influencing today’s designs because it’s simply good design. 1960s elements such as connection to outdoors, use of natural materials, monolithic fireplaces, clerestory windows, pitched roof structures with exposed beams, and open concept spaces (with zones/rooms defined by raised or sunken floors) are all techniques employed at this location.
The architecture and interior design are timeless and modern, and while the space feels fresh and contemporary, the classic choices of materials aren’t at risk of looking dated and tacky. This is a good move, because if your company is going to spend at least a million bucks on one restaurant, it would probably be a good idea to spend it wisely and not have to renovate in five years.
The most dramatic interior feature is an enormous 3000lb Edison bulb light fixture, dimmed to the perfect level, adding a soft glow and a subtle sense of enclosure over the central dining area. (While the Edison filament bulb look is a lot more 2010 than 1960s, you could easily switch out the bulbs with simple round globe bulbs and you have instant mid-century light fixture facelift for very little cost.)
They also understand connection to outdoors with sliding glass walls that flow out from the lounge onto expansive fire-lit patio spaces. Good call, Earls. Now if only you didn’t love parking lots so much.
What restaurant design list would be complete without a quintessential family diner? Connie’s does it best with a bright atmosphere and a design bursting with personality that was allowed to evolve over many years. Even if you aren’t a fan of santa fe wallpaper borders and oversized dream catchers, you wouldn’t dream of criticizing the decorating because it’s immediately evident that you’re a guest in someone’s home. It seems everything has a story in this place, from the photos of Connie’s family vacations, to the many autographed photos of celebrities and musicians whom you had likely forgot existed. Music is a big part of their lives, and you can often find locals plugging the colourfully luminous jukebox to hear country classics.
Connie’s stands out as unique success compared to other diners because the physical layout contributes so well to the experience. The long bar-style-seating counter faces a small TV, a row of chrome tabletop jukeboxes, and a window into the kitchen with the perfect amount of separation so Connie can chat with the regulars while working the grill. Whether you come solo or with the whole family, there’s not a bad seat in the house.
Unburger is a great example of a cohesive branding scheme, unifying graphic design and interior design. Their visual aesthetic parallels their gourmet-meets-casual food offerings: fresh, appealing, and fun. The dining room is bright and modern, with punchy hits of bold red and black text in a trendy Trade Gothic typeface. The plyboo (bamboo plywood) that was used for the benches and countertops brings natural textures into the space to offset the bright white walls.
There are no secluded booths or padded armchairs, a design approach made popular by fast food joints that subconsciously reminds customers that this is a place to grab a quick bite and move along. In this case that’s a good thing, since you can always find a seat without a wait, and you aren’t subject to masses of loitering teenagers as tends to be common in other affordable Village eateries.
Parlour is well-branded, well-executed, and well-loved by those who know good coffee. This locally-owned Main Street shop is a great example of modern minimalism done well. I often hesitate to use the words modern minimalism with my clients because it conjures up images of sterile lifeless environments. While sterility may have its place in the design world, (hospitals, maybe?) a local coffee shop needs a bit more… humanity. Parlour’s monochrome palette and lack of superfluous adornment bring serenity rather than sterility when paired with textures of reclaimed wood, burnished metal, and plaster mouldings.
The existing building and its traditional large-scale chandelier create the perfect backdrop for the modern lines of the well-crafted coffee bar and metal stools. The space is too small for tables and is often packed with people, but never feels cramped. The function and flow of the small room works very well, demonstrating that more space is not as valuable as well-used space.
Rae & Jerry’s has cemented itself as one of Winnipeg’s iconic establishments, offering an experience straight out of the bygone mid-century era. What restaurant design list would be complete without it? Following the Second World War, a prominent Winnipeg businessman and philanthropist named John Draper Perrin helped to boost the post-war economy by providing venture capital to new businesses – among these were Rae & Jerry’s and CJOB. The rest is history.
The interior is filled with textures that successfully create intimacy and inspire the romantic fantasy of stepping back into a time of glamour and elegance. That is not something that is easily accomplished, and speaks to the authenticity that they have retained over the years. Deep red seating and swaths of dark stained wood, punctuated by square recessed lighting and exposed ridge beams work together to harken to the lushness of early mid-century style.
A couple weeks ago I rated Winnipeg’s top 5 spaces based on their spectacular interiors. Since apartment buildings tend to be private residences with no public access, I am instead evaluating the design based on the exteriors alone. You know, those buildings you pass by every day and think, “Wow, I wonder what it would be like to live in that building?”
These are the ones that bring life and character to our neighborhoods and streetscapes.
Ambassador Apartments (aka the Breadalbane)
Location: Hargrave and Cumberland. Built: 1909
One of my favourite things about the city is its radial grid street pattern, which results in wedge-shaped buildings like the Ambassador. This is an underappreciated building in an underappreciated neighborhood of Central Park. I’m not sure what the floor plan is like, but I imagine that the curved room on the corner would be a lovely sitting area or dining room.
The building also has a welcoming main entrance off Hargrave, with symmetrical front steps and a Romanesque arcade to provide shelter and a gentle transition between indoors and out. Imagine some potted cedars and a wrought iron bench out front instead of the metal rubbish bin.
Location: 626 Wardlaw. Built: 1913
Those who walk around this lovely area have certainly stolen a second peek into the enchanting courtyard of the Highgate. Brick, bay windows, and sinuous trees characterize the way this building meets the sidewalk. The spired conical roof and gables that characterize the Queen Anne revival style create a roofline that is distinguished from other character buildings in the neighborhood.
Even though the building essentially occupies a rectangular footplate, you would never think it by experiencing it from the street. The penetrating courtyard creates a very unique choreography of approach and lures you into the undulating folds of brick and mortar to the central entrance. The architect even has you passing by an arched gated threshold, cueing you in that you have just entered a very grand residence.
Location: Roslyn at Osborne. Built: 1909
Arguably Winnipeg’s most famous apartment building, the Roslyn deserves every one of it’s many accolades. Simultaneously stately and creepy, it anchors the street corner and provides us with plentiful stories about hauntings, crazy parties, famous tenants of yore, and one insane architect who included secret passageways and hidden compartments still not discovered a hundred years later. (My favourite highlights are the original elevator and the bizarre tiled basement). Visiting a friend for the first five times you will need directions from the lobby to their suite.
Like the Highgate, the Roslyn is a perfect example of the Queen Anne Revival style. Here too, each apartment is unique, many of them larger than a house in Fort Rouge. It is registered as a Canadian Heritage Building due to its complex design and near-perfect preservation of interiors including gorgeous woodwork.
Location: 500 Block of Balmoral Street. Built: 2010
We sure don’t build ‘em like we used to, so why try to replicate the past with cheesy Romanesque-replica caricatures of traditional architecture (I’m looking at you, Fort Garry Place)? Center Village is significant because it demonstrates that creative, well-designed housing can be built on today’s extremely tight construction budgets. Center village is an award-winning affordable housing project by 5468796 Architecture. It gracefully injects some much needed interest to the maligned Balmoral/Isabel area.
Take a moment to wander through the development and experience the interesting spaces and courtyards created by the modular block components. When viewed from across the street, Center Village reminds me of Canada’s most famous piece of architecture, Habitat 67 in Montreal, which is also a pleasure to walk through.
And number five… well there is no number five.
I deliberated for days and asked several people for suggestions. (I limited my options to buildings originally built as residences, and I’m also excluding townhouses).
There was a very dark era of apartment design from post-WWII to, well, the 21st century. Mid-century modern architecture yielded many incredible single-family houses, and also some great civic and commercial buildings in Winnipeg, but apartments got the shaft. Perhaps some of you love your 60’s or 70’s apartment building, but in my opinion, the tenets of mid-century housing design (connection to outdoors, open concept floor plans, etc) could not be easily translated to multi-unit residential. Which is the perfect segue to…
(Dis)honourable Mention: Executive House
Location: 390 Wellington. Built: 1959
For those who have an art history or architecture education from a local institution, you will have heard professors extol the virtues of Executive House on Wellington Crescent. They also extolled the virtues of critical thinking, and critical I shall be.
I’m not an anti-modernist by any means. I’m just pro-good-design. And to me, good design is not putting a Le Corbusier box on some legs and creating the heaviest surface parking lot in the neighborhood.
You can forget about climatic sensitivity, with a cold wall of glass on the north face of the building and cavernous balconies that never see sunlight. Suggestion: if you feel the need for some Le Corbusier design in your home, stick to his furniture designs, rather than emulating his residential architecture and city planning concepts.
Architecture is often compared to sculpture, conveying images of iconic buildings that appear in photoshopped brilliance on the covers of tourism brochures and architecture magazines.
While there is certainly a place for sculptural iconic buildings, architecture should always be measured by the interiors that those outsides create. My personal rule is to reserve judgement on a building until I can experience it fully rather than merely standing on the street and evaluating the facade.
And so. We have compiled this list of Winnipeg architecture evaluated by interior spaces rather than by curb appeal, fitting for a city with a subtle beauty that often requires and invites a closer look.
Precious Blood Church
With free summer tours and daily mass open to the public, you have no excuse to have not yet seen inside this most famous local church designed by architect Etienne Gaboury in 1968. What I particularly love about this building is that the structure’s outward quirky appearance (resembling a corkscrew or ice cream cone) is a direct result from the dramatic transcendent space Gabory wanted to create on the inside. In his words:
“The architecture speaks for itself… just in the projection of those huge beams as a centre of life and light can be seen as the journey of the human person toward God,”
While here, pay close attention to the way you move through the space, the natural light, the proportions, and the materiality and resulting textures and acoustics.
Winnipeg Art Gallery
As you enter the building, the low ceiling compresses the vertical space only to open up magnificently into the main exhibition room, with powerful receding planes of cool tyndal stone. The stairwell, made of the same monolithic stone, becomes part of the architecture rather than mere circulation corridor, inviting visitors to experience the room from different points within that volume of space.
Most people unwittingly pass by this hotel without pausing to experience the quiet grandeur that is the historic hotel bar, which is now Joanna’s cafe. Pop into Joanna’s on a sunny afternoon when the west-facing windows make the soaring 24-foot high space positively luminous. The wrought iron light fixtures are are imported from Tiffany’s of New York and the stained glass windows are from England. (Don’t let the opulence of the gothic-style cafe fool you – the meals here are well-crafted comfort food at very reasonable prices.)
Less publicly accessible, but also on the main floor is the Churchill dining room – try to have a peek through the double doors off the lobby to glimpse some of the most impressive woodwork in the city and the best example of gothic ribbed groin-vaulted ceilings.
Red River College Princess Campus: Roblin Centre
This incredible building(s) by local architect George Cibinel was completed in 2004 and is one of my favourite spaces to explore in Winnipeg. I resist going into too much detail because the delight of this piece of architecture is to serendipitously discover it. It may be enough to simply explain that the urban back lane of five adjacent century-old warehouses has been covered in glass to create a lofty and airy atrium, which acts as the campus street. (Who wouldn’t want to wander down a richly-textured exchange district street in the winter without needing your parka?) Explore a little further and you’ll find touches of the past at every turn, from hand-painted bank vault doors, reclaimed wood walkways, and translucent large-scale historic images on glass walls allowing us to view the present through the lens of the past.
Burton Cummings (Walker) Theatre
This 1907 theatre rivals the grandeur of the most famous historic theatres around the world and has been designated as a national historic site. After extensive work to undo the unfortunate renovations of the 1940s, the theatre is back almost exactly as it was in its vaudeville days, including the intricately hand-painted stage curtain. The vertical volume of space is breathtaking, and even with a full house of 1646 guests, shows still feel like an intimate performance. The curving forms of the sweeping balconies and soaring ceiling arches bring everyone together and focus on the stage. A space that is simultaneously grand and intimate is a rare thing indeed, but the Walker achieves this with timeless splendour and grace.
Your kitchen tends to be a natural hangout. Regardless of the size, nearly all of your guests will make their way toward your counter and cupboards to congregate. To make the kitchen feel more like a living space and less like a locker room, I always try to break up the expanse of upper cabinets and allow for open shelving.
Open shelving is a great way to display dishes, sculpture, or framed artwork and infuses your space with personality and warmth. Yes, you will have to dust another surface, yes you will have to either curate your display items or embrace the clutter, and yes, you will have to find another place to hide your shameful cans of processed ravioli. Is it worth it? Yes!
Below I have compiled a list of charming, modest kitchens with very different approaches to open shelving:
Use shelves for display of beautiful things
It may be hard to sacrifice wall space in a small kitchen for display areas. The effect, however, is quite remarkable in comparison to a bank of upper cabinets.
Work the restaurant aesthetic
Real chefs work in commercial kitchens with exclusively open shelving. This Parisian apartment keeps it inviting with wood floors, a fireplace, and exemplifies french priorities: food and art. Despite its diminutive size, you can tell that some serious cooking (and entertaining) happens here.
Balance texture vs. clutter
These reclaimed wood shelves and marble mosaic add a lot of texture, while the dishes on display are minimal and matching. This curated approach allows the texture of the wood and natural stone to stand out even more.
Go for naked cabinets
Take the doors off existing upper cabinets for as much or little open storage as you like. Paint the inside an accent colour, line the back with beadboard, wallpaper, or even bold patterned wrapping paper for a temporary hit of personality. (But beware of the marks left by the hinges if you have face-frame cabinets)
If you’re going to go super-cluttered, you better go minimal
Regardless of what you think of this unconventional kitchen, it successfully juxtaposes the modern graphic minimalism in the simple cabinetry and the austere concrete wall against the clutter of the mismatched cookware. Hipster meets hippie.
Make a feature wall
With the upper cabinets gone, this blogger and decorator from Toronto clad the wall in plywood before adding open shelving. The restrained white-on-white colour palette allows the wood to stand out. The feature-wall approach can also work with a number of other materials – tile, wallpaper, glass, paint. Click here for more photos.
Get some good looking stuff that you use every day
Maybe it’s time to find a perfect vintage canister set (I found mine at the Old House Revival), or a bright red colander you don’t mind looking at. While antique kitchenware is always a win, contemporary industrial designers have also been creating unique functional pieces that don’t want to be hidden away in a drawer. Bonus: when you display items that are used and washed often, they don’t have the chance to gather dust.
Make it work
One of my favourite inexpensive kitchen renovations by an american textile designer involved removing all the upper cabinets, installing beadboard and shelving on the back wall, and painting the bottom cabinets and even appliances. Consider converting a nearby closet into a pantry to accommodate cereal boxes and baking powder.
Click here to see more photos – seriously you need to see the before photo of this one.
With all black and white art and display dishes, the kitchen can go from yellow to, say, hot pink as you so choose.
Keep things at hand
Don’t relegate your open display area to the top of the existing wall cabinets. This is a huge pet peeve. Most people who cringe at the idea of open shelving (“eew the cleaning!”) are reacting to their mother’s kitchen with seldom-used servingware and fake plants haphazardly placed atop their upper cabinets, poised to gather kitchen-grime and look just plain messy. If you don’t have to get up on top of the counters to wipe it down, dusting becomes a simple task like wiping your countertops.
The new kid in town is far from the runt of the litter. IKEA’s arrival to Winnipeg means Prairie folk now have three locations and more options when renovating their homes. While many call IKEA the Euro Wal-mart, you can’t argue that they have some pretty well-designed products at those big box ultra-mass-production prices. And complete kitchens are no exception.
But before you embark upon renovating the most important room in your house, do your homework. Know your home, your budget, and what you want ahead of time.
Are you detail-oriented? Do you live in a grand old house? Do you have limited space but love to cook? Do you like one-of-kind pieces?
If you said yes to a couple of these questions, strongly consider local cabinet makers instead. You might be surprised how many companies, from large to small, fabricate cabinets here in Manitoba.
Ikea kitchens are ideal for open-concept homes or large rooms. They are slightly less appropriate for character homes with their typical small kitchens that have lots of corners and tricky areas like chimneys and radiators.
Having designed and installed many IKEA and non-IKEA kitchens, my partner Adam and I have compiled a list of pros and cons so you can know a bit more of what you’re committing to.
IKEA Kitchens – The Pros:
Get it now. In stock cabinets eliminate the typical four-to-six-week wait, and allow you to replace damaged or misordered pieces without a delay.
Expect quality hardware. Full extension soft-close drawer slides and adjustable hinges come as standard with Ikea.
Organize. Ikea has a decent selection of interior organizers like spice inserts, lazy susans, etc. with the option of adding more from a third party supplier like Lee Valley or Richelieu.
Save. Thousands of dollars can be saved by assembling and installing yourself (if you have the skill, time, and ambition).
Splurge elsewhere. Lower cost of cabinets might mean you can splurge on counters and tile!
Get quality.The cabinet boxes are made of 11/16” particle board. If you want to nit-pick on quality, almost everyone else uses only ⅝” thick particle board (yes, 11/16” is thicker than ⅝”)
Cover your bases.Ikea’s 25 yr warranty is comparable or better than the competition
IKEA Kitchens – The Cons:
Expect design limitations. Ikea has a smaller selection of door styles, wood species, wood stains, and thermofoil colours.
Be wary of wood doors. Wood veneers are spliced together resulting in a patchy look. (Tip: Go black and you won’t notice, or just turn a blind eye)
Accept space challenges. There’s no 33” wide cabinet. If a 36” is a bit too big, you have to go with 30” and have a huge filler strip, which is unsightly and a waste of space.
Know your hidden costs.The advertised price does not include delivery, assembly, and installation (add in another $1800 to $2500 for the average kitchen, or sacrifice your own time, talent, and energy).
Pay attention to key details. The melamine cabinet boxes don’t match the doors (unless you go white or natural birch). This means you can’t get an open shelf or glass-door cabinet with a wood-veneer or colored interior to match. This is a huge deterrent in using open shelves and clear glass.
Forget about trim and extras. Crown moulding anyone? Ikea’s trim pieces are almost non-existent. While this may be ok for modern minimalism, don’t try to design a chunky island with turned posts, baseboard trim, and bar brackets.
Local Cabinet-makers – The Pros:
Get exactly the look you want. Hundreds of options for door styles, wood species, stain colors, glazes, paint colors, and thermofoil/melamine for a totally personalized look
Get the fit you need with custom sizes. Many places make every piece custom, others offer standard size cabinets with custom add-ons. This is huge bonus when space is tight.
Think beyond the lazy susan. Local places offer interior organizers galore: there’s literally hundreds of options for pull-out pantries, self-closing waste bins, the famous “magic corner” cabinet, etc.
Upgrade at will. Solid wood dovetailed drawer boxes are almost always available for an extra charge.
Expect top-notch service. This applies to everything, from having an experienced salesperson measuring your space for you, placing the order and arranging for your delivery, to booking your installation, and even popping by if there’s any issues.
Buy Manitoban. Know that you’re supporting our local made-in-manitoba economy.
Local Cabinet-makers – The Cons:
Hurry up and wait. Typically you wait four to six weeks for cabinets, and if a piece is damaged, three more weeks to replace it.