Not five minutes after I meet Canadian design gurus Chris Hyndman and Steven Sabados in Toronto’s famous pedestrian village, a small pug sporting a Dolce and Gabbana cardigan runs toward us. The event serves as the perfect prelude for our day in the Distillery, lovingly described by Steven and Chris as stylish, charming and a always a little unexpected.
Over the past seven years Steven and Chris— whose former show, Designer Guys, made them a household name—attest to having spent countless hours inside the gates of 55 Mill Street. These days when they’re not shooting their wildly popular CBC talk show, Steven and Chris, they invariably come here in search of inspiration tucked carefully within this 13-acre Victorian hideaway.
“I think a lot of people just don’t know that this place is always changing,” says Steven as we grab a green tea from Balzac’s Coffee Roastery. “We come down so frequently because after two weeks you’ll find that there’s totally different merchandise. There’s a great sense of movement here”. Chris chimes in that as long-time Eastenders and proud representatives of the ever-evolving world of design, the transformative face of the Distillery is, literally and figuratively, right up their alley.
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas in the Distillery, as small teams of men string lights around evergreens that line the main Trinity Street drag.
“This is definitely the best time of year to come to this area,” he adds. “There are always amazing events going on and the shop owners really go all out with their products with the holidays around the corner.” One such store is the Vintage Gardener, the first stop we make on our journey.
“This is our favourite store for mood,” says Chris of the tiny little space filled to the brim with plants and garden pieces. “It’s like something out of a fairytale, or like being in some lovely person’s garden shed”
A few steps northwest bring us to Bergo Designs in the Link Building.
“We featured this on our show once” says Steven holding up a glossy, bright red human figure, whose been impaled with a handful of large kitchen knives. In theory, the item is a knife-rack, but Chris is quick to explain that it’s so much more. “We talked to a woman who had gone through a tough divorce and her best friend gave her this as a gift and told her to think of her ex-husband everytime she used it. She told us that the item made her laugh so much that she, over time, found it easier to reconcile with her ex. Now they’re great friends!”
As we continue along on our journey everything we see seems to remind the two long-time partners of another Distillery tale. “I remember we walked into the Corkin Gallery and on display there were these incredible charcoal drawings of wolves. I still think it was the best show we’d ever seen”.
The pair agree that they should do a Steven and Chris spotlight on galleries, as we walk into the Artscape Studios building — where local artists keep shop on two floors with winding hallways.The space is extremely open concept – with glass walls enabling passersby to gaze at the artists in action as they fashion the very products that will line their shelves.
The guys are especially interested in a Tanya Kirouac encaustic painting on a gallery wall. The forest scene depicted on the canvas is made entirely of pigmented beeswax and its smell couldn’t be more fitting.
“We love that you can actually speak to the artists here,” says Steven.
By this time we’re hungry and we begin to head west towards Distillery lane. En route, Steven and Chris insist that we peek into the Stone Distillery Fermenting Cellar, where a seminar appears to be in session. “There’s always something different going on here,” says Chris. “And it’s a stunning and totally unique venue for parties and weddings.”
The cellar space is huge, with massive stone walls and gorgeous windows hat cast a gothic light on scattered visitors. A crowd of 20 or so are sitting by a stage in the southeast corner, listening to a young man host a hands-on workshop about do-it-yourself wreath making.
After browsing through many a vendor’s booth, we can no longer ignore our rumbling tummies. The Taste of Quebec beckons us with its aromas of baking bread and promises of fine cheese.
The owner Thom Sokolanski doesn’t let us down. Trained in France, he treats us to an over-the-top tasting session, offering samples of fromage that go for more than $250 a wheel. He whispers that his Quebecoise sugar pies are a season specific steal.Chris proclaims that this is now his favourite store. He’s especially fond of Thom’s friendly approach—an attitude that makes the Distillery the perfect neighbourhood.
“It’s all about the atomsphere ,” says Steven as Chris nods in agreement.
I choose to believe them because, after all, they are the experts.