Garnering international acclaim for designing Shopify’s Toronto headquarters and Australian skincare brand Aesop’s store in the city, MSDS Studio is busy fulfilling its promise. Jessica Nakanishi and Jonathan Sabine, co-principals, bring their Scandinavia-meets-Japan sensibility to furniture, interiors, and lighting—and are regularly featured in the pages of Dwell, Wallpaper*, Azure, and The New York Times.
A story of regeneration
“Our professional and personal lives thrive on the economic and cultural diversity that comprise, in our estimation, the beating heart of the city,” says Sabine. “Its phenomenal growth over the past decade means that there are always new things to see and new opportunities.”
With Canada’s current political and financial stability, it’s easy to see why international buyers are attracted to this leafy-green city, according to Chris Kapches, president and chief executive of Chestnut Park Real Estate, the exclusive affiliate of Christie’s International Real Estate in the region.
“We have top-rated schools—both private and public, as well as universities—plus head offices of major banks. On top of that, Toronto has a thriving entertainment district, parks, and exciting waterfront redevelopment projects happening apace,” says Kapches, adding, “It’s no surprise that people feel comfortable building their lives here.”
The waterfront development project, known as Waterfront Toronto, is billed as North America’s largest urban revitalization program. It will take 25 years to complete, and cost in excess of C$30 billion. Undoubtedly, it will generate more interest in the city as the project continues to develop.
MSDS Studio agrees, noting another key attraction: the Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport. “When Porter Airlines opened at the island airport in 2006, it was a game changer,” notes Nakanishi. “People can fly in, right downtown, and they’re literally on the harborfront.”
People can fly in, right downtown, and they’re literally on the harborfront.
Cultural goings on
Nakanishi and Sabine frequently hop on their bikes and cycle to their favorite new cultural destination, the Aga Khan Museum and its adjacent Ismaili Centre.
“There’s a kind of poetry to the minimalist space,” Sabine says about the 17-acre site. “Every feature is elegant, from the reflective pools and tranquil gardens to the Brazilian granite walls and the glass dome on the Ismaili Centre.”
The pair also make time to frequent the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), especially since Frank Gehry’s major renovation in 2008. “The glass façade stretches an entire city block, supported by wood, which is unexpected,” says Nakanishi. “Inside, the ribbon staircase is spectacular, as is the natural light. It’s a great venue for the gallery’s dance parties on the first Thursday of every month.”
While they’re at the AGO, Nakanishi and Sabine slip into the Henry Moore Sculpture Centre for a quiet moment of contemplation. “The light is perfect,” they say, referring to the strategically placed skylights showcasing Moore’s bronze maquettes.
"Toronto’s food scene has exploded in the past five years, but one restaurant that remains at the top of our list is Canoe,” says Sabine. “It has panoramic views of the waterfront and Lake Ontario, and excellent service. As designers, however, we take notice of the moss-covered wall art and the bundled-wood chandelier by the Brothers Dressler.”
If Nakanishi feels like a glass of wine at the weekend, she heads to Alo, to consult with head sommelier Christopher Sealy, or she meets friends at La Palma for cocktails. “La Palma is bright and has a strong California vibe,” she says. “The walls are painted in loose brush strokes to look like abstract palm leaves. It’s a fun place to sip a Venetian Spritz or a Pimm’s Cup.”
Sabine’s go-to spot near the office is Neo Coffee Bar. “It has authentic Japanese-style pastries, like the Neo choux cream puffs and cheesecakes, as well as fresh roll cakes,” he reports. “It partners with international roasters to deliver a great cup of coffee. I recommend the Kyoto matcha latte.”
Let’s go shopping
When Nakanishi is looking for a special outfit—something to wear to an art gallery fundraiser such as The Power Ball, for example—she heads for the high-design labels at VSP Consignment. “Chanel, Dries Van Noten, Armani—they’re all there,” she explains. “The staff are attentive and the space is comfortable, so shoppers have a really nice experience.”
Always fashion-forward, Sabine keeps his wardrobe stocked with purchases from Sydney's. “Known for its bespoke suits, Sydney’s has vintage decor but a really modern sense of style,” says Sabine. “I love its Oxford dress shoes and made-to-measure pieces. Its own private label, United Dry Stock Goods, has incredible raw denim.”
A place to stay
“Friends and clients from out of town are delighted to learn that Toronto has a selection of luxury hotels,” says Nakanishi. “We send people to The Shangri-La because it has a decadent afternoon tea in the lobby, and live music almost all day—jazz piano, quartets—and into the night. We love the sweeping views up University Avenue and the proximity to the theater district and the waterfront.”
What to see
MSDS Studio regularly takes visitors past Shim-Sutcliffe’s unique Integral House in the upscale residential neighborhood of Rosedale. Next, they drive downtown to see the TD Centre—one of the first towers in the city’s business district and the last major work by architect Mies van der Rohe before his death. “Make sure to tour the TD’s private collection of Canadian art and Inuit art,” says Sabine.
Its phenomenal growth over the past decade means that there are always new things to see and new opportunities.
Meanwhile, Nakanishi recommends a stroll through the historic Distillery District. “It’s quaint, with cobblestones and refurbished brick buildings,” she adds.
Both love to explore the harbor, including Sugar Beach, with its signature pink umbrellas, and the entire Waterfront Trail, which runs through the city’s bustling harbor redevelopment.
“The path is separate from the road, so it’s safe, and it’s well-kept with a smooth surface and lots of riders. It’s perfect for cyclists and walkers who want a scenic route along Lake Ontario.”