Selling What They Like

A pair of young, design-savvy entrepreneurs bring a discerning eye and a fresh personal take to a home furnishings store in Toronto.

Traditional retailers are constantly looking for new strategies to draw in consumers. Target recently collaborated with five different specialty boutiques across the country to create shop-within-a-shop experiences at their stores. J. C. Penney is refreshing its brand with a new logo and lower prices. Then there is Mjölk, a lifestyle boutique in the west end of Toronto that stocks a selection of design objects from Scandinavia and Japan. It was founded two years ago by John Baker, who spent a few years working for a local furniture showroom and manufacturer, and Juli Daoust, who studied curating and photography at the Ontario College of Art and Design. The young owners had traveled the world, and connected with the Scandinavian aesthetic and lifestyle. “When we came back, we noticed a lot of the brands we really loved weren’t available in the city, and after we went to Japan, we just wanted to bring those things from our travels back to Toronto,” Baker says.

Unlike retailers who source items by studying the competition, Baker and Daoust find their products through personal connections. “A lot of the design we carry comes through referral,” Baker says. “Oji Masanori does these beautiful brass bottle openers, and he referred us to some of his friends. We like the idea of representing fewer artists but showing more of their collections, and being involved with people who all know each other.”

Mjölk (pronounced “mi-yelk”—Swedish for “milk”) offers a thoughtful selection of objects for the home, in addition to a few furniture lines that can be hard to find in Toronto, such as Fredericia, Artek, and Maruni. They won’t display ten different models of toasters; instead, they’ll feature the one that Baker and Daoust think is best. Every piece looks anonymous in its design, as if it belongs in the Super Normal exhibition, the show curated by Naoto Fukasawa and Jasper Morrison a few years back that celebrated beautifully designed everyday objects. “Our pieces are not as ubiquitous, and are more artisanal and handcrafted,” Baker says. “As a lifestyle store, it’s Juli and I curating the shop with our opinions and recommendations. It’s very personal, and what we enjoy.” Their kitchen selections are a good example of their curatorial eye; here we asked Baker to comment on some of his favorite kitchen tools.

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