Vancouver's Crosstown neighbourhood hits a Soho cool

In the land of the lofts, interior design stores exude a New York vibe.

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      Nestled in between the hustle and bustle of downtown, the new-money flash of Yaletown, the historical character of Gastown, and the colourful grit of Chinatown is where Crosstown is quietly making a name for itself as Vancouver’s hippest up-and-coming micro-hood and home-décor hub. Like Swiss cuisine, this hidden gem is a mix of influences from all its bigger neighbours, yet still has a distinct flavour of its own.

      And who do we have to thank for this? Chambar (562 Beatty Street). Yes, people in the know seem to agree that Chambar owners Nico and Karri Schuermans are the king and queen of Crosstown. When they opened their world-class Belgian restaurant six years ago, they put that nearly forgotten stretch of Beatty Street between Pender and Dunsmuir back on everyone’s radar. Then in 2008, the couple opened Café Medina (556 Beatty Street), the hottest brunch spot in town. If you’ve never had one of their waffles or a lavender latte there, you’re really missing out. And most recently, they partnered up with chef David Robertson to open the Dirty Apron Cooking School (540 Beatty Street), an interactive “culinary playground” taught by the pros.

      But it’s not just this cluster of foodie hot spots that’s elevating this neighbourhood to near SoHo levels of coolness; it’s all the surrounding warehouses that have been converted into mid-luxury lofts.

      So it’s only fitting that chic home-décor stores have been popping up on Beatty as well. A couple of years ago, Nest Interiors set up shop at 522 Beatty Street. At this jazzy showroom, co-owner George Molnar offers what he calls “design packages”, in which a Nest designer comes to your digs to consult with you on your decorating vision. Depending on the size of the space, customers can go for a good ($250), better ($500), or best ($995) package—each one comes with a furniture discount.

      “We like to work with our clients and actually get them to make a bit of a commitment to work with us,” says Molnar, who sat down with the Straight at the Nest Interiors showroom. “So we like to come to your home and get to know your home, your lifestyle, your taste, whether you have pets, and all those kinds of things. So that you’re just as happy in your rooms today as you’re going to be 10 years from now.”

      A lot of Nest’s customers are lofters. For them, Molnar has a few simple guidelines to keep in mind when furnishing their wide-open spaces. The first is, Don’t be afraid to have fun with scale.

      “With a loft space, we often try to pick something to go oversize on—something a little bit unexpected,” says Molnar. “You could do an oversized rug or an oversized credenza or something.”¦Just play with it. Of course, it depends on the height and the window space of your place, but you want to go exaggerated in some direction.”

      One such signature piece that Nest sells is the Steve sectional by John Charles Designs. This three-piece component-based couch set that’s on display in his front window (the colour: “modern concrete”) goes for approximately $8,000 and fits in with Nest’s overall “modern comfortable” vibe.

      As for creating sub-spaces, Molnar prefers using rugs to subtly divide a room. At Nest, you can pick up a beautiful hand-knotted green-and-brown, bird-patterned Bodhi rug ($2,300 for 5-by-8.5-foot style) to use as your main carpet and a hand-tufted wool rug (starting at $700) for about the same price for the dining area.

      His third tip is go big with your art. After all, what’s the point of having all those uninterrupted, gallery-inspired walls?

      Robert Quinnell agrees. He’s the co-owner of Provide (529 Beatty Street), a home-accessories store that’s conveniently situated across the street from Nest. Quinnell carries a wide selection of Martha Sturdy Wall Sculptures. These formidable square acid-on-steel images go for $3,600 to $8,400.

      In addition to great art, Quinnell is all about multipurpose pieces. That’s why one of his biggest sellers is the Daff wool-felt accessories collection from Dí¼sseldorf. Daff placemats ($41 to $53) and coasters ($4.75 to $14) look more like art than table settings when you stack them up and showcase them proudly. And the lidless soft boxes ($42 to $190) look just as great left out in the open (no need to slide ’em under the bed). They come in neutrals as well as eye-popping brights like orange, teal, and fuchsia.

      “So great for storage,” says Quinnell, who recently gave the Straight a tour of his store. “They can be used for anything—newspapers, magazines, record albums, dogs.”

      Like Nest, Provide is a perfect fit in Crosstown, and for Quinnell, there was no other ’hood in Vancouver better suited for his New York–vibe lifestyle-décor shop.

      “When you come to a street like this, you feel like you’re transported into Manhattan or somewhere like that,” Quinnell says, “so in a way it’s big-city in a small city.”