This is the time of year that Canadians on the hunt for moderately priced design-savvy home furnishings face a conundrum. They can go to Ikea, which dominates the sector, to see its new models, but will have to battle through the seasonal back-to-school chaos that envelops the mammoth outlets as parents and students alike scour the 300,000-sq.-foot stores for inexpensive Ivar shelving, Lycksele sofa beds and Forsytia bedspreads. Not fun.
Competition to the ubiquitous blue-and-yellow behemoths is coming, however. On Sept. 25, Crate & Barrel will unveil its 35,000-sq.-foot two-level outlet in the upmarket Yorkdale mall in Toronto while West Elm, the younger, more hip and urban line from the makers of Pottery Barn, will open on Oct. 16 in a 20,000-sq.-foot historic building located a few kilometres away. For both brands, this will mark their first foray outside the U.S.
Crate & Barrel was “pulled up to Canada,” explained CEO Barbara Turf, by Canadians who shopped in their 158 U.S. stores and wanted an outlet north of the border. The firm’s products “can compete with Ikea and go up,” says Turf. “Young, old, modern and transitional customers can find something because we’re a little bit broader.” Its products run the gamut from cheap and cheerful tableware to Italian-made buffets and hutches costing $1,399 each. And while Allen keys are necessary for some ready-to-assemble items available at the store, bigger items will be delivered with its white-glove service that includes not just assembly but also packaging removal.
For West Elm, its Toronto location in the middle of a rapidly condo-izing area of the downtown core was a way to differentiate itself from the other home decor chains. With its global-style mix of modern, organic and ethnic, president Dave DeMattei wants to attract customers who appreciate its “youthful attitude.” So West Elm’s Parsons bookcase is priced at US$349, a matching cube side table retails for US$159, while a set of two autumnal hand-blown glass gourds are US$34. (West Elm hasn’t released Canadian prices.) “We’re a speciality version of Ikea,” says DeMattei. “We’ll lay out rooms for you with designers on staff.” And though a lot of the inventory will be on location in flat-pack boxes, employees will load customer’s vehicles.
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