If you’ve wandered by Main Street’s Vancouver Special you’ve likely found yourself lured inside pretty quickly. The ‘design concept store’ opened in April 2008 at East 20th Ave in the heart of Vancouver’s up and coming Mt. Pleasant neighbourhood. It’s aim is to promote the idea that good design can be accessible, affordable, and of high quality while bringing pleasure to daily life. The product mix is carefully curated and constantly evolving with offerings ranging from furniture, design objects and household accessories to a large selection of photography, design, and architecture books. The owner, Anne Pearson, holds an Honors B.A. in Art History and a Masters of Architecture degree from UBC. Prior to opening the store, she worked for an architecture firm in Vancouver. She has a passion for art, design and retail and has researched and traveled extensively to find innovative and unique local and international products and designers. Scout caught up with Anne recently and asked her a few questions…
Three things about your neighbourhood that make you want to live there: 1. The tuna tataki at Zipang Sushi on Main and 21st. 2. Wednesday Karaoke Night at the Legion on 23rd – I like to go there and play darts and watch the old men sing Sinatra songs. 3. Queen Elizabeth Park – I love walking up the hill in the morning and watching all the old people practicing Tai Chi. I enjoy it most in the spring for all the flowers, and in the fall for the leaves. And there is an incredible view of downtown from the top of the hill.
Most popular locally-made item in your store? The mini origami Vancouver special houses are very popular. They were designed for the store by a very cool local multi-disciplinary design firm called “creative room“.
What inspires your choice of products? I only sell items that I would buy for myself. My taste is very contemporary, and the selection of books and products reflects that. I look for design that is well made while still being affordable, that is clever, and isn’t too trendy.
A Vancouver Special item everyone should have: I think everyone should have a Tivoli Radio. I’m not a techie person, but I love the retro-style and the fact that they sound great is a bonus. I like to plug my laptop into mine when I’m watching Project Runway, and that way I can hear every word that Tim Gunn has to say.
What are your favourite new Vancouver Special items right now? Beautiful wood alarm clocks handmade by Furni in Quebec, The Spiderwoman Chair and Neon Tube lights by Danish furniture company HAY. I’m also really excited about the new pottery we’re getting from Portland artist Lilith Rocket.
If there was a Vancouver Special soundtrack – what would it sound like? Well, funny you should ask. We actually made a summer mix-tape for the store and all the staff picked their favorite summer songs. It’s very eclectic. Check out the playlist on our blog. And when we’re not listening to that, I’ve usually got KCRW from Los Angeles playing on the Tivoli Internet radio.
Why is Vancouver a good city for independent design? Because it feels like it’s emerging rather than established. It’s exciting to live in a city that hasn’t hit its peak yet. There is also an incredibly supportive art and design community here, and it’s small enough that it’s easy to meet people and there is a lot of opportunity for dialogue.
Is there a local designer or artist that you admire above all others? Gordon Smith. He just turned 90 years old, and he still manages to be avant garde. And Gordon, if you’re reading this: I want to see your house!
Best Vancouver place to be inspired by emerging artistic talent: Lu’s Pharmacy on the Downtown East Side. It’s a new space for a non-profit women’s health care clinic designed by students at the UBC School of Architecture. It is really inspiring to see great design achieved on a limited budget and with mostly recycled or reclaimed materials. Some of the students designed the most gorgeous chandeliers out of old coat hangers and metal colanders.
Favourite Vancouver building? I have a love for old signage and odd vernacular buildings, like the “2400 Motel” on Kingsway and the “Star Tile” building on East Hastings. But if you’re talking in terms of capital ‘A’ Architecture, I think Vancouver’s best buildings are the Electra (the old BC Electric building) and the adjacent Dal Grauer Substation. The Electra was designed by Ron Thom, and B.C. Binning did the decorative blue mosaic tiles. It’s a wonderful pairing of art and architecture. The substation was one of Vancouver’s first modern buildings, and while it is currently in a terrible state of disrepair, the facade used to be a glass curtain wall which exposed the interior machinery and circulation. The interior was color blocked in primary colors, (also designed by Binning), and at night it would glow from within like an electric Mondrian painting.
Three places you like to take out of town guests: The Museum of Anthropology, the view of the Lions from the Cleveland Dam, and – depending on the guests – either to Spanish Banks or Wreck Beach to watch the sunset.
Where do you enjoy shopping in Vancouver? Food: My favorite is Italian, and I love the homemade pasta at La Quercia. The best panini are at “La Grotta del Formaggio” on the Drive. They also make great sandwiches at a little Italian deli in Strathcona called “Bennys” and I buy my Italian sausage at Moccia’s on Hastings.
Clothing: I think local clothing designer Dace Moore is very talented. She makes great coats. And I love the graphic patterned dresses at Marimekko, the leather purses made by Erin Templeton in Chinatown, and Vincent Park on Main Street for jeans. Jewelry: Heather Mandin is a local designer who makes some really different and interesting objects.