For designers, being invited to envision an Aesop store is a chance to join an exclusive club that counts Snøhetta, Ilse Crawford and Vincent Van Duysen among its members. The Australian skin care brand prides itself on its locally minded shops, and no two locations are alike; it chooses its architectural collaborators just as carefully as it develops its beloved botanical scents.
For one of its latest outposts, at the base of a condo tower in Toronto’s Yorkville neighbourhood, Aesop approached Aránzazu González Bernardo and Michael Norman Fohring of local design studio Odami. The duo had been on the brand’s watch list ever since it exhibited a chair milled from the wood of a dying red oak at the 2020 edition of the city’s Interior Design Show.
The retail space they came up with is a thoughtful response to Yorkville’s historic character. At the heart of the design are a series of maple spindles that Fohring initially discovered during his team’s search for a wood turner. Fabricated according to an outdated building code, they had been sitting in a warehouse, unused, for years. In other words, they were the perfect reflection of Odami’s — and Aesop’s — sustainability ethos.
Reimagined as wainscotting that runs along the walls, counters and seating of the Yorkville Aesop store, the slender balusters now nod to the porches and staircases that define the area’s Victorian homes. “We wanted the space to feel warm and domestic, like its surroundings,” Fohring says. Taking more inspiration from local history, Odami selected a deep burgundy paint reminiscent of the red banquettes in the Riverboat Coffee House, a 1960s Yorkville music venue that hosted performances by Joni Mitchell.
Other aspects of the Yorkville Aesop design provide a lighter contrast. The epoxy floor is embedded with decorative flakes to achieve a speckled texture that sits somewhere between terrazzo and living room carpet, while an off-white sculptural handwashing counter in the centre of the store is made from satin Corian.
Tucked in the corner, a mirrored niche offers another, more intimate basin for private consultations that include hand and face treatments. González Bernardo notes that this area has its own ties to history and domesticity. “It’s a contemporary reinterpretation of traditional pedestal sinks, similar to those we have in our memory when we think about our grandparents’ houses,” she says. On the opposite wall, glossy cylindrical tubes built of CNC-cut MDF rotate to reveal shelves stocked with fragrance bottles and tester discs, as well as a scent infusion chamber. “They celebrate the space’s verticality,” says Fohring.
As González Bernardo adds, “The overall result is a space that shifts your mood, giving greater significance to the ritual of self-care.”
At skin care brand Aesop’s newest Toronto location, burgundy balusters reflect the setting’s stately history.