Cannabis shops have become ubiquitous in Toronto. Along some streets, they practically stand shoulder-to-shoulder, vying for the attention of passers-by – a tricky feat given that government regulations forbid them from overtly showcasing what wares are to be found inside. Standing out in such a competitive market takes a thoughtful and original approach, as evidenced by one retailer along the West Queen West drag. Opened in December 2020 – amidst on-going pandemic closures and stay-at-home orders – Dimes Cannabis immediately made its presence known with a forest-green-painted brick facade that adds a handsome yet unassuming note to the edgy streetscape.
When devising his newest endeavour, owner JP Adamo knew he wanted to create a shop that focused on the customer’s experience by offering a discerning and highly curated selection of product within a well-designed space. Also co-owner of nearby Bar Piquette and Crosley restaurants, Adamo has a keen understanding of the neighbourhood’s unique personality; to help translate the Dimes ethos into a physical form, he turned to FutureTriibe, a globe-spanning collaborative practice led by Ali McQuaid (of Toronto’s Future Studio) and Christina Symes (of Sydney, Australia’s We Are Triibe interior design studio). The two had studied together at the Florence Institute of Design, and Dimes would be their first joint venture, one that managed to overcome time zones and restrictive travel measures.
While the street-face of the shop boasts that refined use of colour, inside the atmosphere exudes a sophistication not commonly found among the cannabis retailer industry. Far from a gritty headshop or tech-heavy futuristic environment, Dimes is a breath of fresh air. “Warm, inviting and elegant were the guiding principles to the design,” says McQuaid. To achieve the desired boutique-like atmosphere, the duo opted for a restricted palette of materials “provided by the earth.”
But first, concealing those sightlines in from the outside. Rather than papering the large windows or covering them with garish graphics, McQuaid and Symes applied an opaque film that gives the impression of reeded glass: The treatment successfully obscures views without losing the connection to the street – abstract glimpses of shadowy figures can be seen moving around inside – and also allows natural light to filter though.
A former high-end home accessories store, the interior was in relatively decent shape with only one structural change to be made – the orientation of the internal staircase was flipped to help open up the footprint. Then, to convey that feeling of unadulterated warmth and elegance, the designers employed a local tradesperson to hand-apply plaster for a pleasing and subdued tactile quality. Along the east wall, a combination of open shelving and locked glass-fronted alcoves display some of Adamo’s offerings.
Unobtrusive LED strips wash the merchandise – from grinders, tampers and pipes to rolling papers, candles, clothing and more – in gallery-like lighting in a way that avoids glares or hotspots from being reflected off the glass. Further back, walnut-lined cabinets (with lockable glass panes) house the edibles, which are presented on hand-thrown vessels by local ceramicist Talia Silva. Retro-inspired branding throughout, by Toronto’s Indeks, contributes to the strong visual identity and helps guide the shopper experience.
Lining the opposite side is the “flower wall,” a one-of-a-kind structure made from textured raw bricks in an angled arrangement that creates a dynamic undulating effect. Lit from within, the individual buds are contained in tiny glass cloches, chosen by Adamo to maintain freshness and to emphasize the visual quality of the buds over touch and smell. Backing this display and carried onto the floor are face brick tiles in a deep brown, their rugged retro-ness nodding to the urban attitude of the surrounding area. “I love to play with readily available, inexpensive materials in unexpected ways,” says McQuaid of the choice. “There’s a challenge to create something beautiful using basic materials.” Bronze-finished info plaques add an aged and slightly imperfect detail to the vignette.
Another “basic” material choice McQuaid and Symes made was to incorporate rammed earth. A typical structural material in tropical climates, Symes thought it would introduce an original yet complementary element. Since using rammed earth in a traditional way would have required major structural support for the more-than-100-year-old building, the two opted for a surface-applied veneer, supplied by Clayworks in the U.K. Used to clad two slender display plinths and the entire back counter and wall, the material was hand-troweled onsite by a local qualified expert in a gradient of cool grey tones chosen to reference the type of rock and granite found throughout Ontario. Lighting from Spain’s Santa & Cole – slender portable Sylvestrina lamps that coincidentally resemble a bong and a Tekiò Horizontal pendant, its tubular form and Washi paper shade playfully conjuring a hand-rolled joint – contribute to the overall moody ambiance.
Differentiating itself through its experienced-based focus, Dimes has created a welcoming environment for both those who have a “normalized perception of cannabis” and those who are simply interested in learning more. Currently offering curb-side pickup at the Toronto flagship location, Adamo and FutureTriibe are also working on a second outpost north of the city.
Multi-disciplinary design studio FutureTriibe uses a palette of raw yet refined materials to create an experience-focused and elegant interior.