One restaurant, several design ideas – and some memories

Shelf lamps at Terroni

My photo isn’t nearly as good as I’d wish, but what I want to show you is the clever use of industrial-style work lamps to light up floor-to-ceiling shelves. In the case of this restaurant, the shelves contain bottles of wine; I’d like to try this on our bookshelves at the Manse.

So there Raymond and I were in downtown Toronto last Friday night, having dinner before attending a performance by the Canadian Opera Company. We’d chosen an Italian restaurant called Terroni, recommended by a friend and clearly, given the steady stream of people flowing into it the whole time we were there, a very popular spot. (The food was excellent, by the way. One of the best pizzas I’ve ever had: the “Don Corrado,” with mozzarella, gorgonzola, potatoes, spicy sausage and fresh rosemary.)

But what got my attention wasn’t so much the food as some elements of the decor, which gave me (in no particular order):

  • A new idea about bookshelf lighting;
  • A chance to test out some funky vintage-style stools that I’d been considering for the Manse kitchen;
  • A memory of a long-gone restaurant from our (yours and mine, I mean) collective long-gone past;
  • And a flashback to a 1970s design craze that probably never should have happened.

Here are the details:

1. The bookshelf lighting.

I’ve written many, many times before (like here and here and here) about the very large number of books that Raymond and I own, and that are going to have to find a proper home at the Manse. At the moment we have a tiny proportion of them on shelves here in Queensborough, but the vast majority are either still at our old home in Montreal, or sitting in boxes and piles in various spots in the Manse. Many bookcases lie in our future. Which might well mean owning even more of Ikea’s Billy line of bookcases than we already do.

Now, if you’ve ever looked in the Billy department at an Ikea store (you know, the place where it always ends in tears), you’ll have seen how the displays enticingly often include glass doors on the bookcases, and little track lights installed on the underside of the shelves so that there is a fetching glow on the books. Of course the doors and the lights add a considerable amount to the bare-bones cost of the Billy itself, but they do look nice – in the store at least. I love the idea of the upper shelves and reaches of our own book collection being gently lit so that people can read what’s on the spines of the many volumes.

But installing those lights – which come with cords attached – strikes both Raymond and me as a colossal pain in the neck, especially when you’re talking about many bookshelves. Why, we’d need so many outlets and extension cords and power bars that it would just be ridiculous.

(As an alternative, we once tried out some stick-on battery-operated lights that we found down in the U.S. They shed a nice glow, until the sticky got unstuck and the lights failed. Not a satisfactory experience.)

But Terroni had a clever and (I thought) attractive industrial-style lighting system for its tall shelves, which featured not books but bottles of wine. Clamped every few feet onto thin cylindrical floor-to-ceiling metal pipes were vintage-style work lamps, with their flexible necks bent so that the light shone upwards or downwards onto the bottles. My picture of them (at the top of this post) isn’t very good, but perhaps you can get the idea. I love industrial style, and I think having one or two such lights installed on each of our Billys (Billies?) would look great.

2. Those Modernica stools.

Modernica stools at Terroni

The exact Modernica stools I’d been writing about (having discovered them online) – found for real, by complete accident, just a few days later. We had to try them out!

A little less than two weeks ago I did a post (it’s here) about some great vintage-styled (and also kind of industrial-styled, actually) barstools that I’d found thanks to a blog called Dans le Lakehouse. As I wrote there, I thought they were precisely what we needed for the future counter/island that Raymond and I envision for the Manse’s kitchen, the place where the people cooking and the people watching the cooking can chat and share a glass of wine and just generally enjoy that beautifully renovated room. (Welcome to my renovation daydreams.)

What a surprise, then, to walk into Terroni and see exactly the same stools, right there in front of us! Not in the gorgeous turquoise colour that that Dans le Lakehouse author Tanya has; they were a retro orange instead. But still! What are the chances? It meant we could try them out before buying! And so we did. And found them very comfortable, just as Tanya had said – but a little bit on the loose-and-wiggly side. Which I confess worried me a bit. Can I live with loose-and-wiggly kitchen stools? Were they maybe only loose and wiggly because a steady parade of bums had sat in them every day since Terroni had opened, probably more use than ours would ever get?

I posted a comment at Dans le Lakehouse, asking Tanya if she’d experienced that problem. She was kind enough to respond quickly, saying that she and her husband found their Modernica stools a bit like that too, but not so much as to bother them. She also offered (courtesy of her husband) some advice on maybe tightening up the nuts and bolts, though perhaps at the expense of the stools’ swivelling abilities. And then she gave what I think might have been the best advice: that this quirk might bother us forever, so we should find a retail outlet for the stools and check them out before we ordered them. Thanks, Tanya – and thanks, Terroni, for giving us a chance to test-drive those beautiful stools.

3. That long-gone restaurant.

Noodles (?) mural at Terroni

That mural above the open kitchen at Terroni really reminds me of the long-gone iconic Noodles.

Do any readers remember Noodles at Bay and Bloor? It was the trendy Italian restaurant in Toronto for several years in the 1970s and ’80s. Instead of the red-and-white-checked tablecloths of old-fashioned Italian restaurants, it featured semi-industrial design with a lot of neon, and high-end nouvellish Italian fare on the menu. It’s been gone since the start of the ’90s, and I could find almost no reference to it online save for this piece from the blog Torontoist, noting that it was the first place that longtime Globe and Mail restaurant critic Joanne Kates ever reviewed.

Anyway, my point (and I do have one): While I ate at Noodles once or twice back in the dim and distant early 1980s, I very probably would never have thought of it again had it not been for our recent visit to Terroni. Our seats in that latter restaurant faced the big open kitchen; and above the space where the chefs were hard at work was a 1970s-style mural featuring shapes probably intended to be stylized pasta. I took one look at it and had a huge flashback to, yes, Noodles!

Is there the slightest chance that the mural at Terroni on Adelaide came from the old Noodles?

That would be so cool.

And finally, 4. The design craze that maybe shouldn’t have been.

Wagon-wheel chandelier

This is (obviously) not the wagon-wheel-style chandelier we saw at a Toronto restaurant the other day; the photo comes from a blog called Ugly House Photos (“Phoenix [Ariz.] Houses with Clutter, Ugly Décor and Bad Taste”). But I’m sure it’ll bring back the memories for you!

People, I am talking about wagon-wheel chandeliers. Wagon-wheel chandeliers! Do you remember them? I sure didn’t – until, in looking around the room at Terroni and admiring the various vintage-style small chandeliers around the room, I noticed one very large round one (which, sadly, I neglected to photograph). “That reminds me of wagon-wheel chandeliers!” I exclaimed to Raymond! “Wow!”

He changed the subject.

Anyway: this whole little exercise seems to have been a discovery that when you buy and move back to the house you grew up in – a house that happens to need a major renovation – you tend to look for, and often find, ideas, and sometimes even inspiration, everywhere you go.

And simply because you are looking for ideas and inspiration – which means you are looking, period – you also sometimes find memories.

And even though some of those memories may be 1970s ranch-style wagon-wheel chandeliers, well, really – where’s the harm in that?

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