Store Watch: Neat

April 13th, 2009

In the tireless pursuit of nesting, there is one thing that is essential: organization. But what’s one to do, besides cry, when presented with the lackluster options from big box stores? Head to NEAT on Queen St (just West of Bathurst).

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Who are you?
We are Helene Clarkson and Andrew Livingston. We are retail entrepreneurs interested in functional design.

How long has the store been open?
We opened in November of 2004 in Yorkville. We have had three locations in 5 years. We think we have finally found a home on Queen Street West.

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Why did you open your store?
Initially, we couldn’t understand why the Canadian retail community hadn’t responded effectively to the demand for storage and organization products with the same vigor and energy found in the United States, the UK, and Australasia. You had wildly successful companies like the Container Store in the U.S. and Muji in the UK and virtually no creative alternative in Canada.

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Colourful Office Solutions by Semikolon

What can people expect to find when visiting your store?
Well,  first, I can guarantee they will be treated with respect and interest. We are in the business of selling solutions – not simply products off the shelf.  Next, we work pretty hard at sourcing products from all over the world so I promise you will find products at Neat that you have never seen before. For example, I recently came across a company in Japan called Like-It and we are importing a large amount of terrific products. Also, over time, we have evolved the concept to include leading edge contemporary furniture from Kartell and  Mash Studios in Los Angeles. This is simply because we like great design that is efficient and practical. As William Morris said: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” I guess we would substitute “store” for “house” in this case.

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Who are your customers?
We still see a fair number of people who have followed us from Yorkville. Our customers are anyone adventurous enough to shop on Queen Street West. Remember, the neighbourhood is still edgy in the best possible way. Just down the street you can see half naked girls dancing in the window of a sex shop every weekend. Our customers are people who do not want a commoditized retail experience. They have a need and want it solved in a creative manner.

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Blomus over the door hooks

Favorite moment while running your store?
People often have very strong, positive reactions to the concept. I never get tired of customers who can’t leave without telling us how much they love it. When was the last time you did that – actually telling the sales people that you have fallen in love with a retail concept before you leave a store?

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The HERE wall hook is a quirky addition to prevent banister coat buildup in a front entrance.

Worst or most Embarrassing moment?
I think the worst/most embarrassing was when we were renting our first retail location next to Careful Hand Laundry which they had previously used as an adjacent dry cleaning plant. We had absolutely no idea what we were doing either leasing the property or running a retail store. In any event, they had never heated the space – it was unnecessary because of all the dry cleaning machines and steam.

So, the temperature of the store was fine for us until December when it became bitterly cold  we had to spend three months literally wearing long underwear, ski jackets, tocques and gloves,
all day, every day for three months. It was unreal. I still can’t believe the business survived it. Or that our last space smelled of sewage all spring when the rains came!

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A selection of Kartell furniture (if you can even see them!).

Name something  you sell in your store, that you also own in your own home?
We are huge fans of Kartell so I bought my wife Helene a Mademoiselle chair with Missoni fabric (Vevey).  It has everything to love in a chair – a big personality, femininity, functional elegance – it is a stunning piece. Like her!

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Joseph Joseph Chop 2 Pot ingenious folding chopping board, so that your veggies don’t end up on the floor instead of in the pasta sauce (look at that…my years of writing copy have finally paid off!).

What are you really interested in right now (ie. design wise)?
I am really into this new Japanese stuff. Muji has already marketed (and found a large audience for) low cost, functional Japanese design internationally.  However, finding a new company like Like-It that is leading that market is really exciting for us. There is the obvious simple elegance of design about it, but there is also something really charming about the line – the brand tag has been poorly translated – so on all their materials is the phrase “Like-It: for ecological and new basic life style” or on a recycling bin in large text: “Would you like to review what your life should be . . .?”

Are you supposed to have a reflective relationship with your recycling bin in Japan? If you did, would your life improve? It’s fascinating and fun at the same time. I hope our customers think
so too.

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We love Rosti mixing bowls!

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Colourful storage bins

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Nellie’s All Natural cleaning solutions

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Eco friendly FLOR tiles (they sell these online so it’s nice to be able to look at them first hand in a store).

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Tons of lucite storage solutions for all those itty bitty things.

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Neat sells these great wall mounted clothes lines that fold away when not in use (we have a similar one and it’s fantastic). Great for small spaces!

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A cute small Rosti Mepal compost bin that you can keep out in plain view.

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Writing in black Sharpie on the cutting board that is meant for meat is not necessairly the best solution. This Joseph Joseph Index filing system for cutting boards, however, is.

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Don’t you hate it when you spend $3 on fresh herbs only to have them go bad in a day or two in the fridge? We want one of these!

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Stylish kitchen solutions

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They sell some great furniture too (a lot of these things, such as the LAX Series, we’ve only seen on Design Public, and furniture is never really that much fun to buy online, what with shipping costs and the difficulty with returns.

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NEAT sells tons of great products from Simplehuman, Design House Stockholm, among others as well as solutions for all the rooms in your home, including the much often impossible to control clothing closet.

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628 Queen Street West
Toronto, ON M6J 1E4

416-368-NEAT (6328)

Store Hours:

Mon-Wed 11-6
Thurs 11-7
Fri 11-6
Sat 10-6
Sun 12-5
(days and hours can change over time. These are up to date as of July 2009. Always best to call or check their website for the most recent info.)

www.neatspace.ca

Photos by Juli Daoust

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