John and Juli Baker live with their two children, Howell and Elodie, above their shop, Mjolk, in West Toronto. The way they live here is an extension of their work with Mjolk (a lifestyle shop and gallery) in a domestic space that celebrates functionality and craftsmanship. They collaborated with friends and designers at Studio Junction on the fit-out, which, much like their business, takes its cues from Japanese and Scandinavian design.
Firstly, how did the two of you meet?
We met at a small bar that I would sometimes play music at here in Toronto. Our timing wasn’t ideal as Juli was about to embark on a trip to Iceland, and I was still living an hour outside of the city. However, through friends we found each other once Juli was back from her trip, and we had an immediate connection and we jumped into the relationship.
How did Mjolk – as a business – come to be?
Without a question Mjölk happened because of the two of us meeting, and wanting to be even more entangled with each other. We were at a crossroads where we were both over-educated, and considering going back to school. Juli already had a degree and was going back to school for art curation, and I was considering going back to school for industrial design. Somehow we snapped out of it, and summed up the courage to drop everything and start our own project together, which was an online blog about design called Kitka. This blog quickly became the spring board for everything we loved, and eventually turned into Mjölk.
And this also led to the creation of your own publication?
I think for us this was “Kitka” made physical. Juli had already worked in publishing and as an interior photographer, and we both love books and publications so it was a natural direction for us. Travelling and meeting with these inspiring designers, craftspeople and architects left an imprint on us, and we wanted to share those conversations and show how these people work and how their environments are a reflection on themselves. We’ve published 4 books so far, and a healthy stack of exhibition catalogs. We hope to release Volume 5 later this year.
Where are some of your favourite places to go in your neighbourhood?
There are so many good spots in the Junction, we are spoilt.
Latre Art & Style is one of the most creative retail stores in the city, a combination of in-house clothing, French antique clothing, Military deadstock, Japanese textiles and African textiles and objects.
Honest Weight is our favourite local restaurant, we could eat there everyday.
What can you share with us about your process for sourcing for the shop? Are there regular trips to Japan or to parts of Scandinavia?
We always look to our own daily life when making decisions to add items to the store. We need to be able to envision using these pieces, and really wanting them to be in our lives. We continue to travel to Scandinavia and Japan, but we’ve created a great foundation of work here and like to think of ourselves as representing different designers and artists, like a gallery does. So we host multiple exhibitions a year, so as a result the space can change dramatically based on who just had a showing. Our next exhibition is with Japanese potter Masanobu Ando, who is also a Tea Master.
We continue to travel to Scandinavia and Japan, but we’ve created a great foundation of work here and like to think of ourselves as representing different designers and artists, like a gallery does.
Do you have a morning routine?
Usually our youngest son, Howell sneaks into our bed at some point in the night, and wakes us up at least 30 minutes before our alarm rings. He will ask me to get up and come upstairs to the kitchen with him. Sometimes I’ll spring up, and sometimes I’ll protest a little. Eventually we come to the kitchen where I’ll immediately fill the kettle and turn on the burner, and our son Howell will grind the coffee for us and put them in our french press. Usually at this time my daughter is already up and fully dressed and ready for the day, and Elodie and Juli will come up together once the smell of coffee wafts downstairs. While we drink coffee it’s all about getting the kids fed and ready for school. I’ll walk them to school while Juli does a bit of Yoga and gets ready.
A bedtime routine?
We take turns between putting each of our children to bed, getting them bathed, dressed and reading them a few books. For our own bedtime we are both big readers and usually sit in bed for at least an hour of reading until our eyes won’t stay open.
How long have you lived in your home? What can you tell us about the design & fit-out?
We’ve lived here for 10 years, but the renovation we did about six years ago. The space was inspired by a mix of Japanese and Scandinavian living, the upstairs being white with pale floors and lots of sunlight, while the second floor living spaces have warm beige lime plaster walls, shoji screens and a warmer Japanese Ryokan feel. We worked with our long time collaborators, Studio Junction on the interior of the space, and they were the ones who executed all of the beautiful millwork.
Can you tell us about some of the specific design pieces you have in your home?
We usually congregate around the Conoid bench in the front window by George Nakashima, and made by his daughter Mira Nakashima. We hosted the first Nakashima exhibition in Canada, and this was one of the main pieces in the show. We drove down to New Hope when our daughter was only 4 months old, to meet Mira and interview her for our Mjölk book. We really got swept up in their work, it’s some of the most beautiful furniture ever made. With our bench, we were able to select the wood for the slab seat and working with them was such a meaningful experience.
We usually congregate around the Conoid bench in the front window by George Nakashima, and made by his daughter Mira Nakashima.
What feels particularly important to you both this year?
This year is our 10 year Mjölk anniversary, so it’s become a year of reflection for us and also a year of planning.