“Anything but ordinary,” is the tagline for Stroudfoot, Jason Stroud’s Toronto-based design and fabrication studio.
And if one studies Stroud’s work for Origin — a boisterous, informal eatery from celebrated T.O. chef Claudio Aprile — it’s obvious that Stroud takes his motto seriously. Located in the historic King East district, Origin is loaded with visual surprises.
“The concept is based on the history of the building,” says Stroud, who ran with that inspiration in some wonderfully wild and wacky ways.
The restaurant, which opened in March 2010, is the second of Stroud’s three collaborations with Aprile. They most recently worked together on a second Origin in the Liberty Village area, but time and logistical constraints prevented me from visiting both locations.
The original Origin’s 1800s double storefront once housed a women’s clothing store.
And Stroud winks at the fashion-based part of its past in the design of the 150-plus-seat eatery. Hand-wrapped wire “corset” pendant lights appear around the space. And corset imagery shows up subtly on large black metal artworks that hang in the lounge.
For the main dining room, Stroud created a large three-dimensional art piece composed of old-fashioned stocking stretchers—some metal, some wood. “I did a big jumble of legs,” he says.
The designer and craftsman, however, was not corseted when it came to his concept. Consequently, the building’s history influenced the restaurant’s décor in many ways.
Take “The Warhol Room,” a semi-private dining area just off the restaurant‘s expansive bar/lounge.
“Andy Warhol was said to have partied in the building,” because a collective of Bohemian-type artists once lived upstairs, Stroud says.
“Instead of doing something obvious like a banana or a soup can, we did a [general] pop-art theme.”
The room features an imposing white plastic chandelier that Stroud — a collector of Japanese toys — constructed from hand-molded Godzilla and Mothra figurines.
Toy soldiers with weapons and tanks “fight” with the monsters above. Stroud painstakingly photographed the toy warriors and tanks, printed the image on vinyl, applied the black-and-white print to glass, and then used it as the top of the room’s metal-based communal dining table. The designer also used his photographic skills to create a massive black-and-white pop art piece — an extreme close-up of a handcrafted wire light fixture — that finishes off the room.
“We like to find old objects and bring them back to life,” Stroud says. So many of the materials used throughout Origin also tell a story.
For example, Stroud incorporated reclaimed support columns from the building’s basement into the DJ booth, and fashioned a charred beam — the survivor of a building fire — into a host stand. And he opted to leave the building’s original brick walls exposed.
Linoleum-over-concrete flooring was replaced with reclaimed barn board — “I wanted to make it look like original flooring from the building,” Stroud says.
Old lamp bottoms and vintage glass shades were repurposed and turned into one-of-a-kind light fixtures. And thick wood slabs, culled from an old Canadian whiskey distillery, now top the counters at the back-to-back open kitchen and main bar.
“All that whiskey seeping in over the years gave it a great color,” says Stroud of the rich, dark wood.
Although the designer is inspired by the past, he believes in bringing “modern zaps” into his design as well.
“We put a little bit of old and a little bit of new into the place so it wouldn’t look too theme-y.”
Stroudfoot-fabricated dining tables, for example, are eerily futuristic. The designer toyed with an aluminum-based product, and the pitted table tops, which are covered with glass, resemble sheets of fossils.
The tables are paired with sleek black dining chairs — the only prefab pieces in the place — and black vinyl banquettes with undulating backs. (The button-tufted banquettes also appear in the lounge, where they are matched with cocktail tables and boxy stools.)
Hot pink was used as a “punch color,” along with a few barely noticeable eggplant pops. But otherwise, the rooms are decked out in thoroughly modern black, white, silver and gray. And behind the bar, Stroud’s neon and pink barbed-wire light fixture looks like it came straight off the wall at MOCCA (the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art).
Some elements mix old and new all in one, with some laugh-out-loud funny results. Take the mural that fills the dining room’s back wall. It’s a giant blow-up of an antique family portrait, and Stroud has Photoshopped a Star Wars stormtrooper’s helmet over one of the young subjects’ heads.
“Claudio loves quirky,” Stroud says. “He loves to have one or two pieces that don’t seem to fit. But if you look closer, they do.”
107–109 King Street East
Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5C 1G