Fine, Finer, Finest
Bloor Street’s iconic tableware shop reimagines its future
An hour before she pulled back the curtain on the stunning new William Ashley flagship store on Bloor Street’s Mink Mile, William Ashley’s president, Jackie Chiesa, was trying to be cool, calm and collected, despite her excitement, as she sat down for tea with Homefront’s editor, Caroline Tapp-McDougall. Three years in the making, the 15,000-square-foot destination showroom was, after all, her vision, given wings by local designer Matt Davis.
Homefront: I’m always excited when I get a gift in a gold box. William Ashley has been around as a destination to shop for “all things lovely” for decades. Can you give us a glimpse into its history?
Jackie: It all began when Tillie Abrams, our founder, started selling wallpaper and lovely teacups from the back of her father’s hardware store. Tillie’s passion for fine tableware was matched only by her tremendous work ethic and business acumen as one of the first female entrepreneurs in the city. After she opened William Ashley in 1947, she never looked back.
Fondly referred to as Mrs. Ashley by staff and customers alike, Tillie was meticulous in all that she did. She worked on the showroom floor well into her 80s and, although she passed away in 2010, her legacy lives on. Perhaps you’ll feel it as you pause on the grand escalator that brings you up into our beautiful new store, or as you sip afternoon tea in our new lounge.
Homefront: We’ve been anxiously awaiting your grand re-opening in the Colonnade. Tell us about the plan and how long it’s been in the works.
Jackie: Frankly, it was love at first sight when I saw the space. I’d been looking for a while, so I knew what I wanted in a spectacular new home for our 200 brands including designer brands, such as Jasper Conran by Wedgwood, Kate Spade New York, Sophie Conran by Portmeirion, Vera Wang by Wedgwood and Versace by Rosenthal, as well as Christofle, Hermès, Lalique, Orrefors, Rosenthal, Villeroy & Boch, Waterford and Wedgwood.
Homefront: You’ve taken a very clear personal interest in the creation of the new store. Can you tell us a little more about how it came to be?
Jackie: We were introduced to this unique space in the Colonnade and, with a bit of imagination, we all recognized the potential. After all, it’s a heritage building with 23-foot-high ceilings, plenty of natural light and dazzling architectural features. Matt Davis from DesignAgency put pen to paper and started the renderings, and once I’d put on my construction boots and hard hat, there was no turning back. It’s certainly been a labour of love for our entire team, who have put in long hours over the past few weeks to get us launch-ready. Some have been here well into the wee hours of the morning unpacking and working on displays.
Homefront: The store is on two stunning levels and basically takes over the lobby area, so you’ve been able to create a grand entrance way with chandeliers and striking displays. It’s certainly eye candy for those of us who love tableware and design. Now that you’re here looking at the finished project, which features are your favourites?
Jackie: We represent an eclectic mixture of casual and formal pieces from some of the world’s most coveted brands, so we’ve worked hard to create a vibrant destination space that allows us to
creatively showcase a tremendous range of products. There are three features that I’m most enamored with, perhaps because I had more of a hand in their design. The first is our Grand Avenue, with 10 exquisitely set rectangular tables that our designers will continually change to reflect the mood, the season or simply what’s new. The second is our tea lounge, which is a welcome new addition to the experience. It’s an oasis where guests can enjoy custom-blended tea by Kusmi or a Nespresso in an ever-changing selection of china. The lounge, with its refreshing mint Jonathan Adler furnishings and halo lighting, will also host experiential customer edu-tainment events to ignite passion and creativity: Think of crafting a vintage cocktail, creating a stunning floral arrangement or participating in a VIP bridal event.
And last but not least, I’m delighted with our new video walls and our custom-designed curved wall gift gallery. Both are eye-popping ways to display some of our precious collections.
Homefront: You and Teuscher seem to be a happy couple. I notice that they’ve come with you too.
Jackie: Oh yes. We’re beyond proud of our new Teuscher chocolate shop on the first floor. William Ashley has been the exclusive Canadian destination for world-renowned Teuscher Chocolates of Switzerland for years, so its only fitting that they play a prominent role in our new location. Handmade in Zurich, they’re actually flown in for us on a weekly basis. Teuscher’s signature Dom Perignon Champagne Truffle is world famous, and now you can taste it right here in the Colonnade.
Homefront: I’m sure you’re a great person for gift advice…We have two daughters getting married this summer. Can you give us some noteworthy gift suggestions?
Jackie: On special occasions I like to give presents that are statement pieces. They’re the most memorable. Whether your daughters’ homes are more modern or traditional, you’ll do well with “wow,” one-of-a-kind pieces that match their style.