The French call it l’art de table. But in Toronto, the art of dressing a table boils down to just two words: William Ashley. The name belongs to a china shop that’s more like a glittering jewel box showcasing the best tableware and entertaining accessories the world has to offer.
First opened in 1947 by Tillie Abrams, a pioneering retail entrepreneur who adopted the WASP-sounding name of William Ashley to better sell her imported European goods to the city’s carriage crowd, Canada’s leading retailer of fine china, crystal, and flatware has just re-established itself as a premiere lifestyle destination following an extensive 14-month renovation whose splashy unveiling took place on April 26 at an in-store cocktail party.
“This is our next chapter,” says general manager Jackie Chiesa, looking pretty in pink as she hosted the ogling crowd. “The high ceilings, the architectural details and the addition of new technologies to enhance the shopping experience is a new way of bringing life to the category.”
William Ashley’s glamourous new digs are located on an expensive stretch of Bloor Street West shopping district known as Toronto’s Mink Mile, and inside the Colonnade, a historic residential and retail complex found just down the street from Ashley’s former location at the Manulife Centre.
At 15,000 square feet, the new space is smaller than the 25,000-square-foot venue it had occupied since 1992. But featuring a new Jonathan Adler lounge serving afternoon tea and an alcove gallery wall displaying a regularly changing collection of exquisite household objects, there’s no question it’s an upgrade. The place sparkles.
The long, lean corridor-like space is split down the middle with luxury (such as animal-themed Hermès china) occupying one side and what might be better called your everyday dishes on the other. Lalique chandeliers hanging overhead shower brilliance down on the Waterford crystal, the Christofle silverware, the Daum glass sculptures and the oxidized gold plates, platters and bowls offered up by L’Objet, a luxury dinnerware and home accessories company based in New York (to name just a few of the store’s dizzying array of brands) artfully displayed on the shelves below.
“We recognize that entertaining has changed,” Chiesa says. “But everyone still loves beautiful quality tableware.”
William Ashley, 131 Bloor St W #203, Toronto, ON M5S 3L7.
Photos by Ben Rahn / A-Frame.
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