“The café has always been key and critical to Holt Renfrew Bloor Street,” according to London-based architect Alex Cochrane. That became increasingly clear when the café shut down for renovations, but it is largely thanks to his efforts that it is now also the talk of Yorkville. The latest addition to the Bloor Street refresh that started with Eataly (visible from the Holts Café’s stunning new 20-foot-high floor-to-ceiling windows), reopened at the end of January and has contributed to the street’s reputation as a major foodie-shopping destination. It is all part of what Cochrane considers to be a growing desire for a holistic experience.
Cochrane’s eponymous firm has a background in design work for department stores, having collaborated extensively with Selfridges in London and De Bijenkorf in Amsterdam on their men’s personal shopping and leather goods departments, respectively. The firm’s projects with the stores, using neutral materials and then pops of colour and shape, set the precedent for his design of the Holt’s Café. “We became more confident in wanting to explore colour,” he says. “With the Holts Café we found that colour really does invigorate the soul—let’s make it stronger and more punchy.”
The space was originally an open white box that acted as a blank canvas. It was handy for events but lacked the personality that the new café offers in spades. Now the interior is made up of a series of different rooms that blend into one another, each celebrating a different colour that is, indeed, punchy. Crimson, Pantone classic blue, and forest green are represented in velvet and lacquer furnishings on a cream and gold colour palette. Coupled with the subtle geometric details in the space, the design verges on art deco. The serrated wall panels and circular cutouts in the ceiling reference the style without outright stating it.
“The design doesn’t replicate other areas of the store but complements them,” adds Cochrane. This is evident as the natural light from the café windows flows into the women’s shoe department that shares the floor.
The objective was to make a modern yet ageless space that can attract groups of all backgrounds even in the evening when the café is open but Holt’s is closed.
The youthful decor is only heightened by executive chef Benjamin Lillico’s complementary menu. Millennial classics like avocado toast are elevated with the deceptively simple touches of mustard seed, vinaigrette, and pickled red onion that add a lightness and fragrance to the dish that perfectly captures what the café aims to accomplish: energy with elegance.
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