I met Armin Martiros, the owner of Design Lab, on a bright, warm day. His shop, similar to that day, was warm and bright. While walking along Pape Avenue, I stopped at a storefront window, displaying one small, white sofa covered with a fluffy, ash-grey blanket, some pillows, and a matching side table. Drawn in by the design, which resembled a cozy, nicely furnished home, I decided to have a look inside. The first thing I noticed was that the space was filled with personalized everyday items, things appearing both practical and pretty. Later, after browsing the shop’s webpage, I saw that cushions, lamps, Acapulco chairs, sofas, curtains, colourful glasses, out-of-the-ordinary teapots, unusual ashtrays, funny-looking toasters, brightly coloured coffee table decorations, home fragrances, and other small kitchen appliances that might easily cheer you up on a rainy day, are all among the various items this local Danforth business offers to its customers.
Upon seeing my amazed reaction, Armin greeted me smiling, noting with humour that the store would not open for business for another fifteen minutes—a timeframe we spent chatting. Before being able to explain to him that I was just an admirer, not a buyer, he rushed to the centre of the shop and made some room so I could sit on a white daybed. This is his Danforth story.
Design Lab is an interior design studio, event management, and home decor consulting business located at 853 Pape Ave. The shop has been operating in this neighbourhood since 2018, although Armin has been in the interior design industry for more than twenty five years. Armin and his family left their home in Iran and moved to Canada almost three decades ago, choosing Toronto as their new home. Hearing that, and being an immigrant myself, I couldn’t help but feel admiration for anyone who aspires to thrive in a new country.
I love it here.
“I love it here,” Armin confessed. “My life and business are protected in this country, and Toronto is a great place to live. I am free to expand my business and follow my dreams, as I did,” he added. He proceeded to say that the Danforth has been a great place to develop his business, thanks to the fact that the neighbourhood’s residents are very welcoming of his ideas. Regular customers visit the shop on Pape quite often, be it to spend a few minutes admiring the carefully selected new collections or to buy his one-of-a-kind accessories.
Armin’s entrepreneur journey began with his passion for art. The idea to create this hub, alongside his creative interests, was the first spark. In his early childhood, when visiting a friend’s house, he was served juice in a plastic glass (even though the family’s cabinet was full of fine porcelain and shining glassware), and that was the pivotal moment when the soon-to-be designer decided there was no valid reason why aesthetics and practicality shouldn’t go together. He pursued his passion for architecture and home design, making a career out of it.
Wanting to give something back to a city that has been so kind and welcoming to him, and to a neighbourhood that he feels comfortable in, he offers advice to people styling their homes and offices, and to walk-in admirers like myself. When I asked him for some advice on how to create the perfect, relaxing environment, Armin had a detailed answer prepared. Mixing high and low styles (classic and modern, for instance) within the same room is the way to go when picking items for your home. The secret is to focus on the practical aspects while not shying away from originality.
Armin has a well-established relationship with the people living on and around the Danforth. Design Lab’s clientele often go to him with precise ideas and expectations of what they want their spaces to look like, and what type of furniture might fit their homes. Despite this, Armin says that he and his clients discuss in detail every aspect of the project they are about to tackle. As a professional, he wants to make sure his clients, and ultimately neighbours, will be able to translate the trends they like into the real space as smoothly as possible. This is the starting point of a relationship Armin values deeply. Moreover, he explains, ensuring the project will not exceed the budget is another aspect of his relationship that he prioritizes with his clients. They respect and appreciate him, and he treasures them and the familial relationships they have built.
As I was leaving the shop, Armin gave me a piece of advice that you might not often hear from an interior designer, but it is equally important for our inner spaces: “Always springclean your home!” As I headed back to do a quick makeover and cleaning spree of my apartment, I was curious to know what suggestions he would give to the next person entering the store. As far as I am concerned, Armin won’t spare any helpful suggestions, and to me, this is his way of thanking the neighbourhood and its friendly people.