Hidden Jewels

When it comes to wearing jewelry, subtlety goes a long way. That’s also true for jewelry stores, which tend to display just a hint of bling. But taken to the extreme, the practice becomes almost subversive: for Eko, a boutique in Toronto’s fashion district, architect Bennett C. Lo hid the merchandise completely.

“We wanted to have a little bit of mystery,” says Lo, of the Toronto firm Dialogue 38. “If you glance inside, you wonder: What are those people looking at? You really can’t tell.” From the street the store is remarkably abstract; behind the glazed facade, arches of white MDF march back to a shimmering lilac wall, an installation designed by Lo with shop owner Mina Yoon.

Inside, everything becomes clearer. The arches frame narrow glass showcases on each wall, spaced in a steady rhythm that encourages shoppers to linger at each display. “When people come in and discover the jewelry, it’s a pleasant surprise,” Lo says. “It’s like a treasure hunt.” The design also masks the structural oddities of the century-old building. At the back, stairs lead up to a plinthlike platform that hides a gap in floor levels while putting shoppers on show. Likewise, the Lo-designed showcase—a cantilevered volume in glass and Cipollino marble that cuts down the middle—conceals the cash desk.

Like many small-scale projects, the renovation began modestly: initially Lo was going to design a single display case—an idea he nixed in favor of a more comprehensive solution. “The store was grungy, but the stuff she carries is one of a kind,” Lo says. “I’ll do my best to make a tight budget work, but sometimes it’s better to save up your money and do it right.” He eventually won Yoon over to his unconventional approach because the alcove system is actually a flexible and practical display solution. “We thought it was the most logical thing to do,” says Yoon, whose store features a constantly updated selection from designers like Jeanine Payer, Alexis Bittar, and Hilary Druxman. “There’s no clutter, and everything is at eye level.”

In the end the mysterious design has improved the store’s walk-in business—though Lo and Yoon did make a small concession to orthodox retail, adding a single bejeweled mannequin in the front window to hint at what’s inside. “The store is not for everyone,” Lo says. “Some people who are less adventurous might not want to come in—but others find it exciting.”

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