Jim Robinson is the picture of contentment as he sits reading on a large, beige sofa. He could be in his living room; light from a large lamp illuminates the corner where his legs are crossed upon a classy pouffe. Eyes down, his glasses at the edge of his nose, he is deeply immersed in a thick paperback novel. He leans back and sighs, seemingly unaware that in that moment of relaxation, he is the perfect advertisement for his newest business venture.
Robinson is co-owner of The White Monkey, a funky new home decor store located on 395 Gladstone Ave (at Bank). Together with his long-time friend, Maciej Fijalkowski, The White Monkey opened in mid-June to the relief of home décor aficionados across Ottawa.
The White Monkey is startlingly vibrant. Black-and-white striped walls stop abruptly along one side of the store; the heavy black continues, light cutting across it through the store windows. It is the perfect backdrop to the beige sofas, highlighting the rich red, green and brown decor placed carefully, deliberately across the room. There is undeniable style here, bold but tasteful and very New York urban — the touch of an experienced eye.
Robinson has been a part of Ottawa's home-style scene since the 1960s having owned an interior design store called Timm Robinson Interiors till the late '80s. But owning a home décor store is a new experience for him.
"I talked about doing this for seven years; it was just never the right time before. Now it's still so new, we're doing everything ourselves. It's been a lot of work. But every time I come in here it makes me happy."
Robinson had kept his eye on this old building for a while. When he and Fijalkowski (originally a set-builder for the NAC) noticed the building was empty, they stopped by and peeked in the windows. The two friends chatted, idly joking about opening a store, quite sure they had more than enough time to mull over the idea.
A For Rent sign was placed in the window the next day.
"Suddenly we got nervous. This was our opportunity so we leapt at it. It all happened in a weekend. It was really fast."
Robinson wasn't too concerned about stock. His own home, a converted corner-store, was feeling cluttered. Never one to pass up a good deal, he had accumulated more vintage furniture and collectibles than he could handle. But the store needed work before they moved in.
Together with a few friends they spruced up the old building, painted the walls and designed their window fronts, opening the second weekend in June. With the store only three months old, Robinson has already developed relationships with some repeat customers.
"Folks see the new sign and it's a catchy name so they stop in. I find they browse at first but then they come back to get something that caught their eye. There's so much neat stuff, there's lots to talk about with customers."
Most of Robinson's stock is vintage furniture, dating back to the '50s. Deep brown lampshades rest upon bright and eye-catching limed oak tables. An eclectic collection of '60s black and white glasses rest upon a gleaming retro tray. Some of the items are originals, others are reproductions. It's hard to tell the difference. The armless beige sofa, for instance, is an original. Silver thread runs through the upholstery. It's clean, in pristine condition. You'd never guess it was about 50 years old.
"My grandmother used to have one of those," Robinson laughs. "I'd never have guessed I'd find another."
With the store open only Thursday to Sunday, Robinson spends the rest of his time focussing on his interior-design work and, in spare moments, searching for the perfect pieces for the store. He scours flea markets, other vintage stores, garage sales and dealers in the Ottawa area.
"If I'd put it in my own house, I know that's something I'd put in the store."
Glancing around at the eclectic collection, Robinson gestures with a sweep of his arm.
"I love this stuff. Sharing it with others, having this store is like a dream come true for me."