The Armoury District: Vancouver's Hot New Design 'Hood
Image by Dennis Green
Interior designer Margot Jagger likes the Armoury District because it allows her to get a lot done in one location
Named after the Seaforth Armoury at the corner of Burrard and First, Vancouver's newest design centre, the Armoury District, is attracting a top-notch list of designers, artists and artisan foodies
It’s surprising how many Vancouverites still don’t know about the Armoury District - a small, not quite trendy neighbourhood, densely packed with creative superstar designers, architects and high-end suppliers
This compact district is located just south of the Burrard Bridge, bordered by First and Third avenues and Burrard and Fir streets. Named after the historic Seaforth Armoury built in 1936 and located at Burrard Street and First Avenue, this area has a long history in Vancouver.
The first design resident of the Armoury District was East India Carpets, which opened in 1948, among rooming houses and manufacturing warehouses.
"I used to hang out here after school and there was nothing but train tracks – not even Granville Island," recalls Asha Fraser, daughter of East India Carpets’ founder, Jab Sidhoo.
Asha’s brother, Ravi, reflects on the transformation over the decades. "Now . . . well, it’s definitely becoming a popular design centre in Vancouver," he says.
The district itself is a grassroots exercise in community building. The area is often referred to as Fairview Slopes, Kitsilano and even Granville Island-adjacent. A few years ago a group of neighbourhood residents got together and selected the name the Armoury District. Residents are hoping that one day Vancouver City Hall will officially recognize the area as a distinct neighbourhood.
Retailers Relocating to the Armoury District
Chocolate Arts owner Greg Hook opened a café in the Armoury District, and Brougham Interiors recently relocated there for extra space
Greg Hook of Chocolate Arts relocated his business to the district from nearby West Fourth Avenue earlier this year for more space. The new retail location gave him room to add a café. At 4,100 square feet, the store has five times the footprint of Chocolate Arts’ previous location.
"We looked at . . . other places around Vancouver, but nothing else gave us this much space and was still this close to downtown," says Hook.
For Mary Watson, co-owner of Metropolitan Home, the relocation came down to dollars – and lots of them. Her store was previously located downtown in the historic Dominion Building. After 23 years, she was told her rent would increase dramatically, and that’s when Watson started looking at the Armoury District.
At first she was concerned about the loss of foot traffic coming from a nearby bus stop, but being situated among a dense group of architects and designers also has its advantages.
"That was one of Kelly’s girls," apologizes Watson, explaining the interruption halfway through the interview from an employee of well-known Vancouver designer Kelly Deck.
It’s not uncommon to see people in the design industry poking into shops and expertly rummaging through inventory, looking for the perfect item for their latest clients and projects. Many district merchants say that up to 70 per cent of their business comes from neighbours.
(Left) District resident MINT Interiors recently relocated to a second larger location across the street (Right) East India Carpets first opened in 1948
Barbara-Jo McIntosh of Barbara-Jo’s Books to Cooks relocated from downtown to the Armoury District in 2004 and agrees that while there are fewer customers, it is not a drawback.
“In Yaletown, we had more people coming in, but they were mostly tourists wanting advice on where to eat,” says McIntosh. “Here, people come knowing what they want. It’s a destination.”
McIntosh loves that she swapped the forest of glass towers of her old neighbourhood for the warehouses of the Armoury District. The new location makes her feel better connected to everyone in the community, she says.
Other familiar names that have relocated to the district over the years include: Three Centuries Antiques, Brougham Interiors, Livingspace Interiors, Bradford Decorative Hardware and the list continues to grow.
Parking, generally an eye-rolling experience within city limits, is another major bonus for moving to the district. Merchants gleefully point out the ample street parking and wide back lanes.
For local interior designer Margot Jagger, the Armoury District offers unparalleled convenience when working with clients.
“You can just park your car, plug the meter and spend the day knocking off a lot of places in just one visit. I’ll often start at Bradford for hardware, then check out the carpets at East India . . . then go sit at Cafe Bica and talk about what we’ve looked at. Then we’ll wander over to Livingspace or Brougham and then to Stone Tile.”
Three Centuries Antiques specializes in late 18th-century and early 19th-century French antiques
Beyond the convenience, it’s also the variety that draws Jagger to the Armoury District.
“There’s a mix of styles here. I can get modern Italian, traditional or transitional pieces,” says Jagger. “It hasn’t become anything too specific like ultra modern or ultra traditional . . . so it can serve all designers.”
Must-visit Armoury District Shops
The Armoury District is overflowing with creative, delicious gems. Here are our favourite finds:
- Foodie Delights: Chocolate Arts. The hot chocolate service is a must for any civilized chocolate lover. 604-739-0475.
- Home Decor: Metropolitan Home. Come here for the real deal when it comes to mid-century gems such as an authentic Canadian Coconut Chair. No fakes, no reproductions, all lovingly hand-picked. 604-681-2313
- Designer: Omer Arbel. The massive warehouse of Bocci creative director Omer Arbel is located in the Armoury District. Arbel is an internationally recognized and award-winning architect/designer, best known for his glass lights that are blown on site. 604-639-5185
- Art Studio: Janice Wong Studio. This award-winning painter and printmaker specializes in pieces that are playful, light and meditative. 604-267-0321