For foodies, Noma is known – and ranked on – as the best restaurant in the world.  Actually, it’s an investigation led by its head chef René Redzepi of authentic Nordic cuisine and original sources: Icelandic skyr curd, halibut, Greenland musk ox, berries and purest possible water. But what if you trek across the world, arrive in the heart of Copenhagen, jump on a bike, pedal like mad and miss your dinner reservation?   Still hungry? You might try your luck at the just-opened Noma Food Lab, a place of experimentation with locally-grown and foraged food.

A palate of silver-ice, Nordic wood and dark historic flooring makes for a sublime combination, as imagined by Denmark’s 3XN architects and interior designers.  Actually, the design was led by Kasper Jorgensen, head of the 3XN’s innovation unit, who spends his days testing materials for endurance and thinking about ways to upcycle buildings rather than merely demolishing them.

 Noma Food Lab is set in an 18th-century heritage warehouse, not far from the original Noma, so the designers were required to deliver without banging a single nail into the walls or floors.  Instead, they innovated a series of stacked wooden cubes made of Nordic plywood that rest on the historic floors. Are they really planning to crack open those blue speckled eggs?

One of the things I try to avoid in life is shopping at a grocery store.  Which explains why I still order most of our groceries from the awesome “Vincenzo’s” family-owned grocer on the Danforth in Toronto.  Mr. Vincenzo cures his own prosciutto and invents his own spicey chicken sausages.  His wife, “Sam” still works the cash. Their high-energy daughter, Mary, a fabulous chef, has advised countless times on what to serve at raucous kids’ birthdays or fancy dinner parties.  The boxed groceries are delivered (for free!) by the gracious Al.  I’m sticking with Vincenzo’s…but as an alternative it’s actually exhilarating to shop at the newly opened Loblaws at Maple Leaf Gardens in downtown Toronto. (Pics by Trevor Mein.)

Pure foodie joy has been designed into this monumental space – what used to be, of course, the Art Deco home of Rolling Stone concerts and hockey played by the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Unlike the cerebral Nordic aesthetic at Noma, there are lots of reds and oranges to whet the appetite at Loblaws.  Get this irony:  the flagship store, within one of Canada’s erstwhile cathedrals of hockey, was designed by an Australian…nicely done, by the way, by Mike Landini of Landini Associates.  The  cheap, shiny plastics used in most supermarkets were replaced with enduring materials:  concrete, stone, white marble, ceramic tiles, and wood as well as a lighting scheme that plays up natural shadows. Feels deliciously civilized here. Go Leafs !

Because northern cities are Vitamin D deficient, artful weaving of light is not only critical, it’s life giving.   For a pedestrian bridge in Toronto’s south financial district, New York light artist James Carpenter cast  silver-golden sequins of light across a long, north wall. Something to wear as you’re walking by.

Somebody please assign Carpenter to work some cinematic magic on one of the 132 towers now being developed for Toronto.  Because they will surely need his help. For more on what sculpting with light means, visit the SOM/James Carpenter 7 World Trade Centre, which has already elevated the future of Ground Zero.

Tones of sepia from Carpenter’s light wall reflected onto commuter traffic in Toronto, where red brake lights finally serve an aesthetic purpose. Both calming and buzzy, (and I’m sure David’s Tea has a label for that one.)

My hero of ethereal light:  James Turrell, maker of the monumental Roden Crater installation and, here, next to his light wall at Bay-Adelaide Centre in downtown Toronto.   For those curious about the subtle disappearance of colour this one is worth a pilgrimage. And it’s easier to find than an ancient volcanic crater in the desert near the Grand Canyon.  Though I’m going to get there.  Photo: Barbara Astman

Post-apocalyptic steelworks re-imagined by light artist Hans Peter Kuhn, the guy who did large-scale urban light first and best.  The Volklinger Hutte is a World Cultural Heritage site. Kuhn’s symphony of colour light shows us why.

 Even as a flicker, light illuminates.  Considered as a measure of grace or as an up north street light: Snowball igloo, lit by a candle, made by freezing hands.

In the lugubrious shadows of a cavernous church: Prayer candles, Basilica of Santa Croce, Florence. Still burning hot. Still mesmerizing. Or, as James Turrell says:  “Like the wordless thought that comes from looking in a fire.”

Remember orange shag carpet?  Rather not?  Well, weep or rejoice…Orange is back with a vengeance.  I see orange splashed over this season’s snowboarder jackets, in architecture and even on these retro cocktail napkins by the Parisian designer Françoise Paviot.

Danish teak chair, part of my dining room set, 1960s.   I intended recovering the chairs in something cool and minimal – black or white or taupe –  but still enjoying the vibe of this orange-brown agitation.

Coming at you from the psychedelic 1960s and the art of, say,  Victor Vasarely.  This serigraph by Vaserely titled Parmenide (Orange, Red & Blue).

I had to haul this out of the closet just to show you how orange can be done with conviction.  Here it is…my mod orange vinyl jacket by Courreges.  Vintage bombshell. 1960s.  The instructions say:  Clean with a damp cloth.  Or simply wear as a raincoat in a light mist.

Orange crush.

Taken in small doses, orange is a delicious energy drink.  The perfect way to clad the satellite operation of Sweden’s Museum of Modern Art in Malmo.  This blaze of orange designed by the Stockholm-based partnership of Bolle Tham and Martin Videgård.  Love the way mod orange rocks it out here, right next to an old electricity station. Zap!

When I see Christmas in my head, I don’t see green and red.  I prefer combinations of deep purple and electric blue.  Which is why the Moorish Palace at Tivoli (1853) in the entertainment gardens of Copenhagen gives me an extra thrill at Christmas time.

Or this season’s Christmas packaging at  LeNôtre fine foods in Paris, where the glossy paper bags are mini works of art and the tea comes in hot pink tins.

Inspired by the season of rich tones, I recovered our Danish teak couch (originally upholstered in a boring oatmeal colour) in a deep purple.   Velvet seemed the only option.  What do you think???

  Actually, because the velvet shifts from purple to burgundy to pink depending on the sun and the way the plush moves, I’ve decided to rename it our Mark Rothko couch.


Nobody does deep purple and electric blue like the great American painter Mark Rothko.  Possibly Henri Matisse, but not with the kind of endless meanings floating out from abstraction.  I just saw a fantastic play in Toronto about Rothko called Red.  There was paint flying, and clouds of pigment when the passion of making art went sky high.  Whenever I’m in Washington my first pilgrimage is to the East Building at the National Gallery to see the colour-drenched Rothko’s hovering there.  Luckily, I have a Rothko right here at home.  It’s a fridge magnet. I think I got it for Christmas.

Bloom is a luscious magazine published out of Holland.  More than that, it’s a changemaker that predicts design trends beginning with its “horti-cultural view”.  That may sound quirky but Bloom is considered a bible among fashion insiders, starting with thread designers.     Thread designers read it to help project new colours and textures for the future.  Their output of thread influences fabric designers who, in turn, catalyze new fashion trends.  One season after the release of Bloom, the vision of the magazine turns up on the walkways of the world’s most illustrious fashion shows.

Bloom’s feature on the British wallpaper designer, Marthe Armitage, describes how her intense, lushly coloured designs were an attempt to bring the plant life of the outdoors inside, to clamber up the walls of her friends.  She’s been making her lino-print papers for more than fifty years and only works with two or three colours at a time: like this one, “bushes” (1992) in which she layers turquoise with aqua blues and steely greys.

I admired the subtlety of her designs, but was reluctant to put wallpaper up on our walls.  Instead, I asked a painter to create three stencils of florals and layer various colours of blue over the wall in our Canadiana room. At a quick glance, the wall looks intensely blue – eventually, though, you can begin to make out the leaves and petals painted there.

My friend, Olivier Beriot, is an amazing costume designer based in Paris and he’s the one who gave me several issues of Bloom.  He designed the costumes for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, that masterful film by Julian Schnabel that shifts between the unthinkable and sublime fantasy.  Whenever I gaze at the mesmerizing plants and foliage in Bloom, I think of the blooming of Olivier’s creations, and the promise of thread design.

Autumn is all about the moshing up of layers and textures and weaving of cultures.  This Renaissance girl with a crown of braids – or is she a Greek god or a Wall Street activist ? – greeted me in the front yard today.  That got me thinking…about artful weavings…
These textiles are like talismans to me. i brought them home from Kuala Lumpur.  They’re called Kebayas and the Malaysian Airline stewardesses wear them for their elegant uniforms.  Deeply coloured and heavy to carry, these fabrics left a trail of golden silk threads behind when I carried them outside to be photographed against a black oak.

 This sari might have been woven out of these Japanese maple leaves.  But it was actually created by the amazingly talented sari weavers – unsung artists every one of them – in the muddy slums of Dhaka, Bangladesh.  Young architects took me there one afternoon during my trip to Dhaka to review the stunning National Assembly parliamentary complex by the great American modernist Louis Khan.  It was there, in a shanty room barely sheltered from the rain, that I tried on my first sari, and, later, back home, (in a very different world) wore it to the Maharaja gala at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Another one of my most beloved saris from Dhaka hangs like a luminous veil in our rustic Canadiana room.  The pain-staking weaving of gold and silver brocade called Jamdani is unique to the Dhaka sari weavers.  The patterns of geometric flowers follow a 2,000-year old tradition and are created entirely by memory.  Now my Jamdani takes up pride of place in my home in Toronto, a city that embraces a healthy mosh-up of world cultures.