There is a line between art and craft. Often bridged or traversed, the decision is left, at times, to the gaze of the beholder. One is left to wonder what elevates this work above the other. When does a chair, for instance, surpass mere function and strive for something more? For a life beyond wood.
John Baker and his wife Juli have contemplated these very questions. Inspired by their travels in Scandinavia and Japan, the couple established Mjölk: a gallery and furniture shop in Toronto, Canada. Mjölk brings together the seemingly unlikely bedfellows of Japanese and Scandinavian craft and design in a beautifully serene environment.
‘We realised there was something interconnected between these places…they are both cultures that celebrate things that are functional and modest. We try and find universal qualities and translate them to a western audience.’
Baker shares that the shop is a gallery first and retail space second.
‘The store allows us to do the creative things we want; we can fly in an artist and hold an exhibition. We’ve earned the right to do this after some real challenges.’
Mjölk recently held a four week exhibition on the work of celebrated architect and furniture maker, George Nakashima.
‘We emptied our store to host the exhibit, even though it meant not making any money, because it was simply such an honour to show his work. [George] has done shows at MOMA and the MET, and to be able to exhibit his work was an incredible experience.’
Baker reflects and remarks on the furniture and craft objects in his gallery with a gentle reverence, and explains that his customers are not eccentric millionaires, but rather, young, curious and creative types.
‘Buying a piece from us is something that is not taken lightly by our clients. When they buy, it is often a huge struggle for them. Sometimes it takes a year. But the great quality of the furniture we stock is in its liveability. The place for all this furniture is not here, but in someone else’s home, to be put to daily use. We are selling authentic things, in an inauthentic time.’
This mantra of authenticity has extended beyond the store to a small publishing enterprise. Mjölk magazine is currently on its second volume and is distributed worldwide. Meticulously produced by the husband and wife team, the matte paper bursts forth in its quiet way, showcasing a world of furniture makers and designers that evokes a different mode of living.
The couple are now looking at involving Canadian artisans, as well as pairing established Japanese and Scandinavian designers with up and coming locals to produce small scale pieces to help foster fresh creativity and a new generation of talent.
‘Almost anyone can create a store that is high end and sell beautiful objects, or retail very cheap items, but for me, it’s interesting to sell and show something meditative, something subdued, something you have to study. We live above the shop, and we put more than we should of ourselves into this business, but it is our world.’