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Bringing Design to Life
By John Bowden
I’ll be honest. The thought of stepping into a shopping mall (or just about any store) is usually enough to send me running to the nearest pub. But there’s something about charming mountain towns that draw me in the doors of retailers. A walk along Nelson’s historic Baker Street is like a mash-up of Diagon Alley in Harry Potter and Hill Valley in Back to the Future.
Perhaps it’s the refreshingly un-chain-like look that small businesses offer. Or the carefully selected assortment of items that populate the characterful interiors. Or maybe it’s the small-town personalized service that makes the experience so friendly. Whatever it is, Nelson seems to have it in spades.
The eclectic and artsy city, with its colourful leafy trees and abundance of public art, boasts a cornucopia of heritage buildings and independent small businesses.
Take Cartolina, for example. Opened just a few years ago, it has become a destination unto itself on Baker Street. If there is such a thing as “modern-vintage” surely this is it. With its historic pressed tin ceiling and creaky wood floors, the cozy curated store is brimming with lovingly designed paper materials, prints, and various Canadiana themed items. Plus, the awesome home accents are a sure bet to help make your digs a little less IKEA-like and a little more Cabin-like. Little wonder that Cartolina received the prestigious award as Nelson’s Heritage Building of the Year in 2015.
I asked Cartolina co-owner Fiona Richards what inspired her and partner Doug to launch their business. “We purchased the building two and half years ago to house our designer wholesale business, and opened up a retail store to sell directly to consumers. We pride ourselves on the store reflecting the specific look and vintage feel of our building that dates back to 1891, and try hard to design products for locals and visitors.” One step inside the store and I guarantee you’ll be transported into a world of history and wonder.
“It’s a je-ne-sais-quoi that you can’t put your finger on what makes it so intriguing. You know how wine is influenced by the local terroir? Nelson is the same."
Many moons ago the building housed a Chinese diner on the main floor and a tiny hotel above. Today, the old dining room is home to the store, while the kitchen has been transformed into the design and wholesale hub. And to come full circle, the upstairs has been lovingly renovated into a two-room self-contained vacation rental with the same remarkable character found in the store below. Slated to open in time for the winter, the Tremont Loft will offer visitors a tastefully designed accommodation option with sweeping views of historic Baker Street.
And did I mention maps? Cartolina boats a plethora of heritage themed cartography with an emphasis on BC. The hallway filled with old-school maps is a trip down memory lane to the days before digital. Google Maps ain’t got nothing on these beauties.
There’s a good reason why Cartolina distributes their prints to places like the Smithsonian, Harrod’s, The British Museum, Chapters, and countless other partners around the world. Their stuff is just so damn cool. It oozes character and the look and feel that only seriously legit designers can create. Picking up a gift from Cartolina will earn you brownie points from your mother-in-law, while hanging one of their feature prints at home will win you the admiration of your dinner guests. Props to that.
I asked Fiona how she would describe Nelson to a potential visitor. After a momentary pause, she said “It’s a je-ne-sais-quoi that you can’t put your finger on what makes it so intriguing. You know how wine is influenced by the local terroir? Nelson is the same. Stores here have their own terroir because this place is not like anywhere else. It has these un-definable aspects that make it so interesting, with a pure and vibrant energy.” Amen.
"We pride ourselves on the store reflecting the specific look and vintage feel of our building that dates back to 1891, and try hard to design products for locals and visitors.”
Fiona Richards, Cartolina
I think that’s spot on. Having spent the past five years living in Banff, perhaps the tourist mecca in Canada (Niagara Falls has nothing on the mountains), I’ve been trying to articulate what makes Nelson tick since I moved here a few months ago. Fiona not only described it so thoughtfully and precisely, but her unbridled passion and love for this place is infectious. Her fervor for great design and Nelson emanates from every thoughtfully chosen item at Cartolina.
It’s no wonder that the store has become a destination unto itself; it’s a microcosm of Nelson and goes beyond the boundaries of traditional “shopping”. Indeed, it is an experience, a trip to a place of wonder, inspiration, and awe.
Now go already, before everyone else finds out about this amazing little gem.