Author Archive

STORE PROFILE: Curiosity shop Wunderkammer expands to feature more home decor, jewellery, and other quirky treasures

This week Shop Talk welcomes guest blogger Ashleigh VanHouten

A 16-foot yellow canoe in the front window (also for sale) beckons shoppers.

A 16-foot yellow canoe in the front window (also for sale) beckons shoppers.

Heard of Wunderkammer? It’s a hidden gem of a place, though not so hidden anymore — the curiosity shop recently re-opened in a bigger and better spot just down the block from their original space on Dalhousie Street.

Tamara Steinborn and Nathan Dubo, partners in life and work, moved from Montreal  a few years ago to open their Lowertown shop and are already enjoying  steady success — to the point where their intimate store could no longer contain the volume of jewelry, home decor, and vintage finds that their customers were asking for.

Wunderkammer’s new spot has the same warm, well-curated vibe as the original, just with a bit more breathing room — and a lot more baubles. The new and improved store houses much more in the way of home decor and accents, including bigger pieces like wardrobes and wall art.

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SNAPSHOT: Photos from the Politics and the Pen gala at Fairmont Chateau Laurier

On April 2, the annual Politics and the Pen gala welcomed notables from Canada’s political and literary worlds at the Fairmont Château Laurier. A fundraiser for the Writers’ Trust of Canada, an organization that seeks to further Canadian writers through a variety of programs, Politics and the Pen has become a premier event for writers and politicians to rub elbows with diplomats, journalists, and other leaders.

The evening culminated with journalist Paul Wells winning the $25,000 Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing for his book The Longer I’m Prime Minister: Stephen Harper and Canada, 2006 —.

Click on the photos to launch a slideshow of photos from Politics and the Pen.

SHOP TALK: Elite Draperies features gorgeous fabrics, high-tech gadgets, and Sarah Richardson!

Shop Talk is written by Ottawa Magazine editor Dayanti Karunaratne and Ottawa Magazine account executive and fashion maven 

Working on the annual Interiors issue is always great for home inspiration. It’s mostly pipe dreams, but once in a while an idea resonates all the way to my to-do list. And this year that idea was floor-to-ceiling curtains as a way to add warmth to a room.

I’d make them myself, of course. My MIL made beautiful drapes for my daughter’s room, just as my mother had for my childhood room. A tradition!

This cute sofa

This cute sofa was reupholstered by Elite Draperies’ expert staff in a multitude of fabrics.

I found some nice fabric — deeply discounted, no less, so I got a lot — at the end of November and set about making the curtains.

Grommet-style seemed the easiest option. Just measuring and cutting took about a week. There was the possibility that they would be ready by the end of 2013, but no luck. Our bungalow and general clutter-filled/ toddler-led lives meant that I could carve about an hour or two, twice a week, for this project.

Then the bathroom reno started … and kept going … and it was all I could not to stew about the lingering dust/logistics/lack of shower. I wasn’t spending my evening at a sewing machine!

Meanwhile, I was hearing great things about Elite Draperies new place. In 2012 they moved out of their cramped Bank Street quarters and took over two units on Colonade Road, an area burgeoning with home reno showrooms. I was curious to see how the pros do it, so I paid Greg Birtch a visit.

I was greeted by a striking modern-industrial showroom with lots of cool re-upholstered furniture, bookshelves of fabric swatches, and a very chatty co-owner. I soon learned that Greg left his job as a firefighter to help his wife, Mary, build their store into the go-to place for custom curtains.


Greg Birtch of Elite Draperies

One of the coolest things I saw was their custom solar-powered blinds. My dream home fantasy includes a few key remote control items — like blinds. Who hasn’t entered a room in their PJs only to realize the across-the-street neighbours are staring out their window, coffee in hand, watching the parade of life go by? (My neighbour doesn’t even have curtains. He’s what we call a Neighbourhood Watch-er.) I always figured that kind of thing meant rewiring, but Elite makes their own solar-powered units, which means they are not only easy to install, but they’re easy on the energy bill.

Also, their new place provides their in-house seamstresses with a bright, spacious workshop. It’s a mix of old faithful sewing machines and state-of-the-art setups that allow their staff to work more efficiently. When I visited the area was abuzz with activity, cool textiles abounding.

More than anything else, Greg’s enthusiasm made me realize that curtains (or drapes, or blinds) are one of those important but oft-forgotten elements of interior decor. Unlike funky accessories and cool chairs, they aren’t very photogenic on their own.

Since visiting Elite Draperies I still haven’t finished those curtains (bobbins?!). Meanwhile, Greg and Mary have organized a fundraising event with Sarah Richardson about home decor for spring. Not sure there are still tickets, but do check out Elite’s showroom if you’re looking for some home decor inspiration — or someone to rescue you from your own DIY nightmare ;)


SHOP TALK: Textile hub + training centre EcoEquitable opens sparkling new space in Vanier

Shop Talk is written by Ottawa Magazine editor Dayanti Karunaratne and Ottawa Magazine account executive and fashion maven 

Since becoming involved with  EcoEquitable, Anouk Bertner looks at frogs in a whole new light. And by frogs I mean the current exhibition at the Canadian Museum of Nature.

“Every time I see that banner I think, ‘where’s it going?’ I want that vinyl!” she laughs.

Eco Equitable ... photo by

The EcoEquitable Boutique sells recycled fabrics and upcycled fashion accessories including totem bags and infinity scarves.

It’s one of the many ways that EcoEquitable transforms the way we think about clothing, consumption, and community.

EcoEquitable started in 2002 as an organization focused on helping immigrant women learn to sew. Informal groups honed skills on theatre costumes and children’s clothing. Four years ago, EcoEquitable launched a five-month course that provided new Canadians with skills that would equip them to work at an industrial textile facility, or as tailors, or even designers who create their own labels. Classes not only covered hemming and pleats, but also job hunting tools and basic literacy. 

But more than that, EcoEquitable opened up a space for women who spend much of their time alone — or with only young children. It created a community space through potlucks and a jovial, productive atmosphere.

That atmosphere, however, was a bit cramped and quite dark. Located in the basement of community centre on Chapel Street, it was tough to find and — despite all the laughter that was going on when I visited the space in 2010 — didn’t do justice to the great things that were happening.

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APRIL 2014: The Sex Issue

1_aprilcover.inddLETTER FROM THE EDITOR

When I first met Elliott Strikefoot, I was filled with excitement, fear, and uncertainty — not to mention the usual embarrassment that comes with any conversation of a sexual nature. In my initial email, I used the term “sex change” for the tumultuous transition he was embarking on. I knew it was wrong, but I didn’t know what was right and wanted to be straightforward about my own level of understanding. Overthinking? Probably, but that seems to be par for the course when it comes to sex.

In my conversations with Strikefoot for the Making It Work series, we chatted about everything from church to state, gyms to barbershops. At the time, he had been taking testosterone for only two months, and I didn’t flinch when the waitress asked, “Are you ladies doing okay?” Now, I squirm at the pervasive pink in my two-year-old daughter’s wardrobe and see gender as a continuum rather than a choice between two boxes. But at the end of the day, what I learned from Elliot was less about body parts and more about fulfilling one’s destiny — and how we all grapple with the hard decisions that entails.

Indeed, as The Sex Issue evolved, it became clear that sex — and the host of subjects surrounding it — often illuminates a larger story. Fateema Sayani’s article about open marriage speaks to such modern marriage conundrums as the importance of communication and having one’s needs met, while Judy Trinh’s colourful account of John School hints at the underlying problem of human trafficking.

It all points to a subtle movement toward a more progressive attitude about sex. When Elliot and I met, we were talking about some pretty heavy things, yet we never felt we had to watch our backs. Since then, popular sex shop/education venue Venus Envy has moved from their side street location to a more visible storefront on Bank Street. Call it the mainstreeting of sex — straight or queer, it’s here, get used to it.

Plus: this issue sees the launch of DesBrisay Dines as we welcome Anne DesBrisay as our restaurant critic. A trusted source for objective restaurant reviews, DesBrisay began writing comprehensive critiques for earlier this year. Find shorter, star-rated reviews in our “Going Out” section — and do read the star system carefully; every restaurant mentioned is Anne-approved.

Coming up: The grass is always greener on the other side. Our annual real estate roundup looks at the attractions — and drawbacks — of buying a house in Quebec. From cute cottage-like houses to the convenience of the suburbs, Ottawa and Gatineau offer comparable neighbourhoods. We line up the top contenders and let you be the judge.

DRESSES! Rent Frock Repeat pop-up shop open until March 30

Shop Talk is written by Ottawa Magazine editor Dayanti Karunaratne and Ottawa Magazine account executive and fashion maven Sarah Fischer. 

A few years ago, we wrote about Rent Frock Repeat, a company that allows users to rent designers dresses for important events. It struck us as a cool idea and a fun way to have a never-ending supply of amazing dresses.


One of my favourites, an Emogene Couture sheath, retails for $600 and rents for $90.

Then we heard of their expansion to Ottawa! Okay, for now it’s a pop-up shop in Gatineau, open until March 30. But when we heard they were bringing hundreds of couture dresses to a funky chalet across the river, well, we had to investigate.

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SHOP TALK: Oscar night style with Erica Wark

Shop Talk is written by Ottawa Magazine editor Dayanti Karunaratne and Ottawa Magazine account executive and fashion maven Sarah Fischer. 

From left: Lupita Nyong’o in Ralph Lauren Collection; Olivia Wilde in Gucci; Naomi Watts in Tom Ford; Cate Blanchett in Armani Privé; Robin Wright in Reem Acra; Zoe Saldana in Prabal Gurung; and Margot Robbie in Gucci at the 2014 Golden Globes.

Ahead of Oscar night this Sunday, SHOP TALK catches up with Erica Wark on what (and who!) is standing out on the red carpet. If you haven’t seen her on the side of a bus or on the OFW runway, Erica is the resident fashion expert on The Social, a fashion contributor on Marilyn Denis, and a regular fashion expert on eTalk.

SHOP TALK: Who are you most excited to see on the red carpet and what do you think she will wear?
ERICA WARK: That’s a toughey. I’d have to say Lupita Nyong’o, Cate Blanchett, and the ever-glamorous Sandra Bullock! I’m hoping Lupita will continue to knock our fashion socks off and rock something big, bold, and beautiful! She’s been wearing colour like nobody else … let’s hope this colour train continues. As for Cate? Well, she’s got haute couture down pat. But she’s a major risk taker, where the risk is ALWAYS worth the reward. I’m hoping she’ll wow us in something from Balenciaga, Lanvin, or Prada. Sandra is a wild card. Her normal “classic” sophistication has been thrown out the window. She’s been far more daring and a lot more fun – maybe a Prabal Gurung or Marchesa?

Jennifer Lawrence in a ho-hum strapless Dior gown.

Jennifer Lawrence in a ho-hum strapless Dior gown.

ST: Who has been the biggest disappointment on the red carpet so far?
EW: Hands down Jennifer Lawrence in Dior, Dior, Dior. Don’t get me wrong, I love the fashion house and I understand she’s under contract, but I’m so sick of the strapless boring dress they keep putting her in! She’s so young and has such a bold personality; it would be nice if her Oscar gown emulates that.

ST: Which man’s style will stand out the most on the red carpet?
EW: It’s a tie between Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto. They’ve not only been cleaning up the awards for both best and best supporting actor, they’ve also been nailing the red carpet scene. Looking forward to seeing what they pull off on Sunday night.

ST: If you could dress any celebrity, who would it be and what would you put them in?
EW: Ha ha! Wow… I don’t know, there are sooo many. I’m a huge fan of Diane Kruger – she’s a fashion maven. I also love Gwyneth’s style — and Lupita! She’s been a star this award season. I can’t wait to see how her style evolves.

ST: Who’s your favourite designer for red carpet attire?
EW: Can’t say a favourite, but I’m obsessed with the fresh designers out there like Prabal Gurung, Peter Pilloto, and Mary Katrazou. But I also love the classics like McQueen, Gucci, and Armani Privé.

ST: Who is the most daring celebrity on the red carpet scene and do you like the risks she is taking?
EW: I’d say it’s definitely Cate Blanchette. You can tell she dresses for herself and herself only. She oozes confidence and grace like no one else; and she’s always wearing something spectacular.

SHOP TALK: Getting serious about the headshot

Shop Talk is written by Ottawa Magazine editor Dayanti Karunaratne and Ottawa Magazine account executive and fashion maven Sarah Fischer. 

After a months-long, post-holiday, hibernation-induced hiatus, SHOP TALK is back! ‘Cause there’s nothing like a headshot to push us to examine our style, talk about clothes, and generally obsess about insignificant details and reveal our egomaniacal aspects.

For me, headshot update time is unnerving — not only because it means organizing another detail into the calendar, but also because headshots involve staring into a camera. This is something I’m very wary of — so much so that I elect myself event photographer at family functions. When I am forced in front of the lens I make a face that ruins the scene. But in my new role as editor I did want something that gave off a little “talk to me” vibe, rather than a “what you said, too funny!” that I usually go for. So that meant another photo shoot.

We get some great afternoon light in our office — and I was excited to ditch the tights, if only for a few minutes!

We get some great afternoon light in our office — and I was excited to ditch the tights, if only for a few minutes!

Luckily, people know this and rally around me come headshot day. Photographer John Kealey pep-talked me via email for weeks in advance and Sarah Fischer took me to Ça Va De Soi, where Francine coached me into different outfits (Francine is one of those amazing retail gems who acts as a pseudo-stylists and helped me to feel confident about my own personal style, not to mention my body).

When the day arrived, John met me at The Whalesbone on Bank Street with his entourage — assistant Matt Brunet and makeup artist Lauren Bartoli. I had a good feeling: Whalesbone holds such great memories and I was pumped from a morning run. I was ready to exude a more serious, earnest tone in my headshot.

After some MAC makeup magic I ducked downstairs to change. (Would you believe I even thought to put on my white top before my lipstick? Gotta thank my mom for making me paranoid of white clothing.) The outfit — white Anne top, beige Eve skirt — was an excellent and subtly surprising combo. I probably could have worn any white shirt and old blue jeans, but this outfit really elevated my spirit. It virtually transported me to a summer patio, which made smiling into the camera a whole lot easier.

Laughing shots are fun, but we managed to get a few serious ones in too.

Laughing shots are fun, but we managed to get a few serious ones in too.

We returned to the office to do some atmospheric shots — holding a magazine at my desk, looking out the window, etc. Here I wore the striped Tainac Ça Va De Soi dress and the amazing Koryne cardigan — which, I learned, can easily be worn as a top, no need for layering (which, for some reason, paralyzes me).

Headshots are always a weird experience that bring out my insecurities, but this day involved a lot of laughter too. I did try to keep a straight face — not a mock smile, or a laughing smile, but a sincere, interested smile. I thought of my daughter falling asleep on my arm, and I thought of my most recent interview subject, who commanded my attention and sparked my interest — something I’m hoping to do with the Editor’s Letter that will accompany the photo.




In the December 2008/January 2009 issue of OTTAWA MAGAZINE, Marisol Simoes was touted as a work hard/play hard entrepreneur. Now, she’s hiding from the camera and looking to shed her “defamatory libel” label. Here, a look back at Marisol in better times.


This photo ran in 2008, as Simoes was gearing up for a busy year with her restaurants. Photo by David Kawai.

Known for her tenacity and hands-on approach and rewarded for her success with a citing in Ottawa Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 this year, Marisol Simoes spends her days fussing with track lists, smoothing over staffing disasters, picking up ingredients, and generally staying on top of it all. Simoes, who, along with her husband, Zadek Ramowski, owns and operates three bustling clubs in the ByWard Market, has absolutely no plans to slow down in 2009. The new year will see Simoes catering parties with Kinki’s sushi platters and, in her spare time, launching a cooking show from the Mambo kitchen. In short, she’s bringing the party to you.

To up the ante. “For years, we’ve been pushing the envelope, being a force for change in the Market. Next year we’re knocking on doors, bringing the taste and feel of Mambo and Kinki to anyone and everyone!”

Scurrying from club to club, champagne in hand.

On vacation — yeah, right! “I’ve been dreaming of the beach for three years.” (It’s all part of the 10-year plan, Simoes swears.)

Guru. “I’ll drink a Red Bull if I have to, but Guru is all natural. It makes you feel great, and it makes you productive.”

At your home or office, with trays of fusion fare from Kinki and Mambo.

KITCHEN CHRONICLES: Gavin’s up to no good — plus comforting simmered sweet ribs

Kitchen Chronicles is a weekly series by Barbara Sibbald — novelist, award-winning journalist, and long-time contributor to Ottawa Magazine. Visit Kitchen Chronicles every Sunday for a new instalment  — and a tested recipe.

The phone call

The phone’s ring is shrill in the quiet of Saturday morning. Fiona turns from trimming the ribs* and quickly rinses her hands.

—   Hello, she says.

—   Hi. My name’s Leanne McMurchy. I just thought you should know that I’ve had two obscene phone calls from this number.

—   Excuse me? Are you sure?

—   I did star sixty-nine. The calls were for my daughter, Jessica. They came last night at nine and nine thirty. On the answering machine.

Kitchen-Chronicles-OttawaGavin! thinks Fiona. I’m going to kill him.

—   Is your daughter okay?

—   She was pretty upset, but the calls were just so stupid. It was a young guy, but she didn’t recognize the voice. She erased the messages. But the first time he says something like: “That was great sex last night, I can’t wait to see you tomorrow. ” I mean she’s fourteen years old.

—   What school does she go to?

—   Fisher.

—   That’s where my son goes too. I’m so, so sorry. I’m going to go talk to him. What’s your phone number? Oh, my name’s Fiona.

She hangs up and finishes making the marinade, giving herself some time to think. If we’d bought him a cell like he wanted, we never would have known about this, she thinks. As she’s covering the dish with plastic wrap, Gavin comes into the kitchen, still in his pyjamas at ten in the morning.

—   Do we have bacon? he asks.

—   Your dad will be home with the groceries any minute. Do you want some OJ while you’re waiting?

—   Sure, he says. Please.

She set his glass of juice in front of him and sits down.

—   Gavin, I just had a phone call from Leanne McMurchy. Do you go to school with her daughter, Jessica?

—   Why? What did she say? he asks.

—   Does she go to Fisher? Do you know her?

He shrugs.

—   Sure. I guess so. There are three Jessicas in my class.

—   Well, Jessica’s mom says they had two obscene phone calls left on their answering machine and the calls came from here, from our number.

—   How does she know that? asks Gavin.

—   Star sixty-nine.

—   It was Troy’s idea, says Gavin hurriedly. I didn’t want to, but he did it. He has a crush on her.

—   What, and so you just let him do it using our phone?

—   He just sort of did it. He didn’t ask or anything.

—   Well, I’ll have to call his mother then and let her know.

—   Whatever, he says.

—   But don’t think you’re off the hook either, Gavin. You’re responsible for your guest’s behaviour when they’re in this house. You never should have allowed that. Twice, too! How do you think Jessica felt?

—   I dunno.

Typical, she thinks, first sign of trouble, he clams up. She looks up Troy’s number on the list by the phone and dials it.

—   Hello, is this Troy’s mother? This is Fiona, I’m Gavin’s mom.

A woman’s voice, indistinct, seems to concur.

Kichen-Chronicles—   I’ve had a phone call from Leanne McMurchy, her daughter, Jessica, goes to school with our sons. Jessica had two obscene phone messages last night from our home number. Gavin says Troy made the calls.

—   Troy would never do anything like that, says the woman. He’s been brought up better.

Fiona’s mom radar instantly switches to high alert; the woman’s implication being that Gavin would, because he has not been brought up properly. She realizes there is nothing else to say.

—   Well, I have no reason not to believe Gavin. I just thought that you should know. Goodbye.

She hangs up without waiting for a response. Her heart is pounding. Maybe she wasn’t so much accusing Gavin as defending her own son. Wouldn’t we do anything to defend them?

She tells Gavin what Troy’s mom said.

—   Are you sure you weren’t more involved in this? she asks, making a futile attempt at eye contact.

—   Troy’s obsessed with the phone, says Gavin. He makes calls all the time.

—   Gavin, you didn’t answer my question: Did you make one of the calls.

—   Okay, okay, yes, I made one, but it was Troy’s idea and he made the first one.

—   What did you say?

—   I don’t remember.

—   You must remember something, Gavin.

—   Something about wanting a date with her, wanting to sleep with her.

—   Gavin!

—   It was just a joke. I didn’t mean anything.

—   It’s upsetting to her, Fiona says. And it’s illegal. It’s harassment.

—   Mom, can’t we talk about this later? I haven’t even had my breakfast.

—   Gavin, you aren’t taking this seriously. This is serious.

Luc walks into the kitchen, bearing canvas bags of groceries.

—   What’s up? he says, taking in their faces.

Fiona tells him what’s happened.

—   I’m so disappointed in you, he says to Gavin.

For the first time, Gavin looks ashamed. Damn he’s good, Fiona thinks of her husband.

—   You know it’s wrong to make calls like that, continues Luc. Don’t you?

—   Yes, mumbles Gavin.

—   We’re going to suspend your phone privileges for a month.

—   A month!

—   Yes. But first you have to phone Jessica and apologize. And apologize to her mother, too.

—   But what will I say?

—   That you’re sorry for upsetting them and you realize what you did was wrong.

—   But what about Troy? He gets off with nothing?

—   I’ll talk to his mom or his dad, says Luc, but really it’s up to them. Our concern is you.

—   And, Gavin, says Fiona, I don’t want Troy in the house unless your Dad or I are here. And no phone calls.

—   Is that clear? asks Luc.

—   Yeah, says Gavin. I get it.

*Simmered sweet ribs

Serves 4

2 plus pounds of pork ribs

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 onion, chopped

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

2 stalks of celery, chopped

1 green pepper, chopped

1 tin of tomato soup

1 tablespoon French’s mustard

2 tablespoons brown sugar

¼ cup vinegar

½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Salt and pepper

  1. Cut meat into individual ribs. Trim off as much fat as possible. Brown in oil. Drain off excess fat.
  2. Add onion, garlic, celery and green pepper. Brown.
  3. In a bowl, combine soup, a tin of water, mustard, sugar, vinegar, salt, pepper and Worcestershire sauce.
  4. Simmer for at least 2 hours, until the meat falls off the bone.
  5. Serve with mashed potatoes (delicious with this sauce) and a green vegetable (green beans are wonderful).

Thank you to Jean Sibbald for this recipe.