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December 01, 2008

All that glitters: The shops of Kensington

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas in pedestrian-friendly Kensington district

L. Sara Bysterveld

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For shoppers wanting to stay away from the malls or just find something unique in a boutique atmosphere, the shops of Kensington have something for everyone during the holiday season.

A stroll down Kensington Road and 10 Street in the northwest can result in having the house redecorated and decked out for the season, scoring gifts for every family member (plus the wrapping and accessories to get it ready to place under the tree) and returning home with delicious food and drinks for holiday entertaining—all in the same day.

Every December, the trendy shopping district comes alive with little white lights twinkling in the trees that line the streets, and each Saturday (December 6, 13 and 20), strolling Edwardian carollers and elves handing out “good cheer and candy canes.” Saturday, December 13 is Kensington Customer Appreciation Day with additional events to be announced (see the Kensington website at On top of that, stores are bustling and ready for the holidays, with plenty of decorations and all the supplies you could want.

Honey B’s Vintage Home Decor (28 12 Street N.W.) is one of the host of stores in Kensington right in the swing of the season. Specializing in refurbished, Canadian-sourced (mainly prairie-sourced) antiques year-round, owner Barb Brown adds a wide + selection of distinctive Christmas decorations starting in October. This includes retro and vintage tree ornaments, plenty of sparkly decorations for the home, nostalgic items such as wooden advent calendars and lots of white and silver to make the house shimmer.

“We try to stick to a vintage theme and items that complement the antique and vintage look,” says Brown. “(The store) appeals to all ages—you don’t have that kind of stuffy, typical antique feel.”

Honey B’s was recently awarded with a 2008 Reader’s Choice Award from the Calgary Herald. Both Honey B’s and Kensington Carpet One (1221 Kensington Road N.W.), just around the corner, were secondary winners in their categories, Antique Store and Floor Coverings, respectively. Incidentally, Kensington has been voted the #1 Shopping District in Calgary for eight years running in the same awards.

On the same block, shoppers can stop in at the Kensington Wine Market (1257 Kensington Road N.W,) and Janice Beaton Fine Cheese (1249 Kensington Road N.W.) to grab refreshments for the evening or for an upcoming party.

Down the street, just a couple of doors down from the Plaza Theatre, Joints (#2, 1145 Kensington Road N.W.) is busy changing identities. But they haven’t forgotten the Christmas season—far from it. While owner Rory Zerbe notes the store is moving away from home accents toward ladies’ accessories, he reassures that they will still go all out for the season. “Lots of people come in only at Christmas,” Zerbe relates. This is because Joints offers a very wide and eclectic mix of ornaments, from cute, contemporary character tree ornaments to sparkly, brightly-hued baubles, and even blown-glass hanging globes that would make a beautiful accent year-round.

This year, Zerbe and his staff have set up 17 trees in the shop, each with a specific theme. The 11 themes include circus, snow, angels, Old World Christmas, sports, candy, babies and weddings, as well as a couple of specific ornament lines. 

The new kid on the block is Maison Obelisque (1131 Kensington Road N.W.), right above another newcomer, Winebar (from The Muse, just around the corner). Nathalie Nobbs, previously consulting for Maria Tomas, opened the storefront of Maison Obelisque in June 2008 after being in operation since 2004. The boutique offers design services as well as a stunning array of fabrics for draperies, bedding and furniture upholstery, transitional wallpapers and 100 per cent wool area rugs, with a passion for draperies.

Nathalie describes her shop as “a boutique store where colour, playful accessories, teak furniture and elegant fabrics all combine to encourage you to design something lovely for yourself, your home and your family.”

She is enjoying the vibe in her boutique’s new Kensington home, attributing the good feeling in large part to the people  populating and frequent the area, who + she cites as: “High rollers and those not-so-inclined, artists and buskers, design gurus and moms decorating for their teenage children. Friends in love enjoying an alternate lifestyle and granddads from Halifax asking about the newest trend in flooring and bamboo, gulping at the price of cup cakes! Kensington’s zest for life brings out the best in your imagination and is a playground for wonderful encounters and experiences.”

Standbys Kilian International Design (1110 Kensington Road N.W.) and Cushy Life (106A 10 Street N.W.) are still busy making homes beautiful from their Kensington locations. Kilian’s two stories offer contemporary collections of furniture and giftware as well as kitchen ware. Cushy Life specializes in custom and contemporary options in bedding, window treatments and upholstery.

Urban Barn (1117 Kensington Road N.W.) showcases their well-known selection of classic contemporary furniture and home accents, many of which are Canadian, as well as plenty of decorations just in time for the season from whimsical to polished and classic. Meanwhile, at the far end of Kensington Road, Willow Studio (1437 Kensington Road N.W.) showcases home accessories, custom furniture and specialty carpets and offers in-home design consultations. 

For gifts other than home decor, holiday shoppers have choices to please almost anyone on their list. The Naked Leaf (#103, 305 10 Street N.W.) is one recent addition to the Kensington line-up, offering 75 varieties of tea (mostly organic) as well as art tins featuring art by local and national artists and artful teapots and accessories.

For the kids (or just the young-at-heart) on the list, Livingstone and Cavell Extraordinary Toys (1124A Kensington Road N.W.) is sure to have something that will thrill and excite, whether it is a dollhouse, wind-up vintage robot, one-of-a-kind stocking stuffer or another unique toy. 

Sparkly brooches to either complement the tree or as a gift can be found at Wildflowers (#3, 338 10 Street N.W.) and of course you can pick up some flowers to complete the display while you are there.

At the end of the day, the appropriate wrapping, cards and accessories are needed to prepare all the gifts for their presentation under the tree. Try Box Paper Scissors (318A 10 Street N.W.), where you will find everything from boxes to paper to ribbon and cards.

You can hit the wine bar, grab something sinfully sweet from Crave Cookies and Cupcakes (1107 Kensington Road N.W.) or chocolaty at Bernard Callebaut (1123 Kensington Road N.W.), or savoury Red Tree (1245 Kensington Road N.W.). Then head home, put your feet up and enjoy a tasty treat before you get down to all that wrapping.


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