To say the Duchess Bake Shop is new and improved is both an oxymoron and a terrible clich. But in this case, co-owner Garner Beggs and his partners, Giselle Courteau and Jacob Pelletier, have endeavoured to create a new space that is an improvement on their original location next door.
“We wanted to expand,” says Beggs, 33, “but we wanted to keep the customer experience consistent with what we did well in our old space.” That meant keeping the glass cabinets well stocked with delicious French pastries and sweets, maintaining the classic winter-white and gold colour scheme and filling the space with Sun King-inspired furniture.
But the irony of this 124th Street patisserie is that it came into being thanks to the young owners’ sojourn to Japan, not France, to teach English. And it is perhaps the spare design esthetic of the Asian Pacific that gives this new space its elegance and airiness. If the Japanese did Baroque, it’s what you might find at the new Duchess.
Beggs saved some of the glass display cases from the old space, and expanded the cold storage to allow room for more inventory. “It was hard for us to believe that we’d need more space,” Beggs says, “but we weren’t in our old space for too long before we realized we needed much more room for product.” They nearly doubled the front counter space for twice the inventory. “To me, good design has to dovetail with function.”
Beggs chose the same classic herringbone design for the floor as in the old space. “The floor took a lot of time to lay,” he says. “But it is so worth it for the effect that it has. Again, it’s all about the details.”
While Beggs’ own design experience was limited to Duchess’ previous incarnation, he hired friend and wood-working guru, Landon Schedler, to take care of all of the carpentry detail. Some aspects, like the crown moulding, were new to Schedler, a journeyman carpenter, but that didn’t stop him from learning by doing. “It took about a week,” Schedler says. “I didn’t tell Garner until a few days in that I had never done it before. But now I’ve done a lot of it. I think I can still feel it in my back,” he jokes. It’s details like the moulding and gold ceiling tiles that help turn a 1960s strip-mall space into a classic French interior that feels more historic than it actually is. In fact, the bakery turns three this year. “It took many coats of paint to give it an aged look,” Beggs says. “The open strip-mall space actually served us well. It was a completely blank canvas that we were able to work with to turn it into what we wanted.”
The attention to detail is evidenced by the time he spent on gold accents throughout the space. “We wanted to stick with the gold and white as it worked so well in our old space,” says Beggs. “But this time we were going for more of a burnished look, which meant multiple layers of bronze and gold to get the aged effect.”
Schedler took free rein as he designed the wood panelling for the space, often drawing details on the walls before he began his work. “We tried to model the panelling off of classic French design, but we had no idea about the dimensions,” Beggs says. “So Landon and I would just draw things out and estimate, based on human proportions, how far apart the panels needed to be, or the height of the arches. Those details got sorted out as we built them.”
“Our skills have grown since we opened our first shop,” says the young co-owner, “and we’re proud of taking that experience and applying it in this new space. We’ve got a bigger kitchen area and room now for our 30-plus staff.” He dreams of seeing the bakery become a city fixture, when its age speaks to generations of service. “Someday little kids will come in with their grandfathers who will say, ‘This is the same shop I used to come to when I was a little boy.’ We’ve built this space to have that kind of staying power, and I believe it will.”