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Welcome to Room Envy, a series where we ask interesting people about a favorite room in their house. From minimalist living rooms to vibrant kitchens, we’re zeroing in on the best features of the most enviable rooms.
Locating the ideal home in today’s housing market can be challenging, to say the least. Perhaps no one knows this better than Emma Kadar-Penner, cofounder and owner of Friends NYC, who recently moved from Brooklyn to Toronto to be closer to her family. “Coming from New York, we erroneously thought that it would be easy to find a great apartment that was cheaper than what we were used to,” she says. Instead, the hunt for homes took longer than expected. For months Emma and her husband would scout apartments, but prices ran high in the neighborhoods near where Emma grew up—and if they did find a great abode with a price to match, the property would always get snatched up right away.
“The whole process was pretty stressful,” Emma recalls. “My sister-in-law, Kimberly Bruce, was our realtor, and she found this apartment. She did an amazing job of making sure we were the first to see the place and pushed us to put in an aggressive offer the minute we saw it.”
Eventually they landed a dream rental apartment. Originally a single-family home, the house was transformed into two apartments. “My landlord bought the property a few years ago and gut-renovated it into two separate apartments with separate entrances,” Emma says. “We are the first people to live in the apartment since it was renovated.” Lovers of nostalgic pieces, the couple filled their new apartment with ’70s- and ’80s-inspired items to match the ’80s vibes they felt while living in there. “We incorporated vintage pieces from that era, when possible.”
The record credenza is just one of many items the couple found to fit an older time, influenced by Emma’s proximity to her childhood stomping grounds. “I grew up in Bloor West Village, which is nearby, and I never imagined I would be back living near my high school, but here we are,” she says. “I can practically see it from my apartment. It’s surreal, but life sure takes some weird turns.”
Location: Toronto, Ontario
Square footage: 1,000 square feet
AD: Where do you currently live in Toronto, and why did you move there from New York?
Emma Kadar-Penner: We live in a cute neighborhood called The Junction in the west end of Toronto. We’re walking distance to the main strip, which is full of shops, restaurants, and cafés. My husband lived in New York for over 20 years and I was there for close to 15 years when we decided to move here. It was not an easy decision, as we are both New Yorkers at heart, and our friends and jobs are there. I have to travel back and forth a lot, since I still own Friends NYC in Brooklyn, and we own our condo in Bed-Stuy. We do short-term rentals, and then we have somewhere to stay when we go back about once a month. I originally moved to New York to go to FIT for my Master’s degree—I studied fashion history and textile conservation and thought I wanted to work in a fashion museum. I did work at the Costume Institute at The Met in the collections department, but that wasn’t what I was meant to do. Starting Friends NYC with my best friend Mary became my path, and I love what I do [now].
How did you make this rental feel more like a home of your own?
Since we kept our apartment in Brooklyn, we literally had no furniture to bring with us. This meant we had to buy everything again, which was fun but also expensive. The apartment already had a defined aesthetic, so we tried to pick furniture and decor that went with the light, bright, airy vibe. Our condo in New York is quite dark and has a more ’70s vibe, so this is quite different.
Since it was such a new renovation, we opted not to paint and instead we added art to the walls to make them more personalized. We are lucky to know some very talented artists and have fun pieces from J. Penry, Brian Chippendale, Joe Bradley, Nick Gazin, plus a vintage painting of my mom by her friend, amongst others. We own a lot of artwork, and that is one thing we were able to bring from New York without taking all the art off our walls in Brooklyn and really makes it feel like a home. We also love books and have a massive book wall at our home in New York that we have tried to recreate here in Toronto.
Since you like to travel, how has sourcing for work influenced the way you decorate at home?
Mary and I recently traveled to Mexico City to find cool handmade goods for [our store]—one of the things that makes Friends special is we buy products that other stores don’t have, which is why travel is an important part of our process as buyers. I bought a lot of stuff for my house as well as gifts for family and friends, from handmade ceramic mugs and bowls to recycled bags to baskets and planters, as well as woven items like hats and textiles. Mexico has many rich manufacturing traditions, but what I love most is how you can see the human hand in most of what their artisans produce. Friends NYC doesn’t take itself too seriously; we focus on quirky, funny, whimsical home and gift items. This has inspired me to have items that will make me smile when I’m at home, like this baguette candle.
What is your biggest splurge item in the kitchen or dining area? Where and how did you get it?
We have a few splurge items from a local furniture and design store called Mjolk that focuses on beautifully made, highly crafted pieces. My favorite item from them is our record credenza, made by Toronto cabinetmaker Thom Fougere. My husband is a musician and DJ, so he sourced all the vintage stereo equipment that lives on the credenza—we love it for the sound and the aesthetics. I’m also obsessed with this brass candle sconce, which reflects candlelight beautifully.
I love low lighting and candles, so this was the perfect piece to get that chill, evening vibe. I’m crazy for candles and incense, so these are things I always have on hand. Also, most of my baskets are from the store but not currently listed online. I also own the Areaware x Sophie Collé splat table, which I got at Friends, but it’s also only available in store. Our web store is totally adorable and amazing, but there’s nothing quite like coming to see us IRL. We’ve tried to create an escape, a little Bushwick oasis, and it just feels good to be here.
Denon DP-67L Direct Drive Record Player Turntable
Article Lenia White Oak Sideboard
Geometric Oushak Handmade Turkish Rug
Bubble Concrete Tray
Brooklyn Candle Studio Catskills Escapist Candle
Sophie Collé Splat Side Table
Friends NYC Baguette Candle