March 17, 2021

An Elevated Cannabis Retail Experience in Toronto

It was only in June of 2018 that legislation passed to legalize cannabis on a federal level in Canada. Since, the country has been quick to respond, with dispensaries opening all over, from Vancouver to Nova Scotia. Toronto alone has dozens, one of note in the heart of downtown. Alchemy by Studio Paolo Ferrari not only subverts the marijuana cliches but also delivers an interactive and elevated boutique experience.

orange resin forms a drippy feature in a room at Alchemy
At Alchemy, a cannabis dispensary, custom-molded eco-resin forms a feature wall in the accessories room. Photography by Joel Esposito.

Material choices throughout the project’s four areas totaling 1,500 square feet explore a fundamental tension within the world of cannabis: The product is a plant that grows from the ground but uses cutting-edge technology to maximize its potential. So at Alchemy, industrial elements like anodized aluminum, solid-surfacing, and eco-resin, the latter in the form of an undulating feature wall, mix with natural ones, such as solid ash, terrazzo, and terra-cotta. “There’s something beautiful about the highly engineered alongside the earthy,” Paolo Ferrari says. “The store is somewhere between a temple and a factory.”

a black ceiling hangs above a desk in a brightly lit room of a Toronto cannabis retail shop
Beneath a ceiling of anodized-aluminum fins, inspired by those Oscar Niemeyer developed in 1971 for the Paris communist party headquarters, a solid white-ash table is embedded with interactive screens. Photography by Joel Esposito.

There’s also color play. While the predominant impression is an all-white environment, there are moments of saturated hues. The feature wall, which is found in the accessories room, is a fiery orange, and it’s coordinated with carpet in the same shade. Most of the columns and storage displays of oils, concentrates, and topicals in the rest of the shop are white or silver, but there’s the occasional one in canary yellow. “Color was used to punctuate the concept of alchemic transformation,” Ferrari explains, “to be all-encompassing and visceral.”

an orangey-red accessories room in Alchemy, a Toronto cannabis retail shop
Carpet in the accessories room is nylon. Photography by Joel Esposito.

The shopping experience is multisensory. Upon entering, visitors discover small digital viewers containing kaleidoscopic visuals embedded in the walls. Farther in, when they engage with “sniff jars,” product information comes up on touch screens set into a large organically shaped table. Behind the cash-wrap desk, an oversize screen loops videos of cannabis macro imagery. It’s a favorite area for Ferrari. “It’s the opposite of what you’d expect,” he says, noting the tactility of the desk’s terra-cotta tile as opposed to the smoothness found elsewhere. “It gives a wabi-sabi sensibility.”

the yellow entrance to Alchemy, a cannabis retail store in Toronto
Flooring is terrazzo. Photography by Joel Esposito.

Behind the desk is a generous round window revealing the store’s back of house. It is Ferrari’s way of making a regulatory requirement, in this case that orders must be fulfilled out of reach of customers, an attractive component. He’s done the same at the entry. Due to COVID-19 capacity limitations, customers often have to line up. So Ferrari rewards their wait with a 10-foot-tall live ficus that looks like a giant weed plant.

boxes of oils line the shelves adjacent to a bright yellow display case in this Toronto smoke shop
Oils, concentrates, and topicals are stored in anodized-aluminum shelving units, the rear one powder-coated. Photography by Joel Esposito.
bright white shelves match the flooring in a brightly lit area of a cannabis retail store
Other shelving is solid-surfacing. Photography by Joel Esposito.
unglazed terracotta tiles wrap a column and a desk inside a cannabis shop
Unglazed terra-cotta tiles clad the cash-wrap desk, column, and wall, where the commissioned digital artwork is by Tristan C-M. Photography by Joel Esposito.
smoking pipes are on display in a cannabis retail store in Toronto
Orders are fulfilled in the back of house, visible through a portal of aluminum-framed glass. Photography by Joel Esposito.
resin domes enclose edibles at a cannabis retail store in Toronto
Edibles are locked inside eco-resin domes. Photography by Joel Esposito.
a ficus at the entrance to Alchemy, a cannabis retail store in Toronto
An aperture fitted with LED grow lights maintains the ficus at the store’s entry. Photography by Joel Esposito.

Project Sources: Masland Contract: Car­pet (Acces­sories). Throughout: Kline Specialty Fabrication: Custom Fur­niture, Built-ins, Ceiling. Clé: Tile. Santa Mar­gherita: Terrazzo. DuPont: Solid-Surfacing. Barrisol: Stretched Ceiling. Sherwin-Williams Com­pany: Paint. Inverse Lighting: Lighting Consultant. Elevate Build: Project Management, Fixture Contractor.

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