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2014/04/02 / Shanan


Sometimes it seems like a lifetime ago, but I spent four years during my mid-twenties in New York City – attending art school, working odd jobs, eating way too many bagels and korean noodles, walking everywhere, crying over boys, and cementing some pretty incredible friendships.  I even hung out at the Cafe Grumpy in Greenpoint before it became a chain and went all Girls.

It was one of those formative experiences that will always be a part of me, and lately I’ve really found myself missing the city and its unique energy.  Good thing I’m heading to NYC, oh, ah… TODAY.

In honour of my visit, I’ve compiled a personal top 6 list of evocative films set in the Big Apple.  Major caveats: it’s in no real order, and doesn’t adhere to any particular aesthetic criteria or even represent my opinion of the ‘best’ movies to take place in NYC.  Let’s just say that these picks all conjure some kind of specific sense of the city for me, whether accurate or imagined.

Taxi Driver. Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Manhattan.  If you’re expecting these, you’ve come to the wrong list, my friends.

Image above:  “I’m so embarrassed, I’m not a real person yet.”

1. Frances Ha (2012)   Present-day NYC through the eyes of the struggling 20-something creative, shot in beautiful black and white.  At the film’s most exhilarating, the “undate-able” Frances runs through the streets to the soundtrack of David Bowie’s “Modern Love” (in homage to a scene from Leos Carax’s Mauvais Sang, in case that sort of thing matters to you).  At its mostmundane, she lounges on her fire escape and chats with her best friend. It’s pretty much perfect, really.

the warriors nyc film still

“Can you dig it?”

2. The Warriors (1979)    I’m fairly sure I never in a million years would have watched this movie, if not for my dad insisting when I was in junior high.  A cult classic about fictional NY gangs, the Warriors are framed for murder and over the course of a night they must traverse the city, make it past the many other hostile gangs and the police, and return to their home base of Coney Island.  It depicts NYC at its most campily inhospitable and, from a kid’s perspective, I assumed the city was just one giant mess of graffiti, dangerous subway platforms, and creepy men in leather vests.  Image from Pyxurz.

muppets take manhattan nyc film still

“I’m staying!  You hear that, New  York?  THE FROG IS STAYING!”

3. The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984)  Broadway dreams, showbiz clichés, low-paying luncheonette gigs, purse snatching in Central Park, lunch at Sardi’s with Liza Minnelli, Mad Men as enacted by frog puppets… it is all here, and it is hilarious.

nick and norah's infinite playlist nyc film still

“We didn’t miss it. This IS it.”

4.  Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (2008).   A long night spent traipsing around NYC, accompanied by a great soundtrack (Chris Bell, Band of Horses, Bishop Allen), culminating in a kiss at sunrise in Penn Station, is a night well-spent.  The sense of possibility, excitement, sweetness, and (mostly) innocent adventure just feels quintessentially New York, to me, in the way that I once experienced it.

kids harmony korine nyc film still

“Don’t you know tricks are for kids?”

5.  Kids (1995)   Ick. To this day I’ve not seen this movie in its entirety, but if ever you needed a skin-crawling cautionary tale involving unsupervised, amoral urban teenagers, this is it (basically the polar opposite of #4).  It may very well be the reason I never did drugs, didn’t lose my virginity til I was 19, and was kind of afraid of New York City til I actually moved there.  Feels like it deserves a spot on the list, though, for its ability to elicit all these strong responses, even now.

baby boom nyc film still

“You see, that’s the funny thing – I can’t have a baby because I have a 12:30 lunch meeting.”

6.  Baby Boom (1987)  Shout-out to Sarah Stringer — girl, you know what I’m talking about.  Diane Keaton might justifiably be mortified were she to realize that children of the ’80s view this as her iconic NYC film character moment.  Sorry, Annie Hall, but we have an eternal soft spot for J.C. Wiatt.

Work-aholic female business exec is faced with caring for an unexpected child, loses her job and leaves Manhattan for small-town Vermont, then launches her own empire making organic baby food.  So, it’s basically the story of my life.  Just kidding.  All the “Big City” tropes of the late 1980s are here – power-lunches, city apartments full of black leather and chrome, big shoulder-pads, and tiger moms with even bigger hair, hanging at the playground while discussing their toddler’s resumé submission to the coveted Upper East Side pre-schools.  But will J.C. give it all up for a slower pace?  Lean in, ladies – this one’s practically a classic.

Is there any other city on earth that’s been the source of such a wealth of cinematic inspiration?  What NYC films have resonated with you?  (and don’t let my avoidance of the high-brow stop you from going there)

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2014/03/17 / Shanan


When my family visited Barbados at the end of January, I made sure to get some shots inside the Timothy Oulton showroom, thinking it could be a candidate for The Symmetric’s Field Trips series.  And somehow I drafted an entire post, then forgot to publish it.

I know that Timothy Oulton is a big name lifestyle retailer, but I always enjoy this particular shop and all its vintage displays.  In addition to their signature leather and industrial-meets-vintage pieces (the London-based company makes furniture for Restoration Hardware – from what I can tell, TO designed my current sofa, the Fulham), the two-storey shop features a wine cave and small Italian cafe that serves house-made pasta lunches.

A cool place to poke around amidst antique treasures and well-crafted reproductions.  Love that wall of dishes and… what can I say?  Kind of wish I was still there, wearing a sundress and sipping a soda.

timothy oulton shop barbados vintage furniture







Someday, for when I own a beach house…






You can see more on the Timothy Oulton website.  Here’s some info on the Wine Cave and Gianluca Cafe. Barbados, I do miss ya.

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2014/01/24 / Gillian


I’ve been thrifting since I was a kid. In the early days, it was not cool. With my mom, at random and sometimes sketchy second-hand joints, buying a lot of brown corduroy. That was the ’70s. The ’80s and ’90s were big decades for me, though. I came into my own, discovered my love for vintage clothing and embraced a retro-chic aesthetic that continues to inform my ‘style’ today.

My favourite teenage haunts were Toronto’s Kensington Market and along Queen West: Courage My Love and Black Market, of course. Exile and Flashback were later discoveries. My twenties were spent in Montreal where I spent hours (and I mean hours) poring through the archives at Eva B (now there’s a place you’ll never leave empty-handed), Friperie St Laurent and Local 23. Due to my tight student budget at the time, it was then that I also re-discovered the charity second hand shops of my childhood. The Salvation Army thrift stores, Goodwill shops (the one in Verdun is pretty rad), Value Village, and smaller charity-driven places (most notably, May Court‘s are insanely good). These types of shops are still my go-to as they are super affordable and often have great finds.

“How do I do it?” (find the good stuff, presumably) is something that I’m frequently asked. I often hear things like: “I NEVER find anything in those places,” and “how do you sort through all the crap?” There are some obvious answers. Like, it helps to have an eye, some creative vision and a sense of adventure. That said, there are also a handful of helpful, practical tips that certainly make the experience more accessible and fun to the nascent thrifter. And hey, a refresher for vets never hurts!  Here goes:


Think  of your thrift outing as a mission. Okay, you’re not going to space or anything, but this is terra incognita for most of us, so be prepared.


1.  Dress comfortably (think change room ease here). Not only do you want to keep it simple, you’ll want to consider pairing items to try on with your existing outfit, so jeans and a black or white tee are a great thrifting uniform. Wear the shoes or boots that you wear most often. Or, if you are looking for a dress or skirt that you may wear heels with, bring ’em.

2.  Be well nourished and hydrated. These places are usually terribly lit and often in cheesy/dodgy strip mall locations that don’t have a lot of accessibility to places you’d want to stop for food. Shopping and making decisions when you’re hungry sucks. So get your game on – eat breakfast and bring water and an emergency snack!

3.  Make a list. What are you looking for? Try to narrow it down if you can, especially if time is an issue. In some of the bigger places (I’m thinking Value Village here) there are seemingly endless aisles. I often “attack” one or two sections of a couple of stores, rather than one entire store. It’s definitely more efficient if you know you want a dress, let’s say.

Okay, so you’ve arrived. Now what?

thrifting tips guide how to vintage clothing

4.  Get a cart. You may think you don’t need one – that you’re “just looking.” Don’t kid yourself. Thrifting is like crack. You’ll have a full cart in no time.

5.  Check all the size categories. I’m talking XXL here, ladies. For one thing, vintage clothing is sized very differently. A vintage size 10 is akin to a modern size 4. A vintage 14 is a medium today. And although staff do their best to restock the racks, let’s face it – this isn’t Barney’s, and shit is often in the wrong place. So don’t skip the rack of muu-muus – there’s often a gem in there waiting for you!

6.  Pit-stains. You gotta check. I’ve had a few pit-stain debacles, and although you likely haven’t broken the bank on your purchase, pit-stains almost never come out, they’re gross, and you’ll never wear said item – quel dommage. I find it helpful to take items I’m not sure about to the front of the store where there is usually a little natural light and have a closer inspection there. This is also a good time to check the fabric for overall wear, small holes, and any other potential flaws.

thrifting how to guide vintage clothing moths sweater

7.  Not all flaws are deal-breakers. Moths are. I brought them home once in a beautiful cashmere sweater. They were larval at the time, and practically invisible, until they hatched in my husband’s closet and took out half his wardrobe. Oops. Again, have a thorough look at the item – inside and out. This is the time you take notice other details – like, will those 10-inch shoulder pads rip out or are they sewn on the inside?

8.  Try everything on. You may think it will fit you and look good, and you can’t quite face the faint urine odour of the change room. Put your big girl pants on and suck it up. There are lots of reasons this stuff ends up at thrift stores, and one of them is that there’s something wrong with it. My husband calls this the “land of misfit toys theory” – and it’s true. So take the extra ten minutes and try on that maxi dress. It might be Heidi Klum, but it might be be Mrs. Roper. You get the idea.

9.  Don’t be seduced by the price tag. Of course, the $7.99 price tag has allure, and that’s fine (and partly why you’re there right?!) but don’t just buy stuff because it cheap. Buy stuff because you love it and you’ll wear it and, as Shan loves to hear me say… you look HOT in it! It’s true you can take more risks when items are less expensive, but in my experience if you don’t dig it now, you won’t dig it later.

thrifting how to guide tips vintage clothing

10.  Use your imagination… but not too much! The context of thrift shops feels a bit like a time warp – somehow the quilted full-length fur coat doesn’t seem so strange in there (because it’s hanging next to a leather one-piece, perhaps?). That leopard-print jumpsuit or vaguely boudoir lime green dress may be beckoning your inner vintage maven while you’re in the trenches, but will you wear it in real life? If so, I say rock on, sister. But beware of the goggle effect in there – it’s real.

I think that’s it for my round-up. What are your thrifting pearls of wisdom? We’d love to hear them!

ps. Don’t forget to visit The Symmetric’s Etsy shop for your online hit of vintage… we’re adding great new items almost every day.

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2013/12/24 / Shanan


Merry Christmas Eve, everyone!  Hope you’re having a fantastic and somewhat relaxing day (is that possible the day before Christmas?  I’d like to think so).

As Theo grows and grows and begins to understand and anticipate the holiday, it’s made me start to reflect more on the traditions I grew up with… and give some thought to new ones we’d like to create as I forge ahead with my own little family.  It all gets me a bit misty-eyed, frankly, but I’ll try and hold the tears at bay at least until New Year’s (auld lang syne, b*tches) and remain in the the present.  Wrapping final gifts, preparing doughnut batter, and taking a snowshoe hike.

I’ve rounded up a few friends from near and far to tell you a little about their holiday traditions, so let’s give them a warm welcome!  I’ll be breaking these posts up into two parts; stay tuned for the second batch tomorrow.  On Christmas day.  Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.

dutch babies holiday breakfast dessert tradition Natalia Zubko

Natalia Zubko, Shanan’s dear friend from her days at Parsons, who somehow still manages to surprise with her wisdom and thoughtfulness, and makes amazing installation art from her studio in Brooklyn, NY.

“Tradition in the Zubko household on Christmas morning was open stockings, then have breakfast… and it was always Dutch Babies (for her “Dutch Babies,” as my mom often referred to my dad, whose mother was Dutch, and us, her kids).

A simple mix of  4 ingredients:  very blended eggs, slowly-added flour & milk, all poured into an oven-safe dish of melted butter. The magic comes in the way the Dutch Babies puff up – not like a pop-over but up around the sides.  My mother would worry if she tried a new pan and they didn’t puff properly.  The square glass pyrex seemed to be the favored dish.

Served to  a simply set table – my Dutch grandmother Oma’s china, off-white and gold-rimmed with little flowers, and a big pot of earl grey or coffee out of a matching teapot in our dining room overlooking the snow-covered evergreens on the mountain.

Dutch Babies are really the perfect base for any topping – sweet or savoury.  Or, as the Zubko tradition goes – strawberries with powdered sugar, maple syrup with powdered sugar, or lemon with powdered sugar – I think you see a common denominator!

Christmas morning isn’t the same without this breakfast.  Even on holidays that I am not with the family (like this year), I make these Dutch Babies.”

switzerland christmas tradition candles on tree

Gabriela Dale, who married  one of my closest friends on a hilltop in Switzerland last February, is fearless in the face of pitch-black mountain sledding and can drink all the other girls under the table.

“Every year in Switzerland an average of one thousand house-fires occur over the Christmas season. The problem stems from the Swiss people’s love for the tradition of decorating their trees with real candles — and I’m one of those people.

My husband (a Canadian) finds the idea of real candles on a Christmas tree – in a house – really dangerous. My opinion: A Christmas tree deserves real candles. Discussions on this topic are a yearly occurrence. Cultural difference, I guess, but no matter – I always win this debate.

Swiss Christmas traditions are generally quite different from the ones in North America. For example: Trees are often purchased on Christmas Eve and decorated the afternoon of. While the kids are out to see a play or a movie, parents secretly decorate the tree and bring out the gifts – with the children believing it all to be the work of a little angel named Christkind.

But, back to our tree.  We’ve had ours for four years now. Rather than get a new one each year, we’ve planted ours in a big pot on our patio – and every Christmas Eve, we drag it inside and I pretty it up.

This year, however, I’ve decided that our Christmas tree will be for the birds – literally. I’m leaving the tree outside and will decorate it with homemade birdfeeders made of pinecones covered in coconut-fat and dipped in birdseed.

Merry Christmas birds! Just don’t get too close to my candles.” 


Gillian Sopinka, my Symmetric partner-in-crime who keeps me in stitches, swears like a sailor and rescues me from boredom every single day.

“My family is heavily into tradition. If you do something once that people are on board with, you had better be prepared to do it for the rest of your life. Seriously.

My grandparents, who are now both 88 and live in a nursing home, hosted wonderful Christmas celebrations for our family for decades in their home. I have vivid memories of all of it: the smell of my Grandma’s hand-baked shortbread (they were perfect), the silver and blue tree (her favourite carol is Silver Bells), the way the snow and stars seemed to dance across the frozen lake in their backyard, the thought and care with which my Grandma prepared each meal, each gift and stocking, my Grandpa coming home late Christmas Eve from the hospital where he worked and encouraging me to leave Santa a hefty drink (and by the way, if you didn’t know, Santa drinks rum and coke).

The first year my grandparents weren’t well enough to host Christmas, Steve and I had just moved to North Bay and bought our first house. We could DO IT, I valiantly volunteered. I really had no idea what I was signing up for, and how impossible it would be to fill my Grandma’s tiny (big) shoes. A few tears (do people actually know it takes like 2 days to thaw a turkey – wtf!?!) and generous highballs later, I think we pulled it off (that’s Gillian’s first turkey, way up top!).  But by the skin of our teeth, and with some serious omissions. There were no delicately broiled grapefruits at brunch, the champagne was not Mumm’s, the gravy required Bovril, I forgot the After Eights…But, perhaps most notably I wasn’t gracefully materializing in immaculate outfits with beautifully paired jewelry to serve & entertain effortlessly. In fact, I was lucky to hide glorified track pants under my apron.

That was six years ago. I’d like to think I’ve grown into the Christmas Hostess role. I plan ahead. Make a lot of lists. And I don’t try to “do it all” (sorry, I hate the modern woman’s cliché too, but in this case it applies!). I’ve narrowed down the traditions. Shrimp ring and tourtière on Christmas Eve have survived the belt-tightening (paired with cheese fondue – a Sopinka family tradition). We still attend a candle-light church service on Christmas Eve, and each open a gift. The gift is always a pair of new pajamas so we (in my Grandma’s words) will be “spiffy for Santa.” And when we toast each other with mimosas on Christmas Day – I drink to Bette and Roy – the real deal Christmas hosts.”

So much for holding back those tears…  Sniff.  Okay, see you tomorrow yeah?

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2013/11/01 / Shanan


Well hello there.  I’m making some changes to the site today, the most significant of which is that I will no longer be an “I” – but a “we.”  One is the loneliest number, so please give a warm Symmetric welcome (that’s a shy hug and an eye-roll, for the uninitiated) to my friend Gillian Sopinka.

The Leo to my Pisces, the Jagger to my Bowie, the Betty to my Megan.  I felt an instant kinship with Gillian when we met last year, and since starting to work together, she’s been the source of, oh, about 94% of the pee-your-pants-with-laughter moments in my life.  I thought it a fitting introduction to feature her inviting, relaxed (yet always suspiciously tidy) country home in Creemore, Ontario as the next instalment in the ‘Natural Habitat’ series.

Gillian and her husband Steve have been married for eight years (eloping atop Mount Royal in Montreal when they were expecting their first daughter, Yarrow), and now have a second little girl, Frida, who is almost three.  Here she talks about her family’s daily life, collected vintage treasures, and um, a pretty incredible birth story involving their bathroom floor.

“Steve is an architect, and works from a studio on our property. I am a social worker by profession, and have been working in the counselling and mental health field for ten years. As I approach the big 4-0 I felt an undeniable pull to start exploring some of my other interests/passions: vintage (I love the hunt…), wardrobe, interiors, photography and the desire to create something special and unique….Enter Shanan, stage left.”

Creemore kitchen renovation

“We live in a red brick Victorian house, built in 1885.  Steve designed and renovated the kitchen to retain the character and charm of the home, while making it feel lighter, more open and functional.

We are early risers. This started when we became parents (oh, the special and cruel torture that is sleep deprivation) and now I am a full stop morning person.  Steve and I both have some flexibility in our schedules, so we have breakfast and coffee together every day as a family. This hasn’t always been the case and I think we’ve both really come to value the ‘unstructured’ time that we share as a family.”


“Okay, so this deserves a ‘before & after.’ Honestly, this was the sketchiest space in our pre-renovated house. We’re talking Silence of the Lambs. When Steve described his vision of re-purposing the space into a functional pantry, I honestly didn’t think it was going to work. We focused the narrow space around the maple workstand Steve handmade for our first apartment; it’s been everywhere with us since. The shelving above is functional for storage and also home to some of our quirky stuff – mismatched ceramic spice holders, a fondue set from a flea market in Reykjavik, and my grandmother’s flour sifter.”


“Our fridge door is the one space I adore clutter and chaos.  Home to field-trip forms, postcards, photographs, and our wedding portrait.”