Shawn Gibson’s apartment is a scrapbook of memories. The former theatre producer-turned-store owner’s hideaway on Jarvis just south of Bloor, which Gibson has rented for more than two decades, is a collection of keepsakes he’s preserved from his travels and vintage oddities he, by a stroke of designer’s luck, found lying on the street. Everything in Gibson’s home tells a story, much like the items sold at his Teatro Verde stores, a luxury home and garden emporium Gibson has co-owned with his longtime business partner, Michael Pellegrino, for 19 years.
You’ve rented your apartment for nearly 25 years. No plans to buy anytime soon?
I’ve always enjoyed finding an affordable rental and putting my own spin on it. Economically, today, I think it’s more sustainable than purchasing a condo, which is all maintenance fees, taxes and land transfer taxes. I’d rather keep my money in my business than have it sitting in a condo, if that makes sense.
How have you put your own spin on your space?
Everything in my place has meant something to me at a certain point in my life. The dumpster piece above my bed, for example: I found it in the East Village in New York City when I was living there as a very poor student. The vintage photos on my bedroom wall: you’ll find the only photo of me as a child as we had a fire in our house growing up and that’s all that remained. The “G” in my living room is for Gibson. I found it in a pile of letters on the street. Someone thought it was garbage. I’ll probably spray paint it or something.
You have so much stuff and yet you’ve still managed to keep your home remarkably tidy.
What relaxes me about my apartment is that it’s clean, orderly and neat, but also that it contains stuff that brings back memories. It’s not about its worth or design. It’s about its meaning in my journey in life.
You started your career working in theatre. Where did that journey take you?
I was an associate producer for Cameron Mackintosh and the Mirvishes for years. I travelled around the world and my entire interior is a collection of that journey. One of my most memorable experiences was doing Miss Saigon in Japan: going there, producing the show in a foreign language and seeing the cultural side of how the Japanese do business. Theatre brought me into another world of creativity.
Then, 19 years ago, you left the theatre, met your business partner, Michael Pellegrino, and started Teatro Verde, which would go on to become a mainstay for home and garden furnishings.
Michael was born in Italy, which is why it’s called Teatro Verde—translated, it means “green theatre.” We took our pasts and made it our future. The store has been an evolution of design, floral, home and garden. Michael does floral, landscaping and greens; I do design and interior. We’re always pushing the envelope.
What’s hot in the design world right now?
What I see now is a lot of textile, tactile, earthly modern. It’s not so much linear. It’s clean, chic and simple. There’s a lot of earth elements going on.
Teatro Verde sells items from all points of the globe. How does a product speak to you?
We go everywhere from Paris, China, Vietnam, Cambodia and Bali to all over America, from San Francisco to Dallas to New York, and we’re not just going to trade shows. We’re checking out everything: florals, jewellery concepts, kitchen stores, retail concepts. Based on that, combined with what’s going on in pop culture, we draw a picture of what we want to bring to Toronto. Our merchandise always tells a story. It’s how we set trends rather than follow them.
What do you connect with now in popular culture?
I just finished watching Orange is the New Black. I also love Lady Gaga. I’m really inspired by Artpop.
What do you think Artpop means?
You look at the definitions between design and art. Design is a process to solve a problem. Art is something that is done and you don’t care about judgment. Art is open to interpretation that could mean anything. Gaga’s music is engineered just like an interior. There are aspects that have to be there for it to become an album. It’s what choices are made and how it’s mixed together.
Sort of like your apartment?
I can tell you no one has a place like mine. It’s an expression that makes me happy, regardless of what people think of it. If I move into a condo, everyone will have the same configuration with very little artistic expression. For me it’s not about living in the best neighbourhood. It’s about having a space that has tranquility, chicness with some ephemera. There has to be stimulation.
Tell me something about yourself not design-related.
I love cooking. I’ve been to Bali nine times, so I cook a lot of Indonesian dishes. There’s a spicy chicken aromatic soup I’ve mastered.
Where do you see yourself in five, 10 years?
I don’t think I’d want a house. It’s too much to maintain. I see myself retiring, having this place still, and having a place in Indonesia or Italy.
What’s your secret to success?
You gotta love what you do or else you’ll become complacent and second-guess yourself. You won’t give it everything that you have.
For more on Teatro Verde, go to teatroverde.com