Bringing modern design to Ottawa

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The personality of The Modern Shop is fun, stylish and one of a kind, just like its owner Michael Shaikin.

A generation ago, Michael Shaikin, a precociously fashionable 23-year-old, found iconic Herman Miller chairs in the Value Village for $3.

A week later he sold it for $200.

That’s all it took for Shaikin to find his calling as a modern design provider and led him to open his new The Modern Shop on Catherine Street in downtown Ottawa.

Like this Miller chair, the new location stands out from the raw commerce and construction of Catherine Street in what was once a rental car garage. The Modern Shop curates and sells new and original furniture, decorative art and homewares made by furniture and lighting designers in Europe and Scandinavia.

“We’re the next step for people buying Ikea for their first apartment,” says Shaikin, 44. “They move into their house and they buy furniture here. It’s a modern design but our product is well made and heirloom quality.”

And if his instincts are right, Shaikin is betting that Catherine Street will transform from derelict to trendy urban village in a few years.

“Everyone says Ottawa is the place you forget to have fun,” Shaikin laughs. “That’s not true. Many designers, architects and artists are working hard to eliminate the stigma. The scene here is changing. Ottawa is a totally different place than it was 20 years ago. The challenge now is to let customers know that we have moved. People don’t see Catherine Street as a place to buy good design. But the streets are changing. It will be great once the condo at the bus station and the transit system are built.”

Born and raised in Ottawa, Shaikin opened his first store, Found Design Vintage Shop, when he was 23 years old. Ten years ago, he sold the business to a friend to create The Modern Shop.

“I found the vintage to be limited because the inventory is all you can find. If a client wanted six chairs and you have four, that’s it,” he explains. “But I discovered that European and Scandinavian brands were doing authentic but new and modern design that wasn’t available here and needed local representation. It was a good opportunity.”

He left Found Design and opened the first modern store on Bank Street in 2010. Business was so good he moved to Sussex Drive in early 2013 when soaring rents and limited space made it difficult furniture show. Shaikin moved into the new 5,000 square foot store on Catherine Street in January 2022.

It seems odd that a company that does 80% of its sales online through its website www.themodernshop.ca would bother to rent a showroom as large as this.

That’s not the case, says Shaikin. Furniture and homeware design must be experienced – seen, touched, seated, held – to be appreciated. That, and manufacturers prefer their products to be presented in their best light.

“Moving here was a natural evolution of a growing business,” he says. “I needed a space where customers could see, sit and touch things.”

Shaikin inherited his penchant for the entrepreneurial life from his parents Justine, a designer who owns his own store, Justine’s Studio, and his father, who makes blinds. As much as he loves going to conventions in Stockholm, Paris and New York – who wouldn’t? – what he loves most about owning a store is making deliveries.

“I don’t have delivery people,” he says. “I deliver the pieces myself because I like to see the space the item goes into and the customer’s reaction when they see their space transformed.”

He even sold items to familiar faces to Ottawa residents.

“I sold a coffee table to former Ottawa Senators Erik Karlsson a few years ago,” he recalls. “He said ‘I can’t put this together,’ so I assembled the coffee table on their floor while he and his wife had their morning coffee and hung out with them for an hour. It was cool.”

It is this fear of failure that drives Shaikin forward.

“I’m still like a kid, I still feel like it’s fun,” he adds. “I keep things light, fun and try not to get too wrapped up in negative things.”

His advice to new entrepreneurs is to go for it. Do not be discouraged. Go as far as you can until you think you’re going to fall off that cliff. You won’t. Carry on and don’t look back.

“You need that fear to keep moving forward,” he says. “It fuels your motivation.”

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