THUNDER BAY -- Owner Laura Ponka started Portobello Home on Bay Street seven years ago, naming it after London’s Portobello Road.
“It’s where you can virtually find everything from antiques to modern furniture, food, art, and it’s just really vibrant and urban-feeling,” Ponka explains. “I wanted a big city feel in a shop in Thunder Bay. A lot of people think it has to do with mushrooms, but it has nothing to do with mushrooms!”
She started out selling a mix of antiques and modern furniture in the space where Nook currently is. She later switched to a more modern aesthetic, and outgrowing their space, renovated the adjacent garage three years ago and moved into Portobello’s current location, which is twice as large.
Ponka used to work in the correctional field, but being obsessed with interior design, houses and art, (“I was probably drawing house plans since I was 8 years old,”) she decided to follow her passion and started her own business.
“I love helping people make their houses the best they can be, and help them realize the potential in their home, and to bring something a little different, a little edgier, a little more big city,” she says.
She doesn’t just sell furniture - a large part of the appeal of Portobello Home is Ponka’s expert advice that comes with it - she can visit your home to do a consultation and help you figure out what’s the best choice for you, depending on the current state of your home, your future plans, and your lifestyle. If a customer is planning a renovation project, she can give advice on paint colours for walls, and/or collaborate with other designers.
“Some people don’t know exactly what they want their house to look like, but they know what they want their house to feel like. So we try to get an idea of what it is that they want their home to feel like, because it’s not just a house.”
Three quarters of the products she carries are Canadian made, Canadian designed, or eco-friendly. There are sofas with foam made from recycled water bottles, fair-trade fabrics and FSC certified hardwood. Portobello Home also sells bedroom furniture and dining room furniture, as well as some lighting and decorative items.
Ponka recently opened a second store, Hygge Loft, across the street between Finnport and Bay Meats. In Danish, hygge means the art of living, comfort, and celebrating the everyday.
”I wanted it to be a place that people just enjoy being in. You could buy beeswax candles, or a cashmere throw. Or you could buy pottery, or jewelry. There’s something for everybody there. The store is a very tactical place. I wanted to hit on every tactile experience you could have in a store that has a modern general store feel,” she says. Like Portobello Home, the products sold at Hygge Loft are a little unique and special; suited for gifting, or for a little self-pampering.
The Algoma Bay Area has changed for the better since she first opened Portobello, Ponka says. “There weren’t as many people coming down Bay Street when we opened. But now there’s a lot of restaurants and a lot more foot traffic. Business owners are really invested in the neighbourhood.”
When considering opening her second store, she briefly considered other locations, but in the end, stuck to Bay Street. “I just couldn’t do it. I decided to open another shop here, because this is where I feel at home.”