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Interview with Kalpna Patel: the woman behind the Type Books window displays

Kate McQuaid, publicist
Kate McQuaid, Senior Publicist

I first came across Kalpna Patel’s work at the Queen West Art Crawl Outdoor Art Show in Bellwoods a couple of years ago. I was browsing through the stalls when a simple gold necklace caught my eye. From afar, it appeared to be a demure yet unusual pendant. Upon closer inspection, it proved to be a solid gold molar. A human tooth, if you will. I ripped my headphones out of my ears — stopping Lil Boosie mid-hook — and got down to the business of finding out about this artist who spoke so clearly to my thuggishly elegant heart.

A couple of months ago I was doing some weekend browsing at Type Books, and said hello to community manager (and WORN Fashion Journal publisher) Serah-Marie McMahon. She immediately introduced the idea of doing a window display for Corey Mintz’s book, How to Host a Dinner Party, and when she told me Kalpna would be the one designing it, I felt pretty excited. She’s doing unusual, perfectly crafted work and the results are unique. Her blog Ghostface Knittah shows more of her work. (Incidentally, the Queen West Art Crawl is coming up again, September 21-22. It’s such a great way to get introduced to local artists.)

finished window

How did you get started designing window displays for Type?

When I started working at Type it was as a bookseller and I didn’t start doing the window displays until I had been there for a few years. It was common to have local artists come in and do the windows, but once in a while when we didn’t have someone lined up, I would step in. I had lots of installation and décor items left from other shows and events that I had done work for, so it was convenient for me to whip something together on short notice. Eventually I started getting ideas for specific displays, and began creating original designs just for the window, and it morphed into a more regular thing — now it’s as much a part of my job as bookselling.

KP Window

Where does your inspiration come from?

Inspiration usually comes from the books themselves, or from new craft techniques and materials that I want to experiment with. Sometimes as I’m unpacking boxes of books or putting them away on the shelves, I come across a group of titles that just look great together, or are all connected in some way, and ideas for a display grow out of that. Occasionally a book is so spectacular that the entire window is dedicated to it. Holidays and other seasonal themes also come into play; for instance, I knew this past spring I wanted to fill the window with bunnies for Easter and, having always wanted to try my hand at papier mâché, I was inspired to make a bunch of floating paper bunny heads.

Where did you get the idea to make a window for How to Host a Dinner Party?

I’ve been a fan of Mr. Mintz for a couple of years now and when I first heard that he was writing a book I kind of just stored that bit of information away in my head. I knew Type would obviously carry the book and I thought it would be nice to do some kind of display when it came out because Corey is a friend of the store, as is Jared Bland who edited it, and we like to make sure that local writers and artists are well represented in the shop. The more I thought about the book though, the more I started to imagine what my dream dinner party would look like. I actually hate cooking, so it was more the presentation that I was excited about, and I started having visions of gorgeous gingham tablecloths, heavy vintage dinner plates, sparkly silverware, and in my mind all these things just started swirling around and partying together! I realized that doing a window display was the best way to live out this fantasy without all the messy cooking, so I asked Corey if he was into it. Luckily he was, and I started hunting for materials right away. I really wanted the window to look like a dinner party was in full swing, something that you’d want to walk right in to, so we filled it with lots of beautiful books about cooking and entertaining. I had always wanted to experiment with papercutting and the typography and design of the book really inspired me, so I tried to celebrate that with the hand-cut paper backdrop.

Corey Mintz with his window. Photo courtesy of @typebooks
Corey Mintz with his window. Photo courtesy of @typebooks

What is the biggest challenge when putting together a window?

The window is huge so the biggest challenge is filling all that space, while making sure that the display goes in relatively quickly and easily and can be taken down easily, too. This is because I do the display during my regular Type shift when the store is open for business and I’m helping customers find books at the same time! We try to change the display every four to six weeks, so coming up with new ideas and designs is also a challenge, as I don’t want the window to ever be repetitive. It’s also important to me to use recycled materials whenever possible and to keep costs down, so working with what we’ve already got — packing paper, cardboard boxes, my own collection of paper and fabric and other weirdo supplies — is also a creative challenge. The selection of titles that I choose to display is also a consideration; it’s important to have an eclectic mix that will grab the attention of people walking by, and that reflects the unique selection of books Type carries.

What is your favourite window that you’ve put together?

Last year I did a display for Michael Cho’s gorgeous book of illustrations, Back Alleys and Urban Landscapes. I am a huge fan of Michael’s work, so it was really exciting and also terrifying to create something to honour the work of someone I admire so much. For the display I built a three-dimensional, almost life-size recreation of one of my favorite drawings from the book, and the display featured several beautiful titles published by Drawn & Quarterly, who were great to work with.

Courtesy of Kalpna Patel
Courtesy of Kalpna Patel

What do you do when you’re not making window displays?

If I’m not making window displays or selling books, I’m probably…making and selling something else! I run my own small craft and design business under the name Old Weston out of a studio in the West End specializing mostly in accessories and stationery; I do event décor and organization for City of Craft — an annual art and craft show and sale in Toronto. I participate in The Junction Flea every month; I am an occasional craft facilitator at the Harbourfront Centre where I get crafty with hundreds of children during the HarbourKIDS fall and summer festivals, and I just recently became the art coordinator at The Academy of the Impossible. I’m also lucky to have entrepreneurial friends who own independent shops around the city, so I’m frequently helping them out and like to think of myself as an on call shopgirl.

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