Today, KLAUS is one of Canada’s premier sources for modern and timeless furniture, lighting and objects. What we carry is streamlined and contemporary, sensible and utile, and unmistakably gorgeous.
It’s been an interesting journey to get to this point, but we believe our history only adds to what makes us so unique — and so good at what we do.
In the beginning
Our story began when Klaus Nienkamper, Sr., moved to Toronto from his native Germany in 1965. After working at a few local design concerns, Klaus Sr. founded his first company — Nienkamper — in 1968: an importer that could bring the best classic European design to Toronto, much of it for the first time.
Back in the late 1960s, the logistics of international shipping were a nightmare; couples who requested furniture on their wedding registry might be divorced by the time it was delivered. Klaus Sr. came up with the solution, and soon expanded to manufacturing licensed European classics (from Knoll, TK and others) in Scarborough, drastically reducing delivery time.
Klaus Sr. also opened a showroom in ’68 — the same King Street East showroom KLAUS occupies to this day. The building we call home is as storied and idiosyncratic as we are: built in 1845, it’s one of the 10 oldest buildings in the city. Over the years, it’s had many lives, from stately Georgian row-houses to greengrocers, and this shows in the unique layout of our store. In Klaus Sr.’s hands, 300 King Street East became the home of Nienkamper, the first showroom to introduce classic European furniture to Canada.
The building also continued to host other businesses, at first — designers, architects and furniture brands. By keeping these creatives in close quarters, the building organically grew into a de facto design hub, where people from the industry could meet to share ideas, or just to socialize. It remains a design hub to this day, having kept the spirit of a place where artists and designers congregate.
In the early ’80s, Klaus Sr. realized he had all the facilities he needed to launch his own line of furniture. He stopped making licensed classics and launched Nienkamper, a line of high-end furniture for the contract market. The Nienkamper showroom was still very much contract-oriented at this point, operating by appointment only, and offering furniture for both office and lounge environments, including hotels, bars and restaurants.
Our surroundings were changing too. Throughout the ’80s and ’90s, Toronto grew both as a city and as a marketplace for design. Nowhere was this more evident than along King Street East. After Nienkamper’s arrival there, a neighbourhood that was once turned over to light industry slowly began to fill in, as other showrooms opened to serve Toronto’s burgeoning design market.
Over time, this flourished into the King East Design District: a cluster of showrooms working to meet a local demand for high design that really matured around the turn of the millennium. Through it all, Nienkamper served as an anchor for the local design community — both along King Street and across Toronto. Yet even as the King East Design District has grown, and showrooms offering classic European design have sprung up all around, Nienkamper has stood out for being a bit different — a bit edgier, and unafraid to take a risk on new ideas. Leading, rather than following.
In 2001, to set the pace for the city’s growing design scene, the Nienkamper showroom rebranded as KLAUS by Nienkamper. No longer was the King Street landmark open by appointment only; now, anyone could walk in and search for their ideal design object. The Nienkamper brand of office and contract goods was spun off, and once again, KLAUS began to import and retail European brands, with a special emphasis on more whimsical statement pieces — a kind of “first love” for Klaus Sr., as well as for Klaus Jr.
The rebranded KLAUS was among the first to spot up-and-coming brands like e15, Moooi and Tom Dixon — all of which are now world-renowned, but have been a part of the KLAUS story since the beginning. In the years since, we’ve broadened our focus, growing our roster to include more fundamentals-focused manufacturers alongside these statement-makers — and particularly German and Dutch brands, including Cor, Muuto and Hay.
Today, we carry a carefully selected range of high-end international brands, from envelope-pushing style innovators like Studio Job to manufacturers that produce the kind of high-quality essentials that can ground a room, like Rolf Benz, Schonbuch and Thonet. More recently, we’ve backed Canadian brands like Andlight and Lambert & Fils, which can hold their own among the world’s best studios.
Of course, Nienkamper, our original house brand of contract furniture, is still a big part of the KLAUS lineup — and still manufactured in our state-of-the-art Toronto facility. In 2018, Nienkamper will get its own devoted space next door to KLAUS, which will focus squarely on serving the corporate space with the full line of Nienkamper goods, complemented by a selection of other brands.
The brands we carry all contribute to the KLAUS story. It requires a special kind of calculus to find the right balance of superstars and supporting characters, and it’s one we’re always working at — but we feel that everything in our showroom speaks the same design language, allowing you to mix and match to strike the right balance. Together, the lines we carry constitute a family of design, with each one helping to support the others and make them look good — that’s at the core of what we do.
Everyone on staff at KLAUS has their own individual loves, too, and adds their own sensibility to the mix, but there are a few traits that all the products we carry share in common. First and foremost, everything we have expresses a distinctive style that’s both classic and timeless. Everything is manufactured to the highest standards; kid-friendly and pet-friendly, it’s all meant to used, lived in and lived with every day, and not just admired. Finally, all the brands we carry are ones that we have strong partnerships with — that we know are sound, and are backed by long relationships.
Our goal in this is to help everyone, designers and end users, to find what they’re looking for, whether that’s the single unique piece that will perfectly complete a room, or an entire building’s worth of furnishings and accessories. Professional interior designers come to KLAUS to find the freshest looks from Europe; our showroom is constantly changing to reflect what’s new to the world of design, and we bring things to Toronto that might not otherwise make it here (at least, not so quickly). We’re ready to take a chance where others won’t.
We are here to serve everyone, not just those in the design community. Anyone who comes to KLAUS is given all the guidance they need. The collections we carry are approachable, playful and, above all, useable. We want everyone who visits us to find something that feels like it was made just for them. It’s all worthwhile when a distinctive piece — something overflowing with character that not everyone can appreciate — makes a special connection with that one person who just gets it. That keeps us excited to do what we do.