Pick up a contemporary sofa, a circa 1960s teak hutch from Norway or an arborite kitchen table-Winnipeg's Exchange District is now home to some of the city's top home-decor boutiques and design houses stocking new and refurbished furniture.

Dane Kofoed knew what he wanted to sell: sleek modern furniture that couldn't be found anywhere else in Winnipeg.

The other key question: where to sell it?

His decision to root in the Exchange District reflects a welcome trend in the heart of this historic neighbourhood known for its grand buildings. The district, which is within walking distance of downtown, is home to block after block of turn-of-the-twenthieth-century architecture and is the most extensive collection of preserved buildings in North America. It is also home base for the city's unrivaled arts community, including numerous art galleries and theatres as well as annual festivals like July's Winnipeg Fringe Festival and the TD Winnipeg International Jazz Festival  which starts June 14 with four days of free concerts at Old Market Square, a park and outdoor music venue in the Exchange District.

Kofoed and his partner opened HutK in December, 2011 on Princess Street in a expansive and sunlight space that was formerly a print shop.

The boutique is one of several new home decor and design houses that have recently moved into the Exchange, just north of downtown. The Exchange District has long been a hub for restaurants and cafés, second-hand clothing stores and upscale boutiques.

But now-with the addition of several new shops to complement an existing roster of architecture firms, antique shops and other furniture stores-the former financial hub has fast become Winnipeg's design and home-decor mecca.

At HutK, the stock of sofas, chairs, tables and lighting fixtures can best be described as minimalist, modern and urban with plenty of wow factor.

A wall of chairs, suspended on a floor-to-ceiling feature wall makes great use of the expansive space and best displays a large and growing selection of designer seats.

HutK is the exclusive Winnipeg retailer of Blu Dot, a Minneapolis-based modern furniture design firm. They also carry Emeco (the well-known aluminum US Navy chair made from 111 repurposed Coke bottles), Tom Dixon lighting and Bensen, a Vancouver-based furniture design company, among other lines.

As the newest kid on the block, Interior Illusions is a one-stop shop for interior designers and home owners alike. The 15,000-square-foot showroom, design resource centre and workroom opened in late April on Princess Street and replaces the 9,000 square-foot original location a few blocks south.

The polished showroom features deep and delicious leather chairs, sectional sofas, divine duvets on top of inviting beds, large-scale objets d'art, fringed wool throws and statement pieces like tables made from reclaimed tree trunks.

"We try to carry something for everybody," says Interior Illusion's Michelle Zelickson. "We don't want to be characterized as a super modern store."

Designers, contractors and home owners can also source countertops, flooring, fabrics, window and wall coverings from Interior Illusions' extensive library of materials. The company even custom-makes window coverings and bedding from hundreds of fabrics in its collection.

Around the block, Rhymes with Orange  is where quirky 50s and 60s fashion and home decor live. Co-owners Stefanie Hiebert and Erin Thiessen, who have been friends for 10 years, started selling vintage clothing at festivals from inside their 1956 travel trailer at festivals in Manitoba. In December 2011, they moved into a 1,500 square-foot shop on McDermot Avenue.

While retro clothing is their main passion, they have branched out into kitschy housewares and glassware. Their stock of colour-saturated plates, cool cocktail shakers and arborite tables, live in the front display window, behind the counter and at the back of the store. A selection of circa 70s fondue pots, in all colours are proudly displayed in a kitchen tableau. The women source their stock at estate sales, other second-hand stores and at flea markets across Canada and the States.

Across the street at Hoopers, Danish furniture from the 1950s and 60s decorate an airy and elegant showroom. Simple and sleek lines, deep-toned teak and colour-saturated upholstery take shoppers back in time inside the McDermot Avenue store. Or maybe it's a trip across the ocean, to a Scandinavian furniture warehouse.

Hoopers started as a vintage clothing store and, in the past two years, has transformed primarily into a furniture store. Many of the tables, chairs, hutches and sofas may be more than 60-years-old but they are immaculately refurbished and preserved. The owner goes on major overseas buying trips a couple of times a year and ships back huge containers full of furniture to sell locally. (Hoopers, Interior Illusions and HutK will all ship product to customers.)

 The Exchange District: Fast facts and travelling tips

  • The area is easily within walking distance from downtown, including several hotels like the Radisson and the Fairmont. It is a great place to explore by foot.
  • If traveling by car, get dropped off at Old Market Square on the corner of Bannatyne Avenue and King Street. For a mapclick here.
  • The neighbourhood has many independent shops and boutiques which sell unique gifts, jewelry, toys, on-trend clothing, original art, kids furniture, baby gear and much more.
  • Restaurants, coffee shops and cafés line the streets. For great sandwiches and salads tryThe Fyxx. Amazing Indian curries and traditional pub food are served atThe King's Head. AtPeasant Cookerydig into hearty food from the land like roasted chicken, house-cured charcuterie, cassoulet and beef bourguignon.
  • For more information about the Exchange Districtclick here.