Milieu is a series that explores the unique ways in which we breathe life into our homes. From coastal towns to city living, our homes are a celebration of small, simple moments. They’re a reflection of our lives. Our stories. Our milieu.
For this next installation in our series, we visited Nils Vik here in our hometown of Winnipeg, Canada. Nils lives with his wife, two children, and sweet-faced poodle named Poncho. Their Nordic-inspired family home strikes a harmonious balance with an extensive art collection, Scandinavian interiors, all the while carving out plenty of space for daily life.
Join us in conversation with Nils, where we discuss all things design, art and coffee culture!
Please, introduce yourself!
My name is Nils Vik, at this present moment in time I am 38 years old. My wife and I have two lovely little girls and a standard poodle named Poncho. Our family lives in the Norwood Grove neighbourhood of Winnipeg and I am the owner of Parlour Coffee and a partner in Scandinavian Modern. I love running, cycling, camping, wine and music (I’ve got a slight obsession with contemporary jazz from northern Europe and a soft spot for hardcore / punk).
We understand you have a background in environmental design; what drew you to this area of design and thought?
I graduated from the Environmental Design program at the UofM Faculty of Architecture in 2009. I’ve always been drawn to the way in which spaces can evoke a particular feeling, and how objects can interfere with or complement our sense of well-being whether that is consciously or subconsciously. As a kid, I found sincere pleasure in rearranging my bedroom and observing how it could feel or appear to be wildly different although the only change was arrangement. Growing up visiting family and friends around the world I knew there was something culturally distinct in the way people would arrange their homes and prioritize aspects over others and tucked that away in the back of my mind – as a young adult I was curious to unpack that.
There is a wonderfully distinctive Scandinavian influence in your home. Where does this come from? Are there specific elements of Scandinavian design that you’re particularly drawn to?
My father is from western Norway and I grew up visiting extended family fairly regularly, so at a basic level, I think my appreciation started as a form of nostalgia. The grass always appears greener depending where you are currently standing, so perhaps naively I attribute much of Scandinavian design with a calm confidence that prioritizes simplicity and tranquillity and a reverence for natural materials. Honesty, simplicity and modest approaches to design are what I’m most drawn to – I find Scandinavian design to embody much of those virtues as the tried and true vernacular aspects of Scandinavian design isn’t fussy, it’s logical and approachable. Design that is contextually responsive will always feel “right”, and I think the geographic isolation of the Nordic countries has helped foster a legitimate design identity that is attractive.
What was one of your favourite parts about having a hand in designing your home?
The process of designing is infinitely more satisfying than inhabiting the design in my opinion – the excitement of seeing ideas turn to drawings and then to physical form is exhilarating. While we were building we rented the house next door so most nights I’d often have a glass of whisky and just walk around the construction site seeing what had evolved over the last 8 to 12 hours. Specifically, it was such a treat to choose what aspects to prioritize compared to status quo installations – we wanted a generously wide staircase in a very narrow house (16’ interior width), more operable windows than necessary etc.
When it comes to adorning and furnishing your home, would you consider yourself a minimalist?
Maybe? Being a minimalist sounds nice, but in reality I love joyful objects that serve no utilitarian purpose. Minimalism is definitely a worthy pursuit and one the world at large should likely embrace for environmental, mental and spiritual reasons – I think that’s going to look vastly different from person to person. Utility alone is cold and devoid of emotion, so perhaps my version of minimalism is as minimal as one can get while maximizing a reverence for curiosity and joy whilst not taking yourself or your objects too seriously.
Can you talk a bit about the role that art plays in your household?
I like to think of a home as a backdrop or space for life to take place within and art / objects help activate or claim that space. I love art but specifically enjoy its relationship to the context of where it’s housed – anything hanging on a wall interacts with everything directly around it and its capacity to change a space is so exciting. I haven’t stopped to think about the role it plays specifically within our household – but our collection is predominantly made up of artists from Winnipeg, friends from afar, and paintings I have inherited by my late grandfather Jens Vik (1897-1993).
Another thing that must play a big role in your life is coffee! What drew you into the world of third-wave, specialty coffee?
I was forced into trying a coffee in Montreal on an architecture school studio trip in 2008 and was completely enamored with not only the flavour and texture of what I had always thought of as a vice for the weak, but the vibrancy of the cafe itself and the relationship it had with the immediate neighbourhood. From this starting point I went down a rabbit hole attempting to get a better understanding of what made this elixir (espresso) so brilliant yet unpredictable (why was that first shot better than the second, and why does this taste so horrible from this other restaurant?). I realized that early adopters of third wave coffee ideals were after that same pursuit and I was hooked. While visiting San Francisco I was recommended by a furniture store owner to check out an alley kiosk operated by Blue Bottle Coffee in 2009 – this was my first taste of “third wave”. This was really a turning point for me because the attention to the physical design of their shop and branding lined up with the meticulous attention being paid to the coffee – it was as if my worlds of interest had collided. My travels then always revolved around cafes and I began to wonder why we didn’t have these sorts of cafes in Winnipeg.
What is one of your favourite things about running a coffee shop/café in downtown Winnipeg?
It may sound trite, but if I’m to be honest, it’s the people. We are so fortunate to have an incredible group of customers and a fantastic group of team members over the years. I consider it a great honour and privilege to have forged so many connections with people I may never have gotten to know if it wasn’t for this little cafe on Main Street.
The art wall at Parlour is always a treat to take in. Can you tell us a bit about the inspiration behind this unique rotation?
In wanting to be as intentional as possible with every aspect of the cafe, showcasing world-class art was the motivation – I wanted to elevate the notion of art hung on the walls of a coffee house because oftentimes it is an afterthought and not given the attention it deserves.
I remember when entry to the Winnipeg Art Gallery was free… the way it should be. In many ways, I feel that Parlour has a broader audience to our exhibitions than any traditional gallery would have, so it’s a real treat to showcase the exceptional work of artists to many people who may never choose to set foot in a gallery.
Best spot in your house to enjoy a cup of coffee?
To be honest, I rarely take the time to sit and enjoy coffee in my own home, but when I do it would be beside our wood stove sitting on the floor baking from the glow of the fire and the strong southern winter light. When a winter jacket isn’t required to be outside, it would be first thing in the morning in the backyard or on our front steps.
What does a typical day look like in your household right now?
A typical day starts with making sure the dog is walked and scrambling to get the kids ready for the bus / dropped off at preschool – that and oatmeal. The time between picking up the kids is spent doing backend administration and errands for Parlour and Scandinavian Modern as well as the domestic duties of running a family home. Depending on the weather I either prioritize a run, ski or indoor cycling workout every other day or two. I’ve felt very fortunate to have a flexible schedule over the last few years and great support from my in-laws with childcare etc. We have never used Skip The Dishes, so a lot of time is spent in the kitchen making and cleaning. In an ideal world, I’d be listening to a record with a glass of wine to end the day, but the reality is that by the time our kids are in bed and the house is mildly tidied we are pretty bagged.
Which item in your home (big, small, old, new) has the most unique story?
My dad brought over a Norwegian teak daybed to Canada in 1960 which I’ve been using since I moved away from home as a teenager – we recently had it reupholstered by Top Stitch Upholstery in the Exchange District and I’m thrilled to keep this thing alive for the next generation.
When I was eight or nine years old my grandfather gave me an old brass cowbell with a leather collar which he found in the mountains – I love it.
The ladder that leads to our loft was made out of an old oak tree that we had to cut down when building our house – I’m happy to think it’s still standing upright and remaining useful despite its rude disruption. We also have a big chunky bench in our front yard made from the same tree so it’s not too far from its original home.
Who or what are some of your biggest design inspirations?
Many of the big names in Scandinavian furniture design from 1940 – 1960 are hugely inspirational like Hans Wegner, Borge Mogensen, Grete Jalk, and Ingmar Relling – they were creating such beautifully functional objects that thoughtfully bridged that transition from fanciful arts and crafts styled furniture to modern means of production without losing its spirit. On this side of the world, the American midcentury designers like Charles and Ray Eames and Alexander Girard were also such a treat to discover and I think they’ve left such a lasting impression on design globally. Furniture is what led me to the appreciation of architecture I have today and I’m a massive fan of John Pawson (including his last two cookbooks).
If Nils’ feature struck a chord with you, we think you’ll enjoy following along with Parlour Coffee on Instagram. (You can see more of the art wall we discussed!) As well, if you’re like us and found yourself eyeing up several of the interiors featured in Nils’ space, Scandinavian Modern’s Instagram is a great resource we highly recommend you check out.