This is a short story about Los Angeles – a city I first travelled to aged 36 when I visited the LA design studio of the iconic New York designer Bill Sofield: I had been commissioned to make a beautiful collection of accessories designed by Studio Sofield. 10 years later I would travel there again to introduce my own work to Jean de Merry, who now represent our furniture and lighting collections in their beautiful showroom in the Pacific Design Centre. As our relationship with Jean de Merry has grown and developed, I have had the opportunity to visit regularly over the years. But first impressions are important and this short piece is about the first trip I took in 2003, a trip that was full of unexpected moments and visits to places that I was largely unaware of before; places that went on to inspire my collections and designs.
I flew from San Francisco down the coast until the deeply folded mountains turned into city and LA came into view below. Rocky spines rose lizard-like amid vast grids of dense housing with downtown a spikey mass somewhere in the middle. As we banked to line up on LAX I saw the famous Hollywood sign. I was struck by how small and insignificant, this icon of cinema looked when viewed next to the magnificent city of Los Angeles.
I stayed in West Hollywood – a chic area South of Hollywood and East of the Ocean. The streets felt manageable and manicured. Fantastic trees and palms overhung the pavements (sidewalks) and the architecture looked plushly comfortable as only California can.
The famous Hollywood sign with Universal Warner Studios behind the hill
West Hollywood Shopping. A great window display at cult store Max Field.
My first day was a visit to the offices of Bill Sofield. The Studio was situated somewhere called Laurel Canyon. In the 1920’s the house was famous as the love nest of silent movie stars Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford who were founders of United Artists along with Charlie Chaplin and D.W. Griffith – UA was a studio that aimed to free artists from the controls and constraints of the traditional studio system.
The house itself was/is an example of the California ‘Crafts-style’ architecture and was designed by the famous Greene and Greene brothers, but to my eyes, it was less in the architecture and more inside that the real magic was found. Sofield had lovingly restored the house working with artists, muralists and his wonderfully crafted and warm sense of materials and textures. 15 years on, I still remember the idiosyncrasy and bravura of the details and odd spaces; the blinds that were pulled upwards rather than downwards and that hooked onto individual brass hooks; the spiral staircase tucked in at the back; the gilded panels and the figurative painted walls. Sofield had combined colour and art and materials with great personality and affection – and obviously with utter sophistication.
(Left) Murals, beautiful windows and a feeling of richly detailed sophistication in Bill Sofield's Laurel Canyon house
(Right) Exterior view of Bill Sofield's sublime Laurel Canyon house, full of Japanese flavour
After meeting with Studio Sofield I visited a house called Dawnridge; also in the Hollywood Hills and this time at the end of Benedict Canyon. While not obvioulsy a canyon in the accepted sense of the word, it was a quiet, wooded, steep lane with trees, cacti and lavender. Here was a historic house that exuded the aroma of Hollywood glamour. Dawnridge was the creation of Tony Duquette, an LA designer for movies and movie stars during the fifties, sixties and seventies. He worked on Metro Goldwyn Mayer productions and for the director Vincente Minelli (husband of Judy Garland and father of Liza Minelli) while also designing interiors for the rich and famous.
I met with Hutton Wilkinson who had worked with Tony Duquette for many years, and as we toured the house we discussed making accessories that would have the same sense of materiality, craft, fragility and opulence of those found in Dawnridge. The house was huge and long with a very fertile garden that filled the views through windows with myriad shapes and greens. I remember rooms full of Burmese gong-holders, Chinese canopy beds and carved dancing girls; bronze mice; gold umbrellas... tall ceilings with screens and stars and a glittering world of excessive adornment that works so beautifully when it is done with total conviction.
(Left) Tiered umbrellas in the wonderful gardn in Benedict Canyon, Dawnridge
(Right) Like a movie-set - the garden creations at Dawnridge
Magnificant host and story-teller, Hutton Wilkinson in the garden of Dawnridge
On my last day in ‘La La Land’, I visited the ‘Getty’ (Getty Center) and the Getty Villa, both built from the fortune of the reclusive billionaire John Paul Getty. The Getty cost well over US$1 billion to build and opened in 1997. It is a majestic monument to wealth and aspiration that looks down from its gardened heights to the 405 highway. It houses immaculate priceless art within halls all swathed in regal travertine.
The Getty Villa is a museum up on the Pacific Palisades close to the Pacific Ocean and quite near the Getty, that was previously John Paul Getty’s ranch house. The Getty Villa houses a fabulous collection of ancient art and also tells the story of the Getty family. Its treasures and those of the Getty Centre have inspired me over the years to constantly innovate and try new materials and techniques that aspire to reach towards the incredible lost skills and vibrant artistry of the ancient world – a world spanning tens of thousands of years, where the spirit was always close-by and where everything was made by hand.
(Left) Aeroplane flies through the perfect sky above the perfect Getty Center
(Right) Morning sun on the terrace of the Getty
(Left) Exquisite details - somewhere to sit and contemplate life before Vesuvias at the Getty Villa
(Right) Egyptian mummy portrait of a yoing man at the Getty Villa. These portraits were vivdly realist
The Room of Colored Marbles - collections of goddesses attest to John Paul Gettys love of women
The Getty Villa from the statue garden
These were the highlights of my first trip to LA. The first trip to a city is a sparkling experience; where everything from the grand houses and museums, to the supermarkets and churches and cars parked on the streets, has something fresh that tickles the curiosity. LA has the reverberating element of Hollywood’s glamour as something that, if not seen, still casts a golden light as richly-toned as its famous sunsets.