Having just launched our brand-new travel section and our sister Instagram, @designmilktravels, we are overjoyed to launch a series of travel guides in partnership with TUMI. And where else would be a better place to start than a place that’s exploding with art, design and culture: the city of Angels!
On the surface, Los Angeles isn’t your textbook design city. The city does not present the same recognizable creative pastiche as other global destinations—where design is painted in wide and obvious swaths across the cityscape. Instead, design in LA is splattered like a Pollock painting—here and there, layered, multi-colored, sometimes indistinguishable from the background.
Despite a vibrant history of music, art, architecture, and of course, movies, design in its many forms here exists as a quieter undercurrent, one defined by a design community which works just as much in collaboration as in solitary corners—tucked into industrial parks, shared mixed use studios, and other miscellaneous sections easily passed over. Yet design is everywhere, interwoven into the daily lives of Angelenos, who identify with design almost as sheepishly as we do sunshine and open space. It’s always there—sort of like the traffic. But don’t worry, like the father of one our esteemed, yet clueless residents once noted, “everywhere in LA takes 20 minutes.”
Obviously this is an extremely abbreviated guide for a city of nearly 4 million residents (that’s just LA County, mind you) and covering over 503 square miles. But whether it’s your first time or 11th time visiting Los Angeles, this hits list should help get you started (don’t worry, more guides with specific LA neighborhoods to come!).
Where to Stay
Because sections of Los Angeles are so distant from one another, we’ve narrowed down our recommendations to a trio of current favorites spanning the map from the Westside, into central Koreatown, and bookended by Downtown. The Parachute Hotel in Venice Beach is the most exclusive of the three—so exclusive it comprises of only a single 1-bedroom accommodation, all furnished to help guests “live like a local” in the beach city. Speaking of furnishings, the interior is decorated with the works of local designers and retailers like Brendan Ravenhill, MidcenturyLA, Capsule Home, and Chris Earl. Take a virtual tour here.
Further inland, The Line Hotel gives visitors all of the amenities of a boutique hotel experience presented within a tastefully updated mid-century tower all set against the sensory overload backdrop of Koreatown. Be sure to amble up to The Line’s most Instagrammed spot, the greenhouse-turned-restaurant, Commissary; downstairs in the lobby, an abbreviated outpost of the Los Angeles design boutique Poketo ensures returning home with a tasteful souvenir.
And of course, there’s The Ace Hotel Downtown Los Angeles in the borders of Downtown’s ever-changing landscape. If you want to see and be seen—alongside get a glimpse of where Los Angeles is heading fashionably—the Ace represents your best opportunity to switch between observer and the observed. The vibe is tranquilized New Yorker with a whisper of old school Hollywood.
Where to Shop
Los Angeles has an actual design district, one locally heralded and known as the La Cienega Design Quarter. The district skews more traditional in style and is aimed at industry-professionals serving residents rather than guests. That said, there are still many excellent design related events for anyone to enjoy with a penchant for design.
Neighborhoods like Silver Lake, the Arts District, Abbot Kinney in Venice, sections of Santa Monica, and Culver City all host a bevy of independent retailers representing the latest in design, both locally and internationally. A+R on La Brea has long been a favorite catering to design acolytes with an interest in the international, showcasing a minimalist-modernist catalog that will satiate anyone’s Pinterest board aspirations.
A recent detour through the Arts District – a once predominately industrial section bordering Little Tokyo and Downtown – resulted in the discovery of an expansive art installation, that in turn directed my eyes into ARTBOOK @ Hauser Wirth & Schimmel. The bookstore itself is one component of a whole compound – gallery, community space, restaurant – that offers the burgeoning Arts District an appropriately artistic foundation to the neighborhood, complementing the nearby experimental architecture and design-focused learning institution, SCI-Arc.
Poketo has been steadily expanding its colorful and playful curation of design objects across Los Angeles. Already established in the abovementioned Arts District and within Koreatown as a capsule shop inside The Line Hotel, the husband and wife partnership between Ted Vadakan and Angie Myung recently unveiled a third shop in more westerdly Culver City. Expect to find the wares sourced from local designers side by side with Scandanavian, Japanese, and Korean imported objects all handpicked from the pair’s travels. Poketo also supports the promotion and exposure of local creatives through their series of workshops, offering a hands-on opportunity to get to know designers, artists, and makers who call Los Angeles home.
Austere’s impeccable design bona fides are on open and appropriately spartan display in LA’s historic Downtown corridor – a retail/loft space that could easily be mistaken as a modern Scandinavian design museum at first glance. Each curated piece within the 5,000 sq. ft. studio/showroom represents the finest in Swedish products, from the smallest accessory to an entire Volvo car. Continual partnerships with the likes of magazine Sight Unseen have produced memorable collaborative events like Site Specific: L.A., one showcasing established and up-and-coming LA-based independent design studios including AQQ Design, B.Zippy, Ben Medansky, Brendan Ravenhill, Eric Trine, Jonathan Zawada, Michael Felix, Only Love is Real, Ouli, Tanya Aguiniga and Waka Waka.
The hustle and bustle of Venice’s Abbot Kinney foot traffic even on a weekday can be overwhelming. I recommend ducking into Tortoise General Store. Inside, a peaceful amalgamation of Japanese traditional and modern homewares awaits – objects of mundane utility for body or home, but each made with a supreme attention to detail. And be sure to wander into the back, where a secondary gallery/showroom sells exquisite ceramics, delicate nature-themed art pieces, and a surprisingly affordable selection of their own earthenware.
The Cactus Store is popular amongst local succulent and cacti collectors and not surprisingly with Los Angeles ceramicists. Los Angeles is often mistakenly labeled a desert (it’s not, it’s a dry Mediterranean climate region), but the city’s proximity to genuine deserts like Joshua Tree and the Mojave, alongside the effects of an ever-present drought, means the sculptural profile of the resilient cactus has become part of the home+design vernacular. Bringing one back home may prove a challenge; just remember, look but don’t always touch.
We took a look at the Compartes Melrose shop awhile ago, reporting with delight about the local chocolatier’s captivating convergence of handmade chocolate with a graphic designer’s eye for creative packaging. I second the endorsement, as it’s become a favorite gift destination, and is also ideal for loading up the carry-on luggage with souvenirs and gifts for friends back at home, the more design-minded will nod approvingly as they bite into Kelly Wearstler’s…ahem…co-branded chocolate.
Sausalito-based Heath Ceramics is synonomous with the finest in California’s dining scene, the unofficial tableware source of restaurants dedicated to the seasonal and local, and long revered for their perpetually classic simplicity. Despite the longstanding Northern vs Southern California rivalry, Heath Ceramics’ Los Angeles outpost does more than a fantastic job of bridging the spirit of independent designers across the Golden State inside a retail space designed by quintessentially Californian and Los Angeles design team, COMMUNE. Classic kiln to table mid-century dishwares are displayed alongside newer home and kitchen products – all with instant beautifying effects to any home – while a small gallery section displays curated works of local and visiting artisans/artists against the backdrop of a working ceramics studio. Ask and you might even get a tour inside.
Art & Architecture
The Los Angeles landscape is drizzled with remnants of its mid-century past, many made famous by the shutter of photographer Julius Schulman. I used to live across the street from the Neutra VDL, a working studio for Cal Poly Pomona College of Environmental Design that opens its doors on the weekends for an enlightening guided tour of Richard Neutra’s glass house. Pockets of residential architecture of note welcome investigation by way of car or foot, including the magnificent restored vestiges of LA’s Victorian past in Angelino Heights, the post-war architectural optimism of Granada Hills Balboa Highland Eichler community, the stately Craftsman-lined streets of Pasadena, and occasionally open door tours of the tonied and storied homes up in the hills, like the Eames’s Case Study House #8 or the John Lautner designed Sheats-Goldstein residence.
For the art minded, the still freshly unveiled Broad Museum offers visitors an opportunity to experience the modern art hits of collector Eli Broad encased inside the honeycombed exterior designed by architecture firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro. The collection within is controversial, but as an experience it seems to leave people more pleased than not, especially those who gain access into the much-Instagrammed Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Room. Plus, right across the street is the incredible Walt Disney Concert Hall by Frank Gehry.
The Getty Center is one of the safest bets for visitors to schedule, offering what amounts to a very memorable architecture-as-art experience that tends to eclipse the art collection itself (but don’t miss out on the Getty’s collection of photographs, which are underrated). I’ve yet to hear anything bad from visiting friends or family after they’ve taken that wonderfully picturesque tram ride to the hillside view of architect Richard Meier’s pantheon against the glowing gleam of the Pacific Ocean.
One of my personal favorite destinations is of an architectural and spiritual nature. The Wayfarers Chapel located on an overlook in the coastal community of Palos Verdes is a hidden gem offering a peaceful spot to reflect, relax, and ruminate as the ocean crashes against the tide pools of Abalone Cove below. Designed by Lloyd Wright, son of Frank Lloyd Wright, this intimate glass cathedral designed for the Swedenborgian Church of North America seems to transcend earthly limits, a tree chapel described to serve a higher purpose: “I wanted particularly to allow those trees and those trunks to be seen and the space beyond and into infinity to be observed, so those who sat in the sanctuary would perceive the grandeur of space out beyond and around them.”
What did we miss? What are some of your favorite architectural landmarks, art galleries/museums, places to stay and shop in LA?
This post is in partnership with TUMI. Our partners are hand-picked by the Design Milk team because they represent the best in design.