If Design Milk were a store, it would probably look a lot like A+R. We caught up with one of the owners, Rose Apodaca, to chat about their two Los Angeles shops jam packed full of modern decor and furniture from favorites like Bend, Normann Copenhagen, Muuto, Hay and Alessi.
Why did you pick these locations for your shops?
Our La Brea location is actually our fourth address since A+R launched in fall 2005 (yes, we’re celebrating a milestone later this year!), with each move being a matter of growing pains—well, really pleasure—for our evolving business. First came Silver Lake, then Abbot Kinney, both areas just coming into a new cycle in their longtime histories, when they were not at their, shall we say, best. So we rallied with our neighbors to build international attention on those areas. When we opened our latest retail showroom in late 2012, this stretch of La Brea near Hollywood was at the cusp of finally undergoing a rebirth. It’s now defined as District La Brea, and the wave of independent shops and restaurants that continues to join us since we arrived reminds us of our similar experiences at our previous two addresses.
While the new block owners heavily courted us—in part because of our active roles in our previous neighborhoods–there were other factors that sealed the deal. The boulevard’s high level of traffic day and night; being across the street from landmark anchor, American Rag, still popular among locals and out-of-towners, alike; and the three-story parking garage that hugs our space. We’re a quick drive from the WeHo Design District, but still able to keep our independent identity. We’re also a relatively quick drive to our new home in Glassell Park.
Where did you get the name for the store?
Not even a month into dating in January 2005, we were enjoying a colorful evening of margaritas at this vintage surfer-hippy getaway called La Fonda in Baja, riffing on the possibility of quitting our respective jobs (Andy in film editing; me as a fashion business editor) and starting a business together that would involve a lot of travel. We would call it A&R in a nod to our names and to the artistry and repertoire departments of music companies, involved in finding new talent. Our grand plan initially had nothing to do with retail.
That emerged seven months later when Andy moved back to L.A. from Spain and in with me. When opportunity struck and we decided to open a design store, we didn’t have a business plan—but we did have a name!
When our great logo designer Ben Loiz created our brand identity, we dropped the ampersand for a plus sign. Oh, and we also returned to the birthplace in September 2007 and tied the knot there.
Has it changed much since it opened? How?
The La Brea retail showroom signaled our official expansion into larger categories, specifically with furniture and lighting becoming major areas of growth. We didn’t have a single chair for sale when we started A+R in November 2005. Now we offer dozens in endless forms, and we’re furnishing residential and commercial projects. We just came off a mad year of filling the new award-winning Beats HQ, the Broad Foundation, and so on. Yet, in many ways, A+R is still very much the same resource it was when it opened, because we’ve been committed to our point of view. The two of us decide on every item (OK, so most of the time!). The tag line for A+R is “Global Design.Edited,” and we adhere to the target of the edit in everything we do. We believe that’s what distinguishes A+R from the mushrooming number of competitors out there.
What’s one of the challenges you have with the business?
We try to maintain our optimism in considering that every challenge is an opportunity. But there are some “opportunities” that remain challenges as retailers—and they tend to be those we cannot personally control. A key part of growing involves staffing, and it is no cakewalk finding individuals who also share our work ethic, our curiosity. We have an incredible team now. They weren’t all design experts when they started at A+R. But they shared a desire to learn, enterprise, and a general love of aesthetics. They’re dynamos.
If we can add a second issues weighing on us (along with the entire retail world), it’s the crisis at the Los Angeles ports right now. It’s damaging to all retail-related businesses, but particularly those of us who import.
What’s the biggest challenge about having two locations?
Thanks to our fantastic team, any issues have been relatively minor. The biggest test to our sanity and efficiency is simply life as we know it in L.A.: the traffic. At least it gives us time to catch up on on phone calls and a place to think. Andy spends the majority of his time now at HQ handling trade queries from around the U.S. and Mexico. So the one companywide probably logging in the most miles on the streets of Los Angeles companywide is probably me.
What other stores have you worked in before opening this one?
Aside from covering retail off an on for two decades as a journalist (Los Angeles Times, WWD), my mother likes to point out I caught the retail bug—both in sales and as a merchandiser—when I worked her store of finished craft products at age 9. I also did stints in a couple of mall fashion chains in high school where I definitely learned what never to do (such as upsell something to someone who can neither afford it nor own it in terms of personal style). Andy resisted retail for careers as a sound mixer, then editing video, TV and documentaries.
What’s your favorite item in the store right now?
How can we just choose one when we stock everything we love? Andy just returned from the trade show marathon in Europe, and is eager to get a bunch of the POV Wall Candleholders by Note Design Studio for Menu—on our wall at our new home. He saw an expansive array in black and brass at the Menu headquarters in Fredensborg. We already had 5 black ones up as a backdrop to our dining area. But the plan is to go bold with even more in black with pops of brass. Should be a gorgeous result. I also have my eye on a red Mai Tai Trolley by Punt, a Plum Ice bucket by Tom Dixon and a Revolution Cocktail Carafe by Fferone as the mobile bar station in our home. We love to entertain.
What is this season’s theme/inspiration/story?
Brass, copper and marble continue to dominate, certainly a pendulum swing from the more prosaic cork, plywood and rubber stories that prevailed for the first two-thirds of A+R’s history. There are some stunning pieces in all price points.
Are you carrying any new products and/or undiscovered gems you’re particularly excited about?
It’s like Christmas here. We get to open something new (nearly) every day. Today, we unboxed chairs and barstools from the new Form Collection by Norman Copenhagen, hot off the recent European trade shows and amazingly well priced. The company tapped A+R to debut the new group in the U.S. We also love the Santorini indoor/outdoor lights by Marset, a brand we’ve recently added to the mix. A few other gems would be the Dove Light by the young Taiwanese designer Haoshi; the newest On The Rock Martini glass by Lee Broom of London; and these fun polished stainless hand mirrors dipped in bright colored rubber by Good Things out of New York.
What’s been a consistent best seller?
The About a Chair Collection by Hee Welling for Hay Denmark—in all its countless iterations, including barstools, lounge and dining chairs and wheel-based office chairs—continues to sell like mad because it’s so well-priced, so comfortable and can be customized in so many ways.
Does the store have its own line?
We have a couple of items we co-collaborated on with longtime A+R pals. Cast of Vices realized Andy’s idea to take those plastic security tags pinned on clothes and render them in gold or silver. Makes for a cheeky brooch for men or women. We also worked with our friend Gabriela Artigas on an all-metal translation of the iconic Solitaire ring.
While we’re frequently asked to design custom pieces for interior design clients, we prefer to showcase the design we find. That’s always been our individual M.O.’s with our careers and among our friends. We just have a different platform to offer our finds up now.
Any special events/exhibits/pop ups/collabs coming up?
We host designer talks every quarter. In 2014, we welcomed Christian Zuzunaga from Spain; from Denmark, Jonas Bjerre-Poulsen and Kasper Rønn of Norm Architects; and Lee Broom from England. We will be confirming our salon series dates soon, but we’ll be doing something with the talented Artigas siblings (we showcase Alex’s furniture and sister Gabriela’s jewelry, all made in L.A. though they and their business partner sister Tere hail from Mexico City).
We have a couple of limited-edition installations underworks with our fabulous vendor partners. May will be very busy. We’ll be doing the A+R Toy Lab again at Karen Kimmel’s beautifully creative directed family-friendly Crafting Community Weekend at the Ace Hotel Palm Springs from May 1-3. And May 29-31, we’re thrilled to join forces with Paul Valentine from Small Pond in a showcase of many of our brands. You should see the staging he’s come up with at the historic Mack Sennett Studios in Silver Lake!
Do you have anything from the store in your own home?
Oh, yes. After a year of deconstruction and re-design headed by our friend Barbara Bestor, we moved into our new home in Glassell Park at the end of December. It’s very A+R. I’ve started sharing sneak peaks @AplusRdesign on Instagram and Tumblr.
What’s next for A+R?
Aside from the big celebration later this year for our 10th anniversary, we’re gearing up for several milestone changes reflecting the evolution of our business and brand. Stay tuned to our social media accounts, as the news starts rolling out in about a month!
Shop A+R online or at 1121 Abbot Kinney Blvd, Venice, CA 90291 and 171 South La Brea Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90036.