by Jincy IypeJul 08, 2023
Those who identify the works of Kelly Wearstler know that there is no place for homogeneity and a dominant style or aesthetic in her practice. There is always, "something old, something new". A free-spirited balance between the vintage and contemporary. This is a philosophy that not just drives her multi-disciplinary design practice, but also the way she dresses or the home she lives in – the three-and-a-half acre LA's Beverly Hills estate that STIR featured from the NOWNESS-exclusive series, In Residence. Wearstler’s signature "old soul, new soul' takes a glamorous spin in the interiors of Downtown LA Proper - a 147-room landmark boasting of Mexican Modernism deftly layered with French and Moroccan influences. The project marks the fourth property from the chain of hotels and residences by hospitality brand Proper; the other three venues - located in Austin, San Francisco, and Santa Monica – also fall under the oeuvre of her distinguished eponymous studio.
Under Wearstler's creative direction and design, we see a fantastical transformation of a building seeped in colourful history. Once a private club of the 1920s - frequented by the likes of American film director Cecil B DeMille – to a YWCA in the 60s, the landmark was characterised for its California Renaissance Revival architecture, masterfully realised by reputed firm Curlett & Beelman. A century later, it takes on a new life as a destination hotel, permeating global influences while being authentically positioned in its context.
Located in the heart of South Park, amid LA's proliferation of Art Deco buildings, palace theatres, and fashion outlets, Downtown LA Proper embraces the pleasure of being in one’s own city yet being someplace else. Wearstler, with her signature layering of materiality, colours, textures, art, and craftsmanship, defines the spaces in sensorial thematic and interesting proportions. Entering the building through an arched passage, one is greeted by a sense of celebration as colourful figures of flora and fauna, drawing from Mexican folktale, adorn the walls and the ceiling’s desert-rose coves. This is a hand-painted endeavour by local painter and illustrator, Abel Macias. Potted cacti are spotted along the way whose greens inconspicuously create an aesthetic portal to Mexico. The handmade takes another form at LA ceramicist Morgan Peck’s graphite reception desk, which is clad in ceramic tiles that evoke a strong Memphis connect. Adding to the thematic, restored pink and white checkerboard floor and the warm wooden surfaces beckon inwards with a sigh, ‘Oh! This is only the start'.
Having taken three years in restoration, the project revives some of the building’s original remnants which include a 1430 sqft suite housed inside a two-storey half basketball court and another suite featuring a 35 x 12 foot indoor swimming pool. Elsewhere, former wooden framework and architectural mouldings too remain intact.
The guestrooms, as per Kelly Wearstler Studio, are designed with “a moody paint box palette of charcoals, mauves, dusty blues, ecrus, and umbers". The suites, however, feature a curated collection of vintage furnishing and fixtures, ranging from hand-carved chairs from Mexico, mosaic coffee tables sitting on patterned Moroccan and Turkish rugs, to wooden chairs and lamps that have been sourced from France. Plants are interspersed in the interior décor, a recurring element in all of Proper’s properties.
More predominantly, plants inject life into the hotel’s Carlo Verde restaurant and bar, located on the lobby level. Echoing Mexican, Portuguese and Spanish influences, and a sweet and spicy decor, the space is designed with an intimate, residential theme in mind. A noted element here is a stained glass installation – a work of local glass artisan Judson studios - adorning the restaurant’s portal. The feature, Kelly Wearstler Studio says, evokes the Trompe-l'œil glass entryways of the Roma district of Mexico City. The warm interiors are accentuated by checkerboard cocoa and hand-painted custom tiles featuring on the walls and a ribbed wood, copper and vintage stone granite bar. Speaking of tiles, the design incorporates over 100 varieties of tiles, ranging from hand-painted and vintage, to custom-commissioned and fabricated ones.
On the terrace, Wearstler converts the former brick and stone clad space, which once housed the building’s structural services, into a stunning rooftop restaurant named Cara Cara. Textured sandstone and terracotta plaster have been used to reinvent the original brick façade. The space is defined by steel and wood trellises that envelope the eating space, further animated by oversized ceramic vessels containing plants. Elsewhere, mosaic top tables and customer ceramic wall mural by artist Morgan, and a cosy fire pit surrounding a circular black and white tiled floor completes the multi-dimensional mise-en-scene. A showstopper at Cara Cara, however, remains a 360 degree view of the stunning LA skyline. Grounding the building firmly in its culture while tying it to the world beyond, Wearstler’s wielding of her fundamental "something old, something new" has rendered a dream of a space, yet again.