Shopping La Cienega: L.A.'s thriving design district
Lee Stanton has seen many changes on La Cienega since he opened his European antique store on the street six years ago. At that point, the ficus-lined blocks between Melrose Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard were home to entertainment industry restaurants such as Koi and just a few standout showrooms such as Dragonette, Downtown, Blackman Cruz, Pat McGann and Therien & Co. Mostly, however, the street was associated with cracked sidewalks, heavy traffic and few crosswalks.
In the last two years, however, two dozen or so design stores have opened there, the majority selling high-caliber furniture and accessories — antique, vintage and contemporary pieces and often designs by the store's owners. Wander into Harbinger (pictured above), Kristen Buckingham (at right), Hollywood at Home and other new or newly expanded shops in the district, and you'll find variations on a strikingly similar theme: a classic, well-heeled, traditional aesthetic with a dash of boho chic. Looking for a George Nelson Bubble lamp? You probably won’t find it here in the land of $150-a-yard ikat fabrics, vintage tufted chaises and various Pairs of Things. (One good measure of this strip is the fact that whether you're looking at 19th-century neoclassic chandeliers or Bergeres chairs, items on La Cienega often adhere to that decorator's holy grail, the matching set.)
The similarity of shops is not entirely accidental. Three years ago, Stanton and Therien & Co. manager Philip Stites worked with other stores to found the La Cienega Design Quarter, hence the 300 orange LCDQ banners that hang along the sides of the street from Santa Monica Boulevard to Beverly Boulevard.
"We're all really working to encourage quality businesses to the street," Stanton said. "The more we do that, the more we create this environment where clients can park once and walk down the street and experience all of these shops and restaurants and even the number of beautiful courtyards."
Camaraderie has been a draw, but so have rents, which are lower than some other streets nearby. According to commercial real estate agent Jay Luchs, storefront spaces on the street are renting for about $4 to $5 per square foot, compared with $8 on nearby Melrose Place. "The good thing about the block is that now it's got night and day play," he said. "There’s Nobu and Sam Nazarian that attract the celebrities at night, and then places like Sally Hershberger and all of these great design stores during the day."
The street's evolution has been so fast that Google's Street View photos can’t always keep up: The site’s current image of 752 N. La Cienega, next door to Peter Dunham’s second Hollywood at Home shop, shows a plain-looking building with a for-lease sign. Walk past that address now and you'll find Harbinger, a 5,000-square-foot showroom with white-washed Cape Cod-style shingles and a striking red door. (The photo at right shows Outside Downtown, an offshoot of David Serrano and Robert Willson's showroom Downtown. Hollywood at Home is in the photo above.)
Inside, owners Joe Lucas and Parrish Chilcoat have 5,000 square feet of showroom space, almost quadruple the size of their previous location, the off-Melrose courtyard area known as Almont Yard.
"More and more, La Cienega was becoming the place where I would shop as a designer, so it made sense for us to come here," Lucas said, likening the district to an alfresco alternative to the Pacific Design Center.
That outdoor allure — along with the arrival of convenient credit-card parking meters — means more foot traffic. "On our first day that we opened here, we have had more people walk in than we would have had in a week at Almont Yard,” Chilcoat said.
Stites attributes the foot traffic not only to the increase in stores, but also to the fact that more are carrying textiles. “It started with Scalamandre moving out of the PDC, and now we have so many other stores like Hollyhock, Claremont, Harbinger and others that carry textiles. Unlike other items that can be viewed and purchased online, fabric has to be seen and touched. And that’s what brings the designers and the clients out.”
Even second-story spaces are filling up. Decorators such as Kelly Wearstler and Craig Wright have long had above-the-shop design studios on La Cienega, but now a new wave — Madeline Stuart, Jamie Bush, Santa Barbara-based SFA and others — have moved or are moving to the street.
For Stanton, all of this change is good for business for La Cienega, which sits by the border of West Hollywood and Los Angeles. He’s continuing to work on beautification projects with both cities, but he said one of the most welcome changes has little to do with city planning.
“At least daily now I’ll see a driver pulling up in a Town Car straight from the airport," said Stanton, whose showroom is shown at right. "They’ll drop designers from New York or Chicago or wherever off at the Scalamandre corner and these people will spend two days on the block going up and down. And they’re definitely not just looking. They’re here to buy.”
For a visual sampling of La Cienega, the accompanying photo gallery has additional photos from inside all the showrooms pictured as well as from Urban Hardwoods.
— Alexandria Abramian-Mott
In this sampling of design-related stops on La Cienega Boulevard between Melrose Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard, stores are sequenced as a loop. Note that many are open only on weekdays.
East side of La Cienega, heading north from Melrose:
Todd Alexander Romano, 930 N. La Cienega Blvd.
The Rug Affair, 928 N. La Cienega Blvd.
Kristen Buckingham, 912 N. La Cienega Blvd.
Paul Marra, 868 N. La Cienega Blvd.
Maison Schembri, 812 N. La Cienega Blvd.
Chez Camille, 810 N. La Cienega Blvd.
Remains Lighting, 808 N. La Cienega Blvd.
Scalamandre, 800-802 N. La Cienega Blvd.
Lucca Antiques, 744 N. La Cienega Blvd.
Christianne Engs Works of Art and Antiques, 740 N. La Cienega Blvd.
Therien & Co. and Quattrain, 716 and 722 N. La Cienega Blvd.
Cross La Cienega at Santa Monica Boulevard, then heading back south toward Melrose:
Bausman & Co., 921 N. La Cienega Blvd.
Mecox Gardens, 919 N. La Cienega Blvd.
Gray Morrel, 915 N. La Cienega Blvd.
Reborn Antiques, 853 N. La Cienega Blvd.
Compas, 843-845 N. La Cienega Blvd.
City-Review, 765 N. La Cienega Blvd.
Navona Antiques, 739 N. La Cienega Blvd.
1st Leap, 737 N. La Cienega Blvd.
Morateur Gallery, 735 N. La Cienega Blvd.