It is a former bank at the intersection of Vine Street and Hollywood Boulevard, Los Angeles. Rather than bulldozing old buildings, people here have gradually developed an awareness about conserving the historic heritage. This building has also been given a second chance and has been converted into an apartment block, in the very heart of Hollywood. Here, the designer Kenneth Brown was given free rein to turn a relatively small loft into a comfortable modern home. The design is based on a prevailing trend in Los Angeles, to get people back into the urban centres.
The loft is in the Equitable Building at the intersection of Vine Street and Hollywood Boulevard. Its interior was designed by Kenneth Brown, one of the celebrated young interior designers of the United States. The interior follows a design trend in Los Angeles that aims to bring people back into the city centres. Kenneth Brown’s loft occupies two floors and is at a corner of the building. The entrance is on the lower level and opens straight into the home office. An iron staircase in a large open well leads to the living level, where light floods in through the windows on all sides. The high ceilings and open space in which the living functions are organised add to the feeling of spaciousness. Here comfort is the key for Kenneth Brown.
The living area and kitchen have been planned to form one space, in which modern and classical elements, like the kitchen table, enhance the sense of unity. On the other side of the loft you will find the bedroom plus small study beyond, and the bathroom. The designer left some of the original industrial materials of the old building exposed. Accordingly, the structure, colours and details make for a both simple and sophisticated whole. The windows afford views of a large section of Hollywood, including those renowned letters on the hillside. “The idea was to capture the essence of Hollywood in a loft style.
The space isn’t vast, but more than sufficient for one person - to live, work and entertain in, and in the centre of Hollywood. Over the years, Los Angeles has expanded even further, but growing numbers of people are clearly tired of spending two hours in the car to reach their work. They are coming to realise that it is better to live in a somewhat smaller space in the city and do a whole lot of things on foot. It’s an entirely new concept here: we love our cars.” He came to Los Angeles in the mid-1990s, having grown up in Louisiana where he studied interior design at Louisiana State University.
He started off working for design studios which focused primarily on the hospitality sector. When he set up his own design studio in 1998 he was able to demonstrate his own vision of interior and design. He now says, with respect to his move to Los Angeles and his work there: “I just love it. There’s so much to do here. What makes it so interesting is the great opportunities you have to experiment. Experiments are accepted here, you don’t need to push them. You don’t have to convince clients to try something new: they expect it.
There are so many young people living in Hollywood who aren’t yet settled and can afford a designer. ‘Young Hollywood’ has plenty of money to spend and hasn’t as yet developed a style of its own. That’s why you can realise projects here that won’t be found in other parts of the country. Elsewhere people mostly want to keep in their ‘box’: the ‘spec house’ syndrome, with developers building identical houses with a set layout and only different coloured shutters.” Brown’s star has truly risen. He mentioned the saying that overnight success takes 15 years. It took him five. “I was lucky.
Early on I had a couple of good clients who spread the news. Soon I had my own programme on HGTV and from then on everything seemed to take off.” In the course of three years he made 52 episodes based on his approach to design. As he explained: “When I was growing up design was inaccessible. You could only permit yourself the luxury of a designer if you were wealthy. If you weren’t, you had the same as everyone else and usually it wasn’t well designed. I believe that information in the media, so on television too, has changed everything. People have become interested in design and have started to appreciate good design.
The market for affordable design has grown. Now good design is available for every budget. And that has evolved in recent years, thanks partly to my television programmes”. And in that context he has designed and launched a line of affordable design collections under his own name. Hollywood and Vine The intersection at Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street is legendary. In the old days it was a lemon grove, but an end came to that in 1903 when the Hollywood Memorial Church was built there. Later, in 1923, the church was demolished to make way for the first high-rise - the Taft Building - built in Renaissance Revival style, after a design by the architects Walker & Elsen. Those were the years in which growing numbers of music- and film-related businesses were starting to move in, in anticipation of Hollywood’s Golden Age.
Agents of famous movie stars moved here and architects like Richard Neutra and Rudolf Schindler were commissioned to exercise their architectural skills here. One of the buildings that is still a living reminder of Hollywood’s Golden Age is the Pantages Theatre built in 1930 in true Art Deco style by Marcus Priteca for the impresario Alexander Pantages. Between 1949 and 1959 it was the venue for the Academy Awards ceremonies - the annual ‘Oscars’. In the nineteen-fifties the Walk of Fame was created at the intersection, with its famous ‘star-studded’ pavement featuring the names of countless celebrities.
The former office tower, where Kenneth Brown has put his views on loft living into practice, is known as the Equitable Building. It was built in 1929 in Gothic Deco style after a design by Aleck Curlett. It once housed a bank, as well as the offices of agents representing famous film stars like Marilyn Monroe and James Dean. Recently Palisades Development Group transformed the building into an apartment block. They did the same in the tower opposite, the B.H. Dyas building, dating from 1927 after a design by Frederick Rice Dorn. Until the 1970s it housed the Broadway-Hollywood department store and the neon advertising on the roof is still a historic landmark.
The department store wrote history by introducing women’s slacks in the twenties, leading to demonstrations in front of the shop windows. On the lower floor of the revamped Dyas building Philippe Starck designed the interior of Katsuya restaurant. The fame of the location was one reason for the Hollywood W Hotel & Residences to develop a new project here. The revival would seem to have put an end to the neighbourhood’s far from legendary and glamorous image: for many years it had been the field of operations of prostitutes and drugs dealers. But those days are past. People again stroll in the streets at night dressed in their glad rags on their way to the theatre or a club. A period in recent history is being revived.