Welcome to Wanderlust, a weekly series on Co.Design where some of our favorite designers share their secret picks and insider tips for the best design cities on the planet. Today, Fred Dust of design and innovation firm Ideo shows us around L.A.’s newest and most classic design destinations.
I lived in L.A. for years, and I went back after having been in New York for just a couple months. And I was like, ‘What the hell did I ever see in Los Angeles?’ You first get there, and it’s kind of sprawling, low-rise, glare-y. It takes a couple days to reconnect with what’s really amazing about Los Angeles. It’s this really interesting mix of beautiful, elegant, thoughtful, high-luxury design–and then really decayed, old, decrepit. And that mix is what’s amazing. You can find incredible retail experiences but find them in the middle of a parking lot that’s miles long. You have to stop and realize that actually informed the entire infrastructure for the way the whole city plays out–everything’s a mall, in some ways. Everything’s built to shop in. I think it’s also a really fascinating mixture of entertainment and the ways that entertainment has actually influenced and played in the design of the city. There’s a great movie called, L.A. Plays Itself, which is all about how film has influenced the way the city designs itself and it actually had real impact on the way people get transported around the city, where the best housing is–all of that was kind of influenced by the film industry itself.
One of the things that’s interesting about L.A. is where you stay really defines the experience you have with the city. So if you’re staying in Santa Monica, like at the Shutters or Viceroy or one of those hotels, the L.A. you’re in is basically a coastal town. You’re watching people go by on bikes and surfboards, and it’s what you believe Los Angeles is. Even if you stay downtown at The Standard, which is one of the stylish hotels in downtown, you’re not just staying in downtown L.A. You’re staying in the downtown L.A. that represents all downtowns that you’ve ever seen in movies. Basically every movie you’ve seen since 1932 was filmed in downtown L.A. It sets the tone.
Because we used to live in the Hollywood Hills, we stay in Airbnb. And that’s our L.A. That’s the way we understand it. What’s cool about Airbnb is you can try on the midcentury modern L.A. I’m staying in a big Spanish mansion that looks like it’s out of Sunset Boulevard this weekend. You can kind of shift and see the different identities of the way L.A. plays.
One of my favorites is LAMILL, which is a coffee shop. It’s beautifully designed–a modern coffee shop that’s in Silver Lake where literally a shot of espresso is $8! But it’s such a great example of high design. People spend their whole days there because a lot of people, when they’re not working or they’ve got free time, they’re writing. So you see a lot of people writing scripts sitting in cafes. LAMILL is a great example of that.
My favorite restaurant is a place called Pace, which is in Laurel Canyon. Each canyon has its own center of the entertainment industry. Laurel Canyon was known for musicians–that’s where a lot of musicians lived in the ’60s and ’70s. And it’s an Italian restaurant that really looks like you’ve stepped back into a Doors movie. Jim Morrison I think actually did live across the street. So it’s really iconic of that kind of ’70s hip music L.A. It’s underneath a general store in the middle of this really wooded canyon. And it’s just this amazing restaurant that’s been there for 40 years.
The other place we go to a lot is [Osteria] Mozza, which is a Mario Batali restaurant. We were looking for service design cues, and it’s centered around a giant mozzarella bar. So you order food, and it’s always mozzarella or burrata of some sort with all kinds of different amazing garnishes. But the chef Nancy Silverton is always standing at the end of the mozzarella bar finishing every single plate that comes through. She becomes kind of this celebrity host for the entire restaurant. It’s a well-designed ritual that makes that experience remarkable–and the food’s incredible.
If you’re looking for traditional design, one of the things I love is Schindler King’s Road House, which is a house he designed. It’s tilt-up concrete, a specific kind of construction model. But what’s really interesting about King’s Road House is less the house–which is still pretty cool–but when Schindler designed it, he designed everything that it meant to live in it; so what you wore, how you slept. You’d sleep in these little nests that were perched on top of the house. It’s a complete and total designed experience.
Because we work in design and brand, I’m also really fascinated with brands. One of the most interesting brand experiences you can see in L.A. is religions. Where I lived in the Hollywood Hills, Scientology is front and center. I lived right above the Scientology Celebrity Center, which is this giant mansion perfectly preserved. And you can go have lunch there, and of course they’re going to try to get you to become a Scientologist. But it’s an amazing experience.
Both the Getty Museums are amazing, for the collections, but also for the way the outdoor spaces are designed. There’s one in Malibu, which is focused on a classical collection. Then there’s the big Getty, which is in the Palisades. They’re like if an architect designed a version of what heaven would look like. It’s these stunning views. All of the buildings are really indoor-outdoor. You know how you go to museums and you feel exhausted by the end of it? Malibu is the perfect museum because you don’t. It’s just enough of a collection that you’re like it’s stunning–but then there’s an amazing restaurant, and you wander out into courtyards that look out onto these stunning kitchen gardens, then out at the ocean. Even when we go to L.A. for the weekend, we’ll always go to Malibu and have lunch at the Malibu Getty just to detox and make sure that we feel like we’re actually in L.A. again.
There’s one more place that I should mention–movie theaters in L.A. are really designed. There’s one specifically called Arc Light [Cinarama]. I send our design teams to go look it at all the time, because every single piece of experience–from the way you buy your ticket to the food to the way they introduce the movies–it’s so artful and so thoughtfully designed. It really gives you the sense that, ‘Wow this is really the center of L.A.’s culture.’ If you see a movie in Los Angeles, you’re going to sit to the end because you know somebody in the credits. It’s an iconic, giant dome in Hollywood. It’s quintessential.