Have you ever wonder how are the minds behind restuarant design? Santa Monica, California-based boutique design agency Studio Collective was founded in 2009 by designers Leslie Kale, Christian Schulz, and Adam Goldstein and has since cemented its place in the hospitality world—working on some of the hottest projects in Los Angeles and beyond, including the recently opened Giada in the Cromwell Las Vegas and Drunken Dragon in Miami Beach. Design Contract is happy to show you some of Leslie Kale mind and some images of Studio Collective recent projects! Take a look.
Did you always know you wanted to be a designer?
Leslie Kale: In one sense or another I have always been designing. From the elaborate homemade dresses my mom and I used to make for school events to the forts my sister and I would build in our house growing up. There were many times we turned our house into a labyrinth of cushions for the neighborhood kids to run and play through. And throughout the years, it was always fun to go into a new home and rearrange.
What are some of your first memories of design?
LK: For as long as I remember, I have loved to change things up. My biggest influence was my grandmother, who was an incredibly eccentric and artistic woman. She was well traveled and her home was filled with artifacts from around the world that she would use in interesting ways as opposed to simply showcasing. My sister and I spent a lot of time throwing clay with her, sewing, rearranging, learning how to take one simple thing and modify it into something completely different for a different purpose.
Did where you grew up influence your career path?
LK: Growing up in San Antonio, Texas provided a lot of opportunities. The homes of my friends were always quite large with a lot of history. My parents had a successful antique store for some years and the cross-country buying trips were like a dream—meeting so many people with stories that accompanied their antiques—and the discoveries of treasures each time we would stop in. I still love a good hunt, and it remains a big part of what we do in our business now.
Give us a bit of your background: college, first jobs, early lessons learned?
LK: While Christian and Adam pursued degrees in Architecture at SCI-Arc [the Southern California Institute of Architecture], I spent a bit of time studying art in London before moving to California to pursue fashion. After some years of wardrobe styling for Cloutier agency, I moved on to work with Richard Berg in production for commercials and music videos, which led to art directing on my own. Soon after, I began working with Dodd Mitchell, setting up his design studio, and working for a number of years on hospitality projects.
Why and how did you start your own firm?
LK: Studio Collective began fairly organically during the down turn of 2009. Christian and Adam had been previously working together directing the design department at SBE since 2007, and when the department was dissolved, Christian continued working on the development of the HYDE project at Staples Center. Adam joined him and I was called to lend a hand. During that period we realized we each had unique skills that complemented each other and bonded well, and luckily, we began to get calls for other projects. We haven’t turned back since.
Can you discuss some of your recent projects?
Christian Schulz: We are thrilled to have just opened our first fully designed hotel project here in California: the Goodland Hotel in Goleta for Makar Properties and Kimpton Hotels. This was the perfect hotel to be our first as it was a boutique property set within a very unique oceanside location, with a fun program that perfectly matched our sensibilities and interests. We also recently completed a unique restaurant and bar called Drunken Dragon in Miami with our longtime friends Conrad Gomez and Angel Febres, two Miami nightlife veterans we have come to know over the past decade. This Korean-Asian influenced restaurant and bar has proven to be the perfect storm of exceptional pan-Asian food located in an extremely unorthodox site (hidden in a strip mall) yet set within a visually compelling atmosphere. Finally, we are spearheading the complete overhaul of the Hotel Figueroa in downtown Los Angeles; remodeling all 285 guestrooms and suites as well as re-envisioning the many rich and diverse public spaces with some of LA’s best restaurateurs and nightlife impresarios. This will be a romantic design project of epic proportions in many ways.
Is there a challenging project that you are especially proud of?
CS: To be candid, most, if not all, of our projects have their own unique challenges, but they always seem to work out for the best. Of note, we worked on one smaller restaurant and bar project on Fairfax here in Los Angeles that started sometime in early 2011. The structure of the project’s ownership went through several transformations, but because we put so much into it early on, we decided to work through these tumultuous changes, adjust the design direction accordingly, and ultimately stay on through until the very end, many months beyond the intended scope. In the end, this secret music venue and supper club has fully embodied the owner’s vision, provided us with a canvas for some truly unique installations and details, and most importantly, proven to be a very special place in LA for both the city’s elite and neighborhood music heads to all co-mingle in a unique and comfortable atmosphere.
What are you looking forward to at your office?
CS: My partners and I are always looking ahead at both short- and long-term goals to help move us forward in the right direction, as we want to try and guide our destiny in the best way possible. Personally, in the coming year(s) I would like to see our design work continue to expand outside of the West Coast, specifically to my hometown of New York as well as in other parts of the U.S. We are also looking to round out the studio with more in-house specialists such as a fulltime web and branding team and possibly even an apparel designer to complement the more traditional interior design roles, as we are always looking to provide full, “turnkey” services to our clients and their projects. Finally, we are currently working on some SC custom-designed product partnerships with an eye on eventually doing our own line of furniture.
What do you find are the most challenging and exciting aspects of your job?
CS: Time, time, and time. Of course the development budgets we are handed are always tough, but our company was grown out of the recession, so every single project we have worked on since day one has had a tight budget. Value engineering has become been a part of the process, so we are accustomed to making the most out of our design process. Time, as I say, there is never enough of. If I could clone myself, I’d want to have two of me. On the flipside, being able to continually work closely with many talented individuals such as hotelier Jason Pomeranc, chefs José Andrés or Giada De Laurentiis; and to be able to collaborate with talented artists like Alison Van Pelt, Darren Romanelli, Rick Rubin, and Jason Bentley [of public radio station KCRW] not only keeps us culturally relevant, but also keeps the day-to-day interesting and inspiring. We have been truly blessed to work with such influential clients and colleagues.
What is the most important thing to remember when designing a restaurant—both in terms of branding and interiors?
CS: We start off each project with a differing set of ideas and guiding principles, as both the chef/owner and the specific location all inform diverse ways of working as well as differing inspirational cues. That said, it’s important to really listen to what the client wants and what the project dictates programmatically—and not necessarily what specific interests we as designers may want to explore spatially or theoretically. The restaurant or bar we may be working on is both someone’s personal dream as well as a staff’s livelihood, so we take that premise as well as the owners’ investment very seriously. We not only want what’s best for the project from an aesthetic point of view, we want a highly functional space that flows well and responds to its surroundings appropriately and ultimately, we want the project to succeed on the business end of things, as the best marketing and exposure for us is a timeless place that lasts and evolves over time.
Is there an architect or designer you most admire? Why?
Adam Goldstein: As a trio, we have collectively worked for some incredibly talented architects and designers including Frank Gehry, Kelly Wearstler, Dodd Mitchell, Commune, and Philippe Starck, and I have nothing but respect for all of them. That being said, in terms of pure admiration, it would have to be my partners, Christian and Leslie. I feel we each bring something truly unique to the studio which makes us a much stronger team than if any of the three of us were to have our own individual firms. Also, when you are in the trenches with people day in and day out, dealing with the minutia required to run a boutique-size agency, and you don’t feel the urge to pull each other’s hair out, that feeling can only be described as admiration.
What would be your dream project and why?
AG: Eventually we would like to begin to develop our own projects. Although we would probably be our own toughest clients, the idea of controlling every decision and detail is something that appeals to the perfectionist in each of us. Maybe a small lounge somewhere in Venice Beach with great music and better drinks to start, but eventually we would like to find an amazing beach property where we could develop our own hotel. It would be impossible to find a wifi signal and would make for the perfect studio retreat and a nice perk for our team.
If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?
AG: A dinner party including (in no particular order) my grandparents when they were my age (40), Thomas Jefferson, Duane Allman, Brigitte Bardot, George Carlin, Diane Arbus, Jackie Robinson, and Janis Joplin. Oh, and my wife.
Where would you eat and what would you be having?
AG: Location would be the infield of Fenway Park with a main course of 4-Ways from Skyline Chili (spaghetti, chili, cheese, and onions) and a side of French fries for good measure. Dessert would involve something with chocolate chip cookies and drinks would be provided from our friends Marc Rose and Med Abrous at the Spare Room.
If you weren’t a designer, what would you be?