“Artists’ works truly make my projects shine,” designer Kelly Wearstler tells us, looking back at the newly opened Downtown L.A. Proper.
Here, the award-winning designer—instantly recognizable for her eclectic sensibility, fearless use of colour, and penchant for custom pieces—brings her hyper-local approach to her hometown. “As an L.A.-based designer, it is amazing to be able to discover and collaborate with such incredible emerging talent. I love to use my platform to spotlight others.”
With her latest project for Proper, Wearstler shines that spotlight on a group of local artists whose work spans stained glass to ceramics. Their stage is extraordinary, too: a Californian Renaissance Revival-style building that has lived many lives, from a swanky private club to a YWCA.
Vestiges of its former selves, such as rich moldings, geometric shapes, and a 1960s swimming pool, have given Wearstler and her team a rich canvas to highlight the diverse character of the neighbourhood. Wearstler shares, “I worked with local creatives to bring unique designs that give the hotel a sense of place that feels like no other.”
This effort was a long time in the making, with three years of restoration, peeling away drop ceilings, and uncovering “strong, graphic shapes and moldings, which really allowed us to play with color and depth in new ways,“ Wearstler says. They then carefully renovated, aiming to capture the vibrancy of the neighbourhood’s historical multicultural roots in a 147-room resort-like hospitality and design mecca.
Inside, Mexican modernism melds with French, Portuguese, Spanish, and Moroccan influences, plus 136 unique types of tile, from vintage to custom.
As relevant as the building’s storied background was, Wearstler says the authenticity lies in “tapping into what is currently happening and not being nostalgic or sentimental. There is certainly a collaborative mash-up happening in this property, which is largely reflective of what is happening in Downtown and the Eastside of L.A. right now,” she adds. “It’s young, fresh, and eclectic.”
Collaborators are part of what makes this fourth Proper hotel—a brand that celebrates the micro-local—so special, and their presence is felt from the first step inside. A prismatic arched ceiling featuring a mélange of fantastical Mexican folk art animals, painted by Abel Macias, greets all who enter.
It is evidence of Wearstler’s fearlessness with colour and also echoes the classic Renaissance motifs of flora and fauna. Along with a pair of graceful cacti and the original pink and white checkerboard marble tile floor, it’s a portal into a vividly warm experience.
The hotel opened in early October, but Wearstler continues to put finishing touches on two extra-special suites. One spans 1,430 square feet and was built inside the two-story half-basketball court, with intact timber floors. “Sculptural hooped lighting playfully nods to the space’s former use,” Wearstler says, adding that a series of pivoting doors allow light to flood in.
The second standout embraces the original 35-by-12-foot indoor swimming pool, which they discovered shared a floor plate with guest rooms and inspired an “iconic suite.” Amplifying the pool’s elegance is an ivory ceramic mural by Frogtown’s Ben Medansky, whose graphic motifs reflect in the length of the aquamarine surface.
“While the interiors definitely have an L.A. attitude, they are also very worldly and global, which is not unlike the city,” says Wearstler, whose standard guest rooms in charcoals, mauves, and warm metals feature works only by nearby artists, alongside custom-designed furniture and decor. Specialty suites highlight predominantly vintage pieces.
Wearstler’s signature of mixing vintage with contemporary “is manifested through vintage furnishings such as hand-carved chairs from Mexico, and vintage Turkish, Moroccan, and handcrafted rugs,” she says. As is the Proper way, there is an exceptional number of plants throughout.