Sadly, the mall was invented in California, and most of the state’s stores are still carefully cloistered, with frigid air conditioning and bright lighting that make us forget where we are. But some of the newest retail ventures are taking advantage of California’s beautiful and diverse surroundings, bringing the outdoors in through courtyards, alleys, skylights, natural materials, and other inventive solutions, and reaching out to the neighborhood to foster a sense of community instead of self-containment.
One of the most novel examples is Hollywood’s Space 15 Twenty, a series of lighting warehouses-turned-stores in Hollywood that spans a full block just north of Sunset Boulevard. The unique conglomeration, which combines the best of the mall and the boutique by creating intimate outdoor connections, forms a neighborhood of its own.
A courtyard leads from each of 13 establishments—which include Urban Outfitters (anchoring the complex with an 11,000-square-foot store), Hennessy and Ingalls, and clothing and art stores for the young, hip, and creative—to an outdoor open space, with a stage used for performances, flea markets, and other public events (concerts are programmed by neighboring Amoeba Records). It also has its own eatery named Snackbar, and an art gallery featuring local artists’ work. Each retailer was invited to customize its own space within the stripped-down, exposed-brick and bow-truss interiors that evoke the structure’s former use as a warehouse.
On Beverly Boulevard in West Hollywood, Heath Ceramics’ new showroom, designed by LA firm Commune, also has an outdoor gathering space notched into the back of the building, used for parties, private dinners, barbecues, and pottery classes. Inside, in contrast with many of its slick neighbors, the store has a lived-in, bohemian feel that belies the firm’s goal to create a “Scandinavian-artisan-meets-Conran’s-Habitat” aesthetic. They achieved this through the use of brick industrial walls, knotty pine floors, unfinished pine cabinets (mimicking the drying racks for a potter’s finished work), powder-coated metal surfaces, hand-painted signs, and faded blue tiles.
In other instances—particularly evident in West Hollywood—nature is wrapped into the building itself. It started back in the 60s when Fred Segal adorned his West Hollywood store on Melrose Avenue in Ficus plants that crawl up the outside, planted in flowerpots or holes in the ground. “It really softens the building and makes for a beautiful presentation,” said Segal’s son, Michael.
Now West Hollywood’s Melrose Avenue shopping area is saturated with natural facades. Marc Jacobs has covered both of its West Hollywood stores in ivy, as did the new boutique for Spanish fashion house Balenciaga, whose planted facade contrasts dramatically with the store’s cool, futuristic interior. Max Azria took the idea a step further, covering its Melrose Avenue store in a swirling facade of interwoven stick bundles (placed on a grid-like wire-steel frame) created by artist Patrick Dougherty. His work, explained art curator Linda Johnson, “alludes to nests, cocoons, hives, and lairs built by animals, as well as the man-made forms of huts, haystacks, and baskets.” This is no Bed Bath & Beyond experience.
Sometimes bringing the outside in can get a little grittier, as with the Comme Des Garçons Guerrilla Store, a temporary space in downtown LA that just reached the end of its stay. The space, set up in one of the area’s oldest buildings, incorporated off-white tiles, a metal skeleton of fixtures, fluorescent lighting, and a towering installation of empty shopping carts—the kind usually left outside and strewn across parking lots because who ever said the outside was all roses?