Elegant and airy, lit by skylights and chandeliers, warmed by wood paneling, plush seating and a central fireplace and decorated with contemporary art, books and rare objects: This quietly luxe first impression of the renovated Hotel Figueroa was not what the real-estate developer Bradley Hall had in mind when he purchased the property in 2014.
What Hall saw was a large hotel in disrepair, located just a block from L.A. Live, as the downtown boom was in full swing—in other words, a great investment. But as the layers of history began to be peeled away from this 1926 landmark, a surprising narrative started to take shape. Designed by the L.A. firm Stanton, Reed and Hibbard, and funded by the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), the 13-story “hostelry” as it was called, offered a refined safe haven for the newly emancipated professional women of America, for whom solo travel was still a risky and potentially scandalous proposition.
Not only was its $1.25-million price tag the largest investment by a group of women at that time, its female general manager, Maude Bouldin, was the first of her kind in the nation. The hotel was replete with feminine features like a writing salon and a beauty parlor, and according to Hall it regularly hosted poetry readings and debates and discussions on social issues.
“As we came to understand the history of this place,” Hall reflects, “I realized that my role and responsibility was really that of a steward. I wanted to pay tribute to these women and try to show gratitude for them and what they accomplished. This place was great before my existence, and the hope is that it will continue to be a great place after I exist. It moved from being a typical real-estate deal to one that was really driven by passion.”
Naturally the hotel’s design would need to reflect this commitment to its origins, and with a portfolio that included numerous hospitality projects—including the historic Hollywood Roosevelt, where they created the instantly classic Spare Room bowling alley and the Gable & Lombard Penthouse event suite—the Venice-based interior design firm Studio Collective was the perfect fit. What sealed the deal was Studio Collective’s proposal to use the hotel’s original 1926 bones as the foundation for the design concept—building upon that with timeless craftsmanship and equally refined contemporary elements. This would not be a restoration but a “remix,” as Hall puts it.
With three principals—Adam Goldstein, Leslie Kale and Christian Schulz—and projects ranging from bars and restaurants to resorts to retail outposts around the world, Studio Collective made an internal decision early on not to have a signature aesthetic. “We’ve all worked for very talented people who do that,” says Goldstein, alluding to Frank Gehry, Ian Schrager and Kelly Wearstler, among others. “That works for them, but there are three of us, and obviously our own personal tastes don’t always align. We realized that if we were going to survive as a partnership, we had to let the project drive the design.”
“I personally would be upset if I was a client and I saw the same thing over and over,” adds Kale. “It keeps us fresh, it keeps us moving. Every place deserves its own soul.” Current Studio Collective projects include a restaurant for The Four Seasons Bora Bora and two Tommie hotels, a new micro-brand for Thompson Hotels, in Hollywood and Austin.
Our idea was to strip everything back as much as we could and celebrate what was beautiful about this hotel to begin with.
— Christian Schulz
Contrary to popular belief, the Hotel Figueroa’s bones were not Moroccan but Spanish Colonial, featuring tall pillars, interior arches, fine woodwork and terracotta tiles. Over the past 40 years or so these elements were virtually obscured by fabric swags, carpets, jeweled lanterns, colored glass and the stenciling and decorative painting created by Ira Gagon, an artist-in-residence for many years. In the evening, by candlelight, the overall effect could be exotic and seductive, but by day it was tired, says Schulz. “You saw all the detail or lack thereof in the hotel.”
The renovation, which took four years from start to finish, began by uncovering the existing architectural elements and restoring them, starting with the original YWCA iconography throughout the hotel: an inverted triangle symbolizing feminine leadership that appears in transoms over doors and is carved into the fireplace of a meeting room.
“Wherever we could keep them and maintain them, we tried to do so,” notes Goldstein. The symbol has also been incorporated into the hotel’s new logo. Other key original features were the graceful fluted pillars anchoring the lobby and the carved wood-framed skylights over the bar area. Although the last iteration of the lobby didn’t have a fireplace, one existed in the original design and was brought back as a centerpiece of the room. The terracotta tiles were replaced with black limestone and wood flooring.
To capture the soul of the Figueroa, “our idea was to strip everything back as much as we could and celebrate what was beautiful about this hotel to begin with,” says Schulz. “We looked at a lot of old black-and-white photography of the building. We’re not historic-preservation architects, but we want to respect the past and bring it into the future.”
A wall of leaded-glass windows pictured in early photographs was re-imagined to give the street-facing Basque restaurant Breva its own identity and to create a threshold between the open-air entryway and the lobby, conceived as a “living room for the city.” Plentiful seating areas were designed for different uses, from intimate conversation to dining to working, in an eclectic mix of forms and materials.
Most of the furniture was designed in house, with the exception of a few revamped vintage pieces and some items—like a long wooden communal table with studded chairs that would fit right in at a Spanish hacienda—that were fabricated by artisans in Mexico. Table lamps and ring chandeliers with geometric glass shades cast pools of warm light. To flesh out the residential feel, shelves were stuffed with books on art, design, music and Hollywood; sculptures, games, glassware and ceramics; and even, Kale admits, somebody’s ashes, in an urn purchased at an estate sale.
“We started shopping for this about a year and a half in and just started hoarding,” she says with a laugh. The stylish, cozy feel and neutral palette with cool, jewel-toned accents (no Moroccan reds anywhere in sight) extends to the 268 guest rooms. Beds have upholstered-leather headboards and seating is luxurious, offset by natural stone and wood tables. Decorative pottery and plants dot surfaces, and contemporary prints and paintings add an electric energy. Because the existing layout of the hotel was kept basically intact, there are 35 unique room configurations, from petite chambers to expansive suites with terraces.
Some bathrooms feature custom blue-and-brown fig-patterned wallpaper, others have decorative tiles; some rooms have closets while others have armoires. Round brass standing lamps recall vintage Hollywood movie lights. The showstopper is the Casablanca suite, which has a secret entrance through a bookcase to a private dining room covered in antiqued mirror; that in turn leads to Bar Alta, the hotel’s reservation-only cocktail lounge. Helmed by Dushan Zaric of Employees Only, Bar Alta can also be reached from the lobby.
Thanks to a decade of experience in the high-end hospitality industry, Studio Collective offers a sophisticated take on how a hotel can function as private sanctuary, community space, dining destination, bar scene, pool club and event space—all at the same time. They brought subtle touches like a separate check-in entrance for guests who might want to freshen up before coming down to the lobby, and not-so-subtle touches like Rick’s, a new two-story pool house/bar with an open-air deck overlooking the coffin-shaped pool, which was added in the 1950s. It took some convincing to get the pool house built, says Schulz, but as he explains, “You can’t have a bar scene around the pool overtaking your restaurant if you want to have a nice restaurant. You don’t want people traipsing through the lobby in wet bikinis.”
The pool-house deck is the perfect vantage point for viewing the new botanical mural on the main building. Imagined as an extension of the garden, it was designed by the British illustrator Bella Gomez and executed by Wall Dogs. The hallway between the lobby, pool and the casually chic Veranda restaurant also serves as a gallery showcasing local photographers (Mexican-American street-culture chronicler Estevan Oriol was the inaugural artist).
A strong art program was an integral part of Studio Collective’s original pitch—seen as a way to link the Hotel Figueroa with the thriving art community that has steadily been migrating downtown. To the credit of Hall and his partners, they took the idea a step further, proposing to establish a permanent collection of art by local female artists. The designers brought in Tiffiny Lendrum, an art consultant they’ve collaborated with regularly, and she gathered a group of rising women artists, including Nancy Baker Cahill, Alexandra Grant, Lily Stockman and April Street. Working in all media (painting, textiles, photography and sculpture), their pieces reflect on the female body, the feminine experience and Los Angeles itself, boldly greeting those who enter the building.
But the most arresting and germane artwork at the Figueroa might be the portrait of Maude Bouldin, the iconoclastic general manager, that hangs across from the check-in desk. Commissioned from the Santa Monica-based painter Alison Van Pelt, it pictures Bouldin seated on her motorcycle (she also flew airplanes), gamely meeting the viewer’s gaze. Rendered in a brilliant scarlet, perhaps the only pop of red on the entire property, Van Pelt’s signature blurred brushstrokes give Bouldin the impression of being in motion—moving fast, into the future.