“I realized that I needed people around me who were doing the same thing,” says welder and furniture fabricator Meyghan Hill, reflecting on the winding road that brought her to Kohler Street and the group of studios and craftspeople colloquially known as the Kohler Street Collective. Growing up in South Bend, Indiana, she’d bounced around a lot. “I lived in a dozen places by the time I was 14. That’s probably where my affinity for things that belong in a home comes from.” Eager to be on her own, she managed to wrangle a full scholarship to military school. “I was like, ‘This is genius! I can leave home four years earlier.’”
Though most people would’ve balked at the regimented discipline of military school, Hill thrived: “I could do all the things I wanted. I had the college experience early.”
Upon graduation she headed to New York, where she was spotted by a model agent and, astonishingly, booked the first job she was sent out on. Repped by Ford, she headed to Los Angeles on a job and decided to stay.
The pivot to metalwork came after she lost the home she’d been renovating with her then-fiancée and found herself in an empty apartment in Hollywood that needed furniture. She thought she’d learn how to weld. The whim catapulted her into a machine shop in the Valley. “I figured I’d twirl my hair and get someone to teach me.” In retrospect, she admits, “it could’ve gone very wrong.” Instead the tradesmen took her under their wing.
“My designs grew organically from my experience there,” Hill notes. “I was using a lot of their scraps: steel security gates come in very specific lengths, so the cut-offs were all the same size.”
In her hands those pieces became furniture legs. Refined, they’ve become the basis for the strong geometrics of her blackened-steel tables, bejeweled by touches of brass. The through line from the scraps of stone she retrieved from the dumpster of the marble fabricator next door to the jagged headboard that forms the focal point of her majestic (wh)bed is clear.
Hill threw herself headlong into the grueling physicality of her new trade. “For a year I worked all the time. I would leave my house and not see anyone, not talk to anyone, not speak. It was like immersion therapy.” Although gratifying, the work was also isolating.
Succor came in the form of glassblower Uri Davillier. Davillier’s route to his craft had been equally serendipitous. He was three years into an engineering degree at Case Western Reserve University when a friend asked if he’d help out with a glass-blowing project. He was immediately hooked. “It was the first time I experienced something where the nerdy side of my interest in engineering could be expressed in a really artistic way,” he remembers. In fact, it was so revelatory that Davillier switched to the art school, “and I’ve been blowing glass ever since.”
Upon graduation, he was offered a scholarship that would finance two months of travel, and he set off for Australia and New Zealand. “They have an amazing glass scene there,” he explains, “because the raw material, the sand, is super pure.” He stretched the grant money for two years with odd jobs, bouncing between the two countries until he accidentally overstayed his visa and found himself on a plane headed back to the States. “There were two choices. The weather had driven me out of Cleveland, so I certainly wasn’t going to go to New York.” Instead he headed to Los Angeles.
Introduced by mutual friends in 2012, Hill and Davillier discovered an immediate kinship. Along with woodworker Westin Mitchell, they began looking for a space they could share, settling on a sprawling 7,000-foot warehouse a few blocks west of ROW DTLA.
Kohler Street, in the midst of skid row, is named after Charles Kohler, credited as one of the founders of Los Angeles’s winemaking industry. The row of buildings between 7th and 8th streets was long the site of the Southern California Hardwood and Lumber Manufacturing Company, which created the interior furnishings for the original Bullock’s store. Later the structures became storage for seafood, produce and fabric.
“The only things that were in this neighborhood when we moved here in January 2013 were Villain’s Tavern, Tony’s and the taco truck on Mateo and Santa Fe,” Davillier remembers. The first thing the trio did was build a long wooden bar that extended down one side of the vast workroom. Hill explains their reasoning: “We knew we had to entice a customer base that was interested in the process and the fact that we were making it ourselves.” Dubbed “Design Night,” the bimonthly events they host now draw a cross section of artists, interior designers and fellow craftspeople. The energy of their workspace captivated ceramicist Ben Medansky, who built his “dream studio” a few doors down.
While Mitchell and Medansky have since left (Medansky moved to Frogtown after his space burned down in 2016), others have eagerly taken their place. Visual artist Nick Knudson, architect Ben Ipekjian, Soho Design House’s Jacob Rahman, and Fathom and Form’s Preston Johnston, an architectural fabrication company, have moved in. The large room hums with the vibrant chaos of people, work and animals.
Johnston suggested that Davillier switch his focus to lighting. Remembers Davillier, “He mentioned that the one thing that every single architect is missing is really amazing lighting.” Davillier took the recommendation seriously. “The furniture and the setting can be crappy, but if the lighting is cool, you notice. The beauty of being able to sculpt with light is that it allows me to combine engineering, glass blowing, physics and chemistry into one expression of everything I know how to do.” His early work, like the glass cage lights he created for Umami Burger’s downtown branch, based on standard-issue work lamps, were inspired by industrial design. That job also birthed his “knuckle,” the connection point that holds glass to metal. Davillier’s proprietary technique uses laser cuts and has become a signature of sorts, giving his work an elegant simplicity unmarred by awkward joints or extraneous fittings.
It was interior designer Tamara Kaye-Honey of House of Honey who gave Davillier the commission that put his work (which he sells under the name Neptune Glassworks) on the map. After he developed a series of lights based on glass chains for her shop, she approached him about creating a chandelier for Otium, the restaurant she was designing for The Broad Museum.
Rain, the fixture he created, is composed of 900 individually hand-pulled glass droplets that shower down from the space’s 23-foot-ceiling. Like many of his pieces, it finds its genesis in his math and science past. (His Circuit chandelier resembles the curvaceous construction of electrical wiring; the Lens chandelier nods to chemistry’s structural formulas.) “It was based off some quirky mathematics I studied in engineering school,” he explains.
Fortuitously, Davillier had received his UL certification just before accepting the job. “Those two things pushed me up to the level of having employees.” His four-person crew, which includes a full-time glassblower, frees him up to spend more time designing. His current slate is a mix of restaurants — he’s creating the lights for the highly-anticipated Tartine Bakery at ROW DTLA — and residential, including projects for Kaye-Honey and for Lene Schneider of Haus of Design.
The expansion of Davillier’s business prompted Hill to move her studio into her home — a soaring 4,000-square-foot loft tucked into a vine-covered building — just across the street. “Some days the most exercise I get is walking the hundred steps to Uri’s and back,” she laughs. Although she enjoys the solitude of working alone, it can push her to the breaking point when a big order — like the 10 Daniel tables she created for the Clippers lounge or the 14 Jeffrey consoles Kaye-Honey ordered for the renovation of 8500 Sunset — comes in.
“One of the biggest challenges I’m confronted with is the sustainability of me being the fabricator,” she says. “Because at some point, and this is a great problem to have, if the demand keeps up, you either start charging enormous prices and you make a couple of pieces a year or you need to make this scalable. And that’s been tough, because I feel like people respond to my brand because I’m building it myself and I talk about that a lot.”
Hill has hopes of one day creating a women’s work force to support her. “In Detroit there’s a program called Women Who Weld, where they take women out of shelters and teach them the craft,” she explains. She dubs this dream team her “Whore’s Army,” referring to her business name, (wh)Orehaus Studios, a tongue-in-cheek play on words, conjured up when she couldn’t get the domain name she wanted. “Orehaus was taken, and a friend suggested I add the ‘w’ and the ‘h.’ I reasoned that if anyone could do it, it would have to be a woman.”
“The definition of the word ore means something of value,” says Hill. “At the time, I was using materials that were meant to be discarded, so I was pulling value out of that. And I wanted to give this word that was meant to devalue a new value. It’s very meta, and it’s been fun to see the evolution of that. But,” she admits, “not everyone loves it.”
As her work evolves toward the future, Hill freely borrows from her past. Recent pieces, like her Restraint collection of tables wrapped in leather and trussed up with brass-buckled belts, nod to high fashion and its current focus on corsetry. She’s also designed a line of small goods, including marble and brass bookends, recently featured on GOOP; salt cellars; and leather cuffs sold in pairs and meant to shared with “another bad-ass woman.” Hill, like Davillier, is meticulous when it comes to craftsmanship; unsurprisingly, her work is carried by some of the most exclusive showrooms across the country, including Jay Jeffers in San Francisco, and “featured in the homes of a whole bunch of Forbes Fifty under Fifty.”
“My perfect life would look very similar to what it is now, with just a little bit more ease in terms of business and doing more projects that I want to,” Hill reflects. “Some people have a little notebook by the side of their bed where they jot down their ideas. I can just get up and build it right there. So I really just want to keep that.”
And she wants to stay on Kohler Street. Recently she welcomed designers Brynn Gelbard and Lisa Donohoe of Londubh Studio into her space. “Our perception has always been that it’s really the epicenter of people pushing the boundaries in design within Los Angeles and supporting each other so they can take risks,” says Gelbard about what drew the duo to the shop.