Kristofer Keith, the founder of the design group Spacecraft, will do just about anything with a room, so long as the treatment fits the space. His style is no style, no allegiances to any school, whether lean modern or thrift-store retro.
But he draws the line at two things many of us having a hard time resisting: frozen yogurt and cupcakes. Speaking on the phone on his way to Mexico, where a restaurant awaited his discerning eye, Keith clarified his no-trendy-sweets position: “I don’t like to see anywhere I design close. I try to stay away from fads. I like longevity.”
With a versatility that makes Keith one of the most in-demand designers in Southern California, Spacecraft has built many of the sustaining night-life operations in Hollywood, including the New York-styled Bowery, the sleekly kitschy diner Kitchen 24 on Cahuenga, the beer bar Stout, the Art Deco-inspired Delux and the curio-stocked nightclub Boho.
But still, night life is fickle, and even an aversion to faddism can’t prevent some of Spacecraft’s notable venues from closing. In the dozen or so years since he moved to Los Angeles from North Carolina, targeting Southern California as an area “weak on design,” the casualties have included: Max, one of Keith’s first projects that he designed and built single-handedly in the early aughts; Ortolan, chef Christopher Eme’s glamorous French restaurant on 3rd Street, which expired in 2010; and Adolfo Suaya’s supper club Goa.
But besides those dark stars in the rapid-cycle galaxy of Los Angeles night life, Keith and his staff of six office employees including two architects, and the 30 or so workers who construct his designs, are on a roll. He cites Boho as being one of his most challenging projects, with a tight budget and a quick turnaround, but he credits the success of Bowery with ushering in L.A.'s thriving gastropub scene, which has given Spacecraft many of its commissions.
You could tour Spacecraft’s Cahuenga Corridor depots, as many enterprising drinkers do on a Saturday night, and not be able to link them by mood or fashion. Keith, a stylistic nomad, is constructing an empire around swill and grub, with outposts built or upcoming in Echo Park, Long Beach, West Hollywood and beyond.
His latest showcase to open is the Blue Boar, an English pub on Cahuenga. With a rustic wood bar, liquor shelves punctuated with twisted old posts and oil paintings of Victorian gentry, Blue Boar gives off a masculine but open feel.
Yoshi Fujimoto, the director of operations for Blue Boar, notes that Keith’s dedication to authenticity echoed the vision of owner Curtis Nysmith, who wanted to re-create the casual warmth of London alehouses.
“A lot of places slap something together and call it an English pub but Kris wanted authenticity down to the patterned tiles.”
Making him a rarity in the field of design, Keith is both a designer as well as a licensed contractor. “He understands how to take what he envisions and actually make it happen,” Fujimoto said.
It’s that kind of follow-through, as well as a certain thriftiness — “a good designer,” Keith said, “can do everything out of Home Depot” — that attracted Tony Yanow, owner of Tony’s Darts Away in Burbank. He tapped Spacecraft for his latest beer venture, Mohawk Bend, set to open late this month.
Setting up his industrial-chic tavern in a long-closed theater in Echo Park, Yanow wanted a design that would match the neighborhood’s scrappy nature. An additional twist: to use all natural materials that would jibe with Yanow’s veganism.
“It took us a little while to get on the same page,” Yanow said, “but once you lock in with him, he has a good knack for matching the vibe and feel of what you want … there’s a sensitivity that he brings to each individual space.”
Keith is well-known for his competitiveness, and his aim to demolish the competition in Hollywood, but that doesn’t mean that some of his work isn’t playful or broad. He is currently working on a West Hollywood location for Kitchen 24, due to open in the fall. David Dickerson, one of the co-owners of Kitchen 24, said they had a strong idea for the place when it opened three years ago, sporting a “vanilla, strawberry and chocolate” color palette.
“We’re playful and utilitarian. We don’t take ourselves too seriously,” Dickerson said. Keith’s wit, however, isn’t lost on Kitchen 24’s clientele.
Eating burgers and fries next to a light fixture decorated with pieces of flatware caught in wire, Hollywood residents Lucy Davila and Matt O’Reilly like coming to Kitchen 24 because it feels different from the rest of the swanked-out neighborhood.
“It isn’t too yuppie,” Davila said. “It’s laid back,” O’Reilly added, then pointed his fork at the lightly swaying light fixture. “Hmm,” he said, “I might just reclaim some of that silverware.” It’d probably be OK to do, so long as he replaced it with some other shiny, everyday treasure.