getting fancy: home decor shops in los angeles

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Snapped at Proof Bakery in Atwater Village. Their sandwiches are Nicole Kidman to-die-for levels. 

Last week, I told an old friend that the only way I’m leaving Los Angeles is in a body bag. It’s morbid, but sometimes the extreme makes an impression. Two years ago, I told everyone I knew that I was moving across the country because I wanted physical and geographic space. Part of me wondered if I would love the place I’d always liked visiting. I don’t drive or have a license–will not having a car in a city defined by its freeways and car culture be a problem? (No.) Would I fall into the caricature my east coast friends worried about? (No.) Would I miss the seasons? (No, but I sure do miss the rain.)

I’ve lived in Los Angeles for 15 months and my only regret is that I didn’t move here sooner. I spent the first year living on the Westside, in Santa Monica, because I always wanted to live by water. Although it’s a beautiful, walkable city, it’s crazy expensive (think New York rents) and not particularly convenient. I’ve learned that if you don’t live within a 5-mile radius of someone, seeing people can become a challenge, especially when it can sometimes take 2 hours to travel 12 miles. Most of my friends live in mid-city or east, and most of my doctors are in Beverly Hills, so I’d sometimes sit in a car for 45 minutes en route to a check-up. But I digress.

I’ve lived in New York all of my life and its compact, navigable. Once you know New York, you know it, and I’ve become one of my generations that lamented the New York of their childhood. Now, the city feels like a whitewashed episode of a fancy television show–all expensive shops and heels on cobblestone. Even the places in Brooklyn where I knew as a child have become one line of Starbucks, yoga studios, and long-term tourists. I know these are sweeping generalizations, but it’s been hard to see the loss of a city’s character. Soho turned into a shopping mall. Mom and pop shops replaced by H&M. And while L.A. has its own gentrification issues (hello, Downtown?), it seems larger than New York with neighborhoods completely untouched. I think people have a certain impression of L.A. because of West Hollywood, Venice, and Santa Monica, but it’s more than that (god, I sound like an infomercial). There’s so much to see, so much to do. A few months ago, I traveled to The Huntington Library and Gardens in Pasadena, and I felt as if I was in another country. The museums are incredible, so much so that I became a LACMA member after the Guillermo del Toro exhibit. I’ve seen authors read downtown and in Silverlake. I’ve seen local artist exhibitions so far east it took me 90 minutes to get home, and a new friend of mine composes poems for outdoor operas.  Perhaps everything still feels new and I’m that long-term tourist, but every weekend is a new adventure here, a new village to suss out, new burger joints and taco stands to test out.

Insert segue.

Much of my work this year has revolved around creating visual stories for brands, which is a fancy way of saying I help brands architect and tell their story in a way that doesn’t sound contrived and cuts through the clutter. I only work with brands I believe in and people who view our relationship as a true partnership rather than a vendor assigned a PO, and I’ve been privileged to meet (and learn from) some extraordinarily talented people. I’ve also moved apartments (that cost of living thing), and since I spend a great deal of time at home, working, I want to make the space as inviting as it can be. That means going to flea markets and sales (hello, Pasadena!), as well as visiting some fancy shops to window-shop and sometimes buy items for my client shoots or for my home. I’ve rounded up some of the places I’ve been recently, and know this is an ongoing list since there are far more places to see!

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I found Midland on Instagram, and the carefully curated shop in Culver City lives up to the photographs. The two owners were event planners and after sourcing one-of-a-kind and local artist-created pieces for their clients, they decided to open a shop offering their finds. The shop is small but impeccably edited and styled. You’ll find handmade ceramics and delicate jewelry alongside flowy dresses, hard-to-find perfumes, and soaps, salts, books, toys, and Turkish towels. I tried the perfume snapped above, and I didn’t think it was “me” until I found myself sniffing my rest every few minutes and I decided to go back and pick up a scent that few others have — a mix of tobacco, bourbon, and roses.

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Another shop I found via Instagram was Rolling Greens Nursery, and my god, this place is beautiful. The above shot doesn’t do it justice. Here, you’ll find artists who offer up tailored real and faux arrangements for your home, a vast selection of greenery, as well as an abundant shop of cookbooks, ceramics, perfumes, candles, textiles, and decorations you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. I haven’t had a Christmas tree for most of my adult life, but I started investing in ornaments and seasonal decorations to make my home a little warmer this holiday season (supplementing my finds with tons of great stuff I scored at Target!)

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I’ve only just discovered DTLA Art’s District (perhaps because downtown reminds me of Dumbo and going there hasn’t really been my thing), but one of the greatest spots I found was Guerilla Atelier (above snap)–a cabinet of curiosities. From their website:

Juxtaposing exclusive hand crafted brands with the beauty and rawness of a 1920s warehouse, there is the distinct feeling of being in an intimate old world Paris salon rather than a traditional retail space.

I was privileged enough to meet the charming owner, who loves the macabre as much as I do. He’s stocked the space with well-known and obscure items, and the finest collection of Taschen books I’ve seen. My greatest find was the
Dalí cookbook, which has only recently resurfaced in print. You’ll easily spend an hour paging through their incredible display of coffee table books, each adorned with a glove for browsing pages. 

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If you’re an avid collector of vintage and minimalist furnishings and decor, you will love Hammer & Spear (above three photos). Also located in the Art’s District, but a little out of the way from the slew of shops and open-air markets, you feel a sense of warmth and coziness as soon as you enter the space. While the rich, dark hues just against my predilection for a lighter, cooler palette (I felt as if I needed a smoking jacket and a roaring fire), I loved their collection of writing tools (notebooks, pens, and other accouterments) and I fawned over their uber-pricey rug collection (I don’t think I’d ever spend five figures on a rug but to each their own). I did take home a reindeer hide, which was sustainably sourced from Finland (akin to leather, they used all of the reindeer as opposed to harvesting from farms), as well as a few ceramic mugs for a friend. 

Other favorites in DTLA include Alchemy Works & Poketo (two snaps, below). I just scored The Gentlewoman issue with Zadie Smith on the cover at the Culver City Poketo, and I’m still shaking.

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Possibly one of the fanciest home decor shops I’ve visited was Apartment at The Line (see below for bathroom #goals). Located amidst the trendy, upscales shops on Melrose Place in West Hollywood, the two-room shop perched above street level, styled as an apartment, may burn bonfires in your wallet, but it’ll give you smart home decor ideas. From bath oils, soaps, perfumes and bath and body to modernist furniture and tailored clothing (think Pragmatic, Alexander Wang, etc), if you are a minimalist at heart (raises hand), you will love this space. They have a sale going on, so if you have the cash money, live your life. I’ll be paying down my credit card debt over here.

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Do you have any favorite spots in Los Angeles? Great flea markets and small shops? Let me know as I’m always in the market for discovery. 

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eating all the food in los angeles

Chowing in Los Angeles.

Truth be told, I don’t dine out much these days. I’m in stealth, money-saving mode and I spend most of my meals at home, cooking up affordable meals until my financial situation improves. Sometimes I’ll splurge on the random huckleberry donut or iced coffee, but eating out has become a splurge I’ve been skipping. However, I have all these wonderful photos in my food and great memories of my first few months in Los Angeles, that I can’t help but share some of my favorite spots.

Cora’s Coffee Shop: I love this joint. Steps away from the famed Hotel California and the uber-pricey Shutters on the Beach, this small hidden gem boasts a terrific menu infused with Mexican flavors. They serve the best cheeseburgers in Santa Monica, hands-down, and this shop was my mainstay when I first arrived in Los Angeles, flush with cash to burn on chorizo egg scrambles. Ah, the halcyon days of consistent income.

Huckleberry: From freshly-baked pastries to kale squash salads and homemade meatloaf, Huckleberry is THE spot in Santa Monica for the brunch and lunchtime crowds. They’ve even managed to turn up the volume on grilled cheese and bacon with pork from heritage pigs nestled between copious amounts of gruyere cheese. While the long lines are vertigo-inducing, they move pretty fast and the delicious fare is worth it. Recently, a dear friend of mine treated me to a fancy dinner at another Rustic Canyon-owned spot, Cassia. If you’re in Los Angeles, making the trek to Cassia is worth it. From flattened char-grilled chicken to curry chickpeas and creamed kale that will make you weep, I Dyson’d half the menu and had absolutely no regrets.

Republique: One of my favorite Cooking Channel shows is Unique Sweets. Although my palate has changed considerably (I now crazy salty foods vs. sweets), I’m fond of watching the alchemy of baking. One Saturday morning I caught the L.A. episode and nearly passed out when I saw the pistachio Kouign Amann. I then made the mistake of visiting the spot during prime brunch hour on Sunday. The hour+ wait was Odyssean, but the pastries are absolutely worth it. I stocked up on croissants, scones, jumbo cookies and spent the week chowing on them. While there I ordered their cheeseburger/fries special. Not the best cheeseburger, but it was pretty solid.

Neptune’s Net: Yesterday was a day worth photographing. My friend Amber is in town staying with me and our friend Jamie drove us to Malibu. Surrounded by bikers and locals, this heritage spot serves up fish tacos, hot dogs, burgers, and a whole menu of fish. Although recent Yelp reviews haven’t been particularly kind, we LOVED our lunch (fish tacos, deep fried chicken strips, burgers, and a mountain of fries), which was SO CHEAP, and loved our trip to El Matador Beach after.

Casa Linda: The taco game in L.A. is pretty strong. They’re filled with local avocados, fresh herbs and seasoned chicken, beef or fish. Casa Linda in Venice is pretty low-key, but the tacos are formidable. The staff is beyond kind and the food is insanely affordable given the quality. I noticed that most of the taco joints I visited don’t put cheese in their tacos and you know what? I don’t miss it. When my friend Amber arrived on Thursday, we cabbed it to Venice and she couldn’t get enough of their halibut. And their guac? DEEP, REAL AND TRUE.

ROC Kitchen: My love for the dumpling knows no bounds. I first fell in love with potstickers during a two-week trip to Taiwan in 2006, and I haven’t found many spots in the U.S. that could replicate the glory that is the Taiwanese dumpling. Thick, crispy skin, flavorful spoon and chunks of pork–it’s been downright difficult to recreate the Taiwan feeling. The closest joint was Eton in Cobble Hill, which has since closed down, and a spot in San Gabriel, which is a nearly two-hour drive from my house. I’ve settled for Sawtelle in L.A., home to Japanese and Chinese restaurants, and ROC Kitchen is pretty strong. Terrific noodles and reliable potstickers. While their scallion pancakes lacked a lot of scallion, the rest of the food is superb and super affordable.

huckleberry cafe + bakery, santa monica

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Truth be told, it’s feels somewhat odd talking about a cafe in California when I’m in the midst of thirty-degree temperatures in New York. After one layover, two planes and two days of travel, I can say, without hesitation, that it’s good to be home. It’s good to come home and clean, place the shells I collected into a glass jar, and cuddle with my Felix. Yet, I’m patient. I know the jetlag will inevitably settle in. Invariably, I will wake at three in the morning and fall asleep at two in the afternoon. When folks asked me how I’ll celebrate my birthday tomorrow, I say I plan on sleeping. I plan on quietly celebrating the gift of Fiji.

On my way to Fiji, I spent a day in Santa Monica and found this lovely cafe en route to spin class. Filled with in-house homemade pastries (I mean, you’re obviously STARING AT THOSE COOKIES), sandwiches, salads and light dishes made with the freshest, organic ingredients, you not only will score a great meal without breaking the bank, you’re also supporting a local business putting out delicious food.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to lay on the floor and settle into the cruel ten days of jet lag that await me.

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a business trip, unfiltered: los angeles, california

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It’s true that real New Yorkers — those born and raised — are reared from the womb to loathe all things California. We’re suspicious of sunshine and optimism; we mock the screen-writing, cafe-couching, lithe lot. The concept of sitting in a car for 45 minutes to travel two miles is unthinkable — we’ll get out of the damn car and walk, that you very much. We can’t understand the following words: beach, 110, 405; we scowl at the conspicuously casual. And although we believed that Tupac was an exceptional artist, there was, is, no comparison to Biggie.

As someone who’s been traveling to Los Angeles for the better part of the past decade, this morose New Yorker can’t help but be enraptured by the warmth, can’t help but fall in love with the clean streets, the proliferation of green juices and verdant lawns.

And although I landed in LAX scowling and sporting all black, I definitely frightened my colleague by how my scowl transformed into raucous laughter as we sped down Montana in Santa Monica.

Kreation Kafe
Starved after a turbulent 6.5 flight, which included a Cicely Tyson sighting and a half hour of circling the airport because the President took over LAX, I was damn near close to cannibal when we entered Kreation Kafe. This certified green eatery serves up delicious, fresh local dishes made from the simplest of ingredients. From fluffy market eggs to frothy kale smoothies to grilled chicken and quinoa that’s jaw-dropping, I could feel myself thaw. Ignoring the fact that I was still sporting cashmere, standing out amongst the t-shirts and skinny jeans, my colleague and I indulged in a plate of sugary baklava, gearing up for our slew of evening meetings.

But first a pit-stop at Nothing Bundt Cakes, because who, quite honestly, can resist a store devoted to the BUNDT CAKE? Enough said.

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I travel quite a bit for my job, so I’ve made it a point to focus on achieving airline and hotel status. However, The Ambrose — a boutique, eco-conscious hotel in Santa Monica, is the exception to every rule. A nondescript spot surrounded by greenery and serene-inducing water fountains, you’ll want to immerse yourself in this tranquil idyll. The rooms are modest and sustainable; my colleague and I managed to score a patio, which made us delirious. From the Aveda products in the bathroom to the best breakfast going (luscious, scarlet strawberries, flaky almond croissants, piping hot fair-trade coffee), it was difficult to leave my room, and get, you know, WORK, done.

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Which brings me to another interesting fact about Los Angeles. People don’t actually take meetings in offices, rather they negotiate and talk business over food, which pleases me immensely. From rapini pesto toasts (who knew that I would actually like anything BROCCOLI? NEXT YOU’LL HAVE ME EATING THE WRETCHED MUSHROOM!!!!) to nutty cheeses and sparkling wines, you will believe you’ve found bliss while watching the sunset dining al fresco at Shutters on the Beach. Or possibly a sense of calm while chowing down at Barney Greengrass in Beverly Hills.

Mind you, it wasn’t all pomp and play. Aside from the constant conference calls, plans and contracts on deadline, and a three-hour time difference to negotiate, which kept me up to all hours on email — I found a small respite in my 36-hour trip to Los Angeles.

And while I’ll never leave New York, my heart, my home, sometimes it’s necessary to sit supine in sunshine. Sometimes it’s imperative to flock to the west coast and relax amidst meetings, deadline and work, work, work.

creature comforts amidst the storms: nothing bundt cakes, santa monica…

Nothing Bundt Cakes, Santa Monica

Dallas is a flash of glittery lights and cars driving against the shoulder. I know this because I’m staring out the window of a United terminal, watching cars drive. It’s dawn and I’m waiting for another delayed plane in the hopes of coming home. This journey has truly been epic — three planes and a train in twelve hours — but I’m hopeful that I’ll make it home to keep my kitty company through the storm. The only comfort amidst the frenzy is the memory of my exquisite BUNDT CAKE.

You heard me. A BUNDT CAKE.

Before the insanity that was my travel schedule (oh the joys of traveling from Los Angeles to New York during a hurricane!), I discovered Nothing Bundt Cakes, by happenstance, whilst cruising Montana. Launched in 2007 by two home bakers who were evangelical about using the finest ingredients, Nothing Bundt Cakes serves up homemade bundt cakes, mini bundts and scores of goodies for baking and crafting.

Nothing Bundt Cakes believes in living colorfully and deliciously through a whimsical shop display, blooms adorning their cakes’ center, and staff who adore their goods just as much as I do. Did I mentioned that I had to almost sport a straightjacket I could barely control myself in front of the samples. However, I exercised extraordinary restraint and settled on a marble bundt amidst Chocolate Chocolate Chip, White White Chocolate, Red Velvet, White Chocolate Raspberry, Carrot, Lemon, Marble, Cinnamon Swirl and Pecan Praline. OH MY!!!

So if you’re lucky enough to live on the West Coast, I implore you to RUN LIKE A MAD WOMAN to Nothing Bundt Cake.

Nothing Bundt Cakes, Santa Monica
Nothing Bundt Cakes, Santa Monica
Nothing Bundt Cakes, Santa Monica
Nothing Bundt Cakes, Santa Monica
Nothing Bundt Cakes, Santa Monica