Architecture, art, and branding converge at the corner location of L.A. Eyeworks, a Neil M. Denari design
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 3/1/2003 12:00:00 AM
Traffic-halting L.A. Eyeworks, on the corner of Beverly Boulevard and Martell Avenue, is Neil M. Denari's first completed project since leaving his position as director of SCI-Arc. Denari got the job through his own low-key marketing. "I picked up a pair of glasses and dropped off my monograph," says the architect, who—securing the commission—confronted a complex program in a compact 1,150 square feet.
With shops on Melrose Avenue and in South Coast Plaza, L.A. Eyeworks already stood out for its modish frames, a reputation bolstered by owners Gai Gherardi and Barbara McReynolds's art and counterculture connections as well as the company's star-powered print campaign. Ads feature celebrity photo portraits and a memorable tag line: "A face is like a work of art. It deserves a great frame." In designing the third L.A. Eyeworks branch, this one reserved for the house label, Denari's firm gave the company a $340,000 frame of its own.
The existing building, recently a storage facility, was definitely ready for an overhaul. Denari profited from the bull-nose corner site by pulling back the facade to blur the distinction between indoors and out. The resulting canopy now overhangs a glass entry piece whose diagonal orientation is dictated by newly exposed steel columns. These uprights also order abstracted signage, an L-shape armature supporting two aluminum boxes. L.A. Eyeworks's logo appears on the larger box as laser-cut letters backed by green acrylic; the same goes for the blue acrylic address on the smaller box.
As with any eyewear shop, the project's core is a numbers game. How many linear feet can accommodate what quantity of frames? In this case, 500 pairs—100 designs in up to six colors—are displayed on 180 feet of easy-to-reach shelving, so customers can explore on their own. ("There aren't too many things more intimate than glasses," Denari comments.) Only the priciest 100 pairs are locked away.
Interestingly, product doesn't overwhelm. Facing shelving units, one framed by aluminum and the other by polyurethane-painted MDF, are so seamlessly integrated into the elevations that Denari's gleaming all-of-a-piece interior reads as a continuous China-blue surface. With eggshell-painted walls and polymer-based terrazzo flooring, the effect is a bit chilly but undeniably compelling.
Custom mobile furniture comprises eyeglass-fitting tables and their smaller counterparts, display tables and stools. Stainless-steel frames with polycarbonate panels address both strength and translucency; wheels ensure flexibility. "The furniture is super-precise, super-manufactured, and milled within a millimeter of its life. It's durable and practically maintenance-free," says Denari. However, the flip side of this precision is tactility. Tabletops are made of Vesta, a solid-surfacing composite poured on MDF. "When you put your hand on the surfaces, you appreciate their purity and smoothness," he continues.
The ceiling's slightly off-center canopy, spanning 45 feet of the shop's total 66-foot length, is a dynamic device: painted drywall suspended 8 feet above the floor at the front of the space, rising to 10 feet at the rear. The seemingly effortless soaring is, in fact, a feat of engineering Denari achieved through an intricate hidden structure of steel beams. Perforations lighten the surface of the canopy. Fluorescent up-lights, installed on the unseen top of the canopy, and an existing skylight illuminate the interior.
Most striking is a sculpture wall by pop-influenced installation artist Jim Isermann, currently showing at the U.C.L.A. Hammer Museum. Isermann's 56 vacuum-formed polystyrene panels, each 32 inches square, are hung on a cleat system that allows them to rotate and stack—injecting texture, movement, and ambiguity. The construction is white, but metal halide lighting and polystyrene's inherent reflectivity lend the surface a blue cast, except for those wearing rose-colored glasses.