April 1, 2010

Like Father, Like Son: Ilan Dei Designs LA’s A. Kinney Court Boutique

Talk about keeping it in the family. Ilan Dei completed the first Oliver Peoples eyeglass shop, in Los Angeles, in 1991, and two in New York followed. When the founder’s older son, Garrett Leight, eventually decided to open his own überhip L.A. shop, he brought Dei back to design it. Dei calls the redux commission “a chance to work with the same genes.”

But not precisely the same merchandise. Working for Oliver Peoples for four years, Leight had encountered the “concept store” on business-related travels. (Think Colette in Paris, Dover Market in London, or Opening Ceremony in L.A., New York, and Tokyo.) So he decided to sell not only eyewear but also footwear, clothing, books, and music.

And he decided to keep things close to home. The men’s sneakers he had in mind are by the local label Gourmet. Women’s boots would be by Becca Moon, a friend “since I was 10,” he notes. As for T-shirts and sexy leggings, he’d carry the L+A brand cofounded by his cousin April Leight.

All well and good. But location was key. For three weeks, he walked into just about every store on Venice’s Abbot Kinney Boulevard. Perseverance paid off when a shop selling babies’ clothes was relinquishing its lease. Though only 800 square feet, the site had a side courtyard—hence the shop name, A. Kinney Court.

For Dei, who once studied with a Japanese woodworker, the opportunity to fabricate fixtures and furniture on the nearby premises of Ilan Dei Studio was one of the biggest attractions of the project. It also offered him the chance to celebrate what he loves about Venice. “I didn’t have to go far for inspiration,” he says. Early houses and office buildings by Frank O. Gehry & Associates and the studio of Charles and Ray Eames were within miles, the beach and surf mere blocks away.

Rhythmic with subtle concave and convex shapes drawn from the dunes and waves, a plywood fixture covers nearly an entire sidewall at A. Kinney Court, providing a focal point while handling display and storage needs. To sell the idea to Leight, Dei built an 8-by-12-foot prototype. “A computer rendering wouldn’t have communicated the curves,” he says. As for the plywood’s rawness, it counters the polish of eyeglass frames by Thierry Lasry, Mosley Tribes, Mykita, Paul Smith, and of course Oliver Peoples.

Along the opposite sidewall, clothing hangs on nothing more complicated than pipe racks painted safety orange, and a drywall cube houses the opticians’ workroom. Plywood returns on the rear wall, reinterpreted to support pairs of steel pegs on which a sneaker or boot can be placed. But the center of the space is virtually merchandise-free.

Dominating the concrete floor, the cash-wrap desk has front and side panels of glacier-white plastic vacuum-formed into seemingly random bubbles. The top of the desk is bronzed mirror, also used to top square tables at the front and back of the store. It’s clear by now, however, that Dei likes to mix his man-made elements with nature references. For the base of each table and the stools that surround it, he sawed found redwood trunks into segments.

The tables and stools offer customers a place to sit when they’re trying on shoes or having glasses fitted. Half a year from now, the latter should include Leight’s very own collection.

Photography by Eric Laignel.




Recent Projects