As any interior designer should be, Kelly Wearstler is passionate about detail. Her Instagram feed is full of perfectly crafted posts from Wearstler adding perfect style touches to her flawlessly crafted interiors: a bouquet of cherry blossom branches sits in a textured clear glass vase, verdant sprigs sit in a clay bowl geometric by artist Morgan Peck, a funky Memphis-inspired chair sits in the corner of a room. This meticulous eye isn’t just for show, Wearstler is the real deal when it comes to design. And while not everyone can hire him to create their own perfect interior, they can certainly spend the night, or a few, in a Proper Hotel.
Wearstler designs the interiors of all properties in the boutique hotel portfolio and Los Angeles-based residential company Proper Hospitality, co-founded by her husband, developer Brad Korzen. With locations spanning the West Coast and Texas, each is contextual, thoughtful, and, yes, crafted. Two hometown properties, in Santa Monica and downtown LA, exemplify the individual approach the designer takes to each project.
Opened in June 2019, the Santa Monica Proper specializes in laid-back, seaside luxury: textured custom headboards crown plush beds in spacious rooms where neutrals shine; an eclectic collection of chairs in all shapes, sizes, and materials; and a rooftop restaurant, Calabra, with sunset views and a menu ranging from sushi to “hangover burger.” The Downtown LA Proper, opening October 2021, is the company’s newest hotel: an adaptive reuse project inside a circa-1926 California Renaissance Revival building originally designed by the firm of local architecture Curlett & Beelman. Wearstler has brought these 1920s details into the 21st century with plush velvet-covered sofas in the bedrooms, a generous restaurant downstairs, and a lovely plunge pool with checkerboard tiles.
In each hotel, she called on local artists for in situ collaborations. A stunning mural by Abel Macias covers the arched entrance hall of the DTLA Proper. All of the Santa Monica Proper flower arrangements were created by designer Sophia Moreno-Bunge of ISA ISA studio. As always, for Wearstler, it’s all in the details. And supporting emerging artists is one of them.
Elizabeth Fazzare: When designing a resort hotel, how do you use architecture and interiors to create an experience?
Kelly Wearstler: Like all hospitality projects I work on, my design for Downtown LA Proper was heavily influenced by the architecture of the building, which is an icon of the California Renaissance Revival movement. I wanted to preserve as much of that history as possible to create a rich, layered experience. So we found ways to incorporate many of the original features such as brickwork, window surrounds, checkerboard floors and even the full size swimming pool that inspired the Pool Suite – a holdover from the building’s era. as a YWCA. I filled the interiors with artwork and site-specific installations commissioned by local artists to complement key architectural features, as well as vintage furniture from the many historic eras the building has seen over the years. These elements allow each space to have its own unique design moment, so no two rooms are the same. You can have a different but equally personalized experience on each visit. The architecture and interiors are a living, breathing reminder of Los Angeles’ architectural and cultural history.
EF: What was on your mood board for Santa Monica Proper?
kW: I like to do mood boards at the start of every project, so I can imagine how everything will play together in a space. When designing Hotel Santa Monica Proper, I looked to earthy raw materials with lots of texture, a natural color palette, organic textiles, and even seashells and driftwood found on the beach. Everything was very thoughtful and minimal. It informed every design decision I made, from using 1970s Uchiwa bamboo sconces by Ingo Maurer to Douglas fir wood that we had treated to look like driftwood.
EF: When sourcing vintage furniture and decor, what do you look for?
kW: When shopping for vintage for a specific project, I look for pieces that reflect the history and culture of the surrounding community. For example, the Downtown LA Proper features a number of vintage Turkish and Moroccan rugs, as well as vintage hand-carved chairs from Mexico, which speak to Los Angeles’ multicultural heritage.
More generally, I pay attention to shapes and structures when sourcing. Chairs and sofas and things like that can always be upholstered, so if the silhouette really speaks to me but the fabric needs updating, I’ll get it.
I’m also drawn to unique features and pieces that are organically shaped, or a little rough and weathered. Of course, I also keep an eye out for design icons. For example, I was really excited to find the pair of Alky chairs that are now in the Downtown LA Proper Pool Suite. Rugs, tiles, and textiles are also fun to stock up on vintage—you’ll find them at the Santa Monica and downtown LA Proper locations.
EF: How was your approach different for Santa Monica Proper compared to the new Downtown LA Proper?
kW: On the contrary, my approach to designing the Santa Monica Proper and the Downtown LA Proper was actually quite similar. Each project begins with a survey of the surrounding environment, where I identify the architectural, cultural and historical elements that influence this neighborhood. What differs is how these results show up in my design. Each neighborhood has its own unique micro-culture, so naturally, the vibe in Santa Monica is very different from the vibe in downtown Los Angeles. Santa Monica has a laid-back vibe and a rich history of maritime culture, so the color and material palette here is soothing and reminiscent of sand and sea. For Downtown, on the other hand, we wanted to capture how is metropolitan and full of color and life, so interiors reflect that same energy and multicultural spirit. Of course, both properties are filled to the brim with a mix of vintage and custom furniture to give the spaces a layered and collected feel, which is my signature style with every project.
EF: Who were your collaborating artists at both properties and how do you find out which creatives you would like to work with?
kW: For the Santa Monica Proper, I worked with many inspiring local artists, including Kelly Lamb, Jonathan Ryan, Morgan Peck and Ben Medansky. Morgan and Ben also each created a site-specific installation at the Downtown LA Proper, and it was fun to see how they responded to the challenge of creating works that resonated with two very different places. Painter Abel Macias and glass artist David Judson of Judson Studios have also contributed greatly to Downtown LA Proper with their art.
I always discover new creations through exhibitions, galleries, books and, of course, social networks. Over the years we’ve built some amazing relationships that often start with an order and then grow over time. Relationships are really two-way and we push each other to evolve.