Sweet smell of success
At Strange Invisible Perfumes in Los Angeles, Elizabeth Burhop captured the essence of the sensory experience
Deanna Kizis -- Interior Design, 2/1/2004 12:00:00 AM
How does one evoke scent, visually? Interior designer Elizabeth Burhop and botanical perfumer Alexandra Balahoutis turned to fusion and alchemy, combining dashes of bordello glamour with splashes of mob glitz, chemistry chic, and James Bond mod to concoct Strange Invisible Perfumes in Los Angeles. "I love styles that aren't necessarily related but become harmonious," says Burhop. If this sounds a lot like mixing the perfect perfume, all the better.
Balahoutis, the fragrance-obsessed daughter of movie producer Jerry Bruckheimer (Black Hawk Down, Top Gun) needed a home for her wares, 13 scents that have already been "written" along with individual commissions. Beyond ' the basics, she says, the interior also had to "demonstrate the dichotomy between laboratory and luxury, allowing people to trace perfume to its source as an artistic endeavor." Capturing these narratives came naturally to Burhop, also a set designer and art director for TV commercials and a former visual-research consultant for Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg, and Rob Reiner. For Strange Invisible Perfumes, Elizabeth Burhop Design + Décor used set builders from the entertainment industry to create a narrative flow from room to room.
Named after a line in William Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra, the boutique occupies a craftsman-style bungalow surrounded by overgrown lavender. The interior transports visitors out of Venice's hippie beach environment, into a more sophisticated realm. In the main salon, glass bottles of botanical elixirs sit on Burhop's circular "scent bar" in wengé veneer, chrome, smoked mirror, and tufted silk. Red satin fringed draperies frame Roman shades in crochet fabric that, Burhop says, "reminded me of a Missoni dress." A black lacquered sofa and stacking tables by James Mont encourage customers to sit down for a consultation. (If they ask, they'll learn that the pieces are rumored to be from Frank Sinatra and Mia Farrow's apartment in New York.) A smoked-glass mirror conceals a fireplace not worth removing at a leased property.
Capiz shells drape the door to the laboratory where Balahoutis does her mixing and bottling. Factory lockers from the 1930's house instruments and a nitrogen tank, while a glass-shaded pendant fixture adds an Italian modern touch. The black chalkboard paint on the walls took some convincing—Balahoutis thought they'd make the room too dark. But Burhop prevailed.
"Doing the walls was the fun part," she says. After interviewing Balahoutis on the scents that are most important to her, Burhop brought in two Rhode Island School of Design students to draw appropriate flowers on the walls in pastels. (A spray fixative eliminates the smudging issue.) "It was just like they were cramming for a test," she says with a laugh. "They stayed up all night, played music, and worked." She then hired a chemistry professor from the University of California to translate the flowers into formulas—and add them to the students' composition.
Onetime bedrooms are now devoted to the business side of the business. A muted disco vibe prevails in the blending room, with its Verner Panton pendant globe and lighting dimmed so as not to damage the essential oils stored in a battery of green glass bottles. In the executive office, a French 1940's crystal chandelier hangs over an art deco desk in gleaming Macassar ebony, and Antonio Citterio's aluminum-mesh guest chairs pick up the metallic threading in an Indian silk print. Walls are covered in a variegated sari fabric that Burhop fused onto white wallpaper backing.
"The nice thing about working with Elizabeth was that she understood the story I had created—and interpreted it with great precision," Balahoutis says. "She teased out all the beautiful details." As a result, Strange Invisible Perfumes offers an intoxicating mix of old and new, commercial and personal. It's an interior that arrests the eye with essential beauty and pays tribute to all the other senses.