New Yorker Ray Azoulay makes a splash in Los Angeles with his Obsolete gallery and a residence by Michael Sant
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 10/1/2008 12:00:00 AM
Nothing in Ray Azoulay's past indicated that he'd open Obsolete, one of the coolest gallery-shops ever to hit Los Angeles. Nor did Azoulay, a long-time New Yorker who rose through the men's wear ranks to become design director of Liz Claiborne, imagine himself living in L.A., in one of architect Michael Sant's enviable AK Live/Work lofts at that. "I fell in love with someone out here," he says. "But more important, I fell in love with Venice," the area where his residence and shop are located. Although initially reluctant to switch coasts, which meant leaving behind a Manhattan loft and a Bucks County, Pennsylvania, farmhouse, the twin lures of romance and West Coast living won out and Azoulay relocated.
"Obsolete wasn't supposed to happen," he continues. Financially set and officially retired, Azoulay was content with indulgences like afternoon movies, spin classes, and leisurely exploring. "But my farmhouse was full of antiques I'd been collecting for years. I wanted to sell them." While driving down Venice's Main Street one day in 2000, a "For Rent" sign caught Azoulay's eye. The stretch of storefronts was gritty and funky—in a word, perfect.
Azoulay leased the 1,400-square-foot space, exposing its bow-truss ceiling, unearthing the concrete floor beneath decrepit carpet, and bringing in his diverse pieces. Voilà, a neighborhood destination was born. Unlike many antiques shops that are little more than precious containers for precious goods, Obsolete is odd, dark, and somewhat Goth. Azoulay eventually took over the two adjoining shops, giving him a total of 6,000 square feet to set up bays and rooms for monthly installations.
The seemingly crazy mix of art, furniture, and objects, which ranges from 17th-century European chairs to contemporary American paintings and taxidermy, is inexplicably harmonious. "Things coexist because they have a similar vocabulary—through form, function, or color," says Azoulay, who replenishes his stock with buying trips to the East Coast and Europe every six to eight weeks. "What I have is a curatorial laboratory."
But very little of this inventory rotates in and out of Azoulay's 1,800-square-foot, two-story condominium a few blocks away. Deferring to the vision of Sant Architects's namesake principal, Azoulay took a fixed and minimalist approach to furnishing his residence, although the assortment of pieces is no less unusual than the offerings in his shop.
But then the building where he lives is unusual, too. AK Live/Work, the crisp-white mixed-use complex Sant partly owns and developed over a 7-year period, spans almost a half block. Split into two masses by a 15-foot-wide garden courtyard, the three-story structure is further broken up by four stairwells carved deep into the facades. Though the street life on Abbot Kinney Boulevard is lively, the development's residential portion, which occupies the top two stories, "is tranquil with a sense of repose," Sant says.
Azoulay's apartment, one of seven dwellings, is a dynamic progression of minimalist spaces that the architect has arranged around two internal courtyards and a terrace. A stairway from the street leads up to the glass-cubed courtyard entry, opening to living, dining, and kitchen areas. All of them unfold along a 50-foot-long gallery wall displaying a tightly curated collection of mostly black-and-white photography by Irving Penn, Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison, and Annie Leibovitz—their monochrome palette in step with Sant's no-nonsense envelope of dove-gray polished concrete flooring, white-painted walls, and laminated glass.
Furnishings share the no-fuss aura yet are far-flung in age and provenance. Surrounding a Danish slat table in the living area are American chairs in camel leather and chrome and a deep-cocoa Martin Visser sofa from the 1950's. In the adjoining dining area, Gerald Summers white stacking chairs from the early 20th century circle an 18th-century wine table from the south of France, lit by a black French '40's pendant fixture. The art is disparate, but all contemporary. Sitting squarely on the table and looking as if it hails from an ancient Chinese dynasty is Tricia Cline's porcelain sculpture from 2006. Anthony Goicolea's huge tree photograph and a Renoir-esque little boy by Gideon Rubin face off on the walls.
Next in succession is the kitchen, which Sant fitted with teak cabinetry and stainless-steel appliances and countertops. Azoulay found it the ideal spot for Ron Pippin's faux taxidermy deer bedecked in a leather saddle. Simple aluminum-framed windows open to the interior courtyard, an al fresco dining room with a vintage pine table and benches and a '60's sculpture of mannequin heads, both Belgian. A guest bedroom brings up the rear of this floor.
Between the dining area and kitchen is the skylit stairwell, its ipé treads Sant's sole concession to conventional luxury. Upstairs is where Azoulay chose to have his office, smartly furnished with a Jean Prouvé desk and chair and a vintage slate blackboard. It's also where the master suite is, yielding that familiar international mix of young and old. A caramel leather sofa, circa 1930, stands beside Vico Magistretti's globular glass floor lamp. Philippe Allaeys's oak bed is from 2001. It's here that Azoulay celebrates his New York roots. A sidewall is paneled in corrugated English basswood, salvaged from last summer's renovation of Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall.