Their Name In Lights
Xten Architecture is winning raves for FordBrady, the converted Los Angeles theater where Harrison Ford's son lives and works
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 7/1/2007 12:00:00 AM
Willard Ford has virtually no design background. Instead, he's been a substitute teacher, an assistant to an uncle who ran a housing program for the homeless, and an entrepreneur setting up bike trips through Vietnam. And he still rides. So how has he come to live among what's arguably one of Los Angeles's most forward-thinking furnishings collections, housed in an environment of uncontrived cool? When pressed, he allows: "My father was a carpenter, so I spent a lot of time on construction sites." (For the rest of us, said father is more familiar on movie screens. His name is Harrison.)
Prologue first. Cruising through Chinatown on one of his epic bike rides, the younger Ford saw the deserted Kim Sing Theatre and knew he had to have it. He had no plans for business or development. Just real-estate lust. Would the place be salvageable? Xten Architecture's married principals, Monika Haefelfinger and Austin Kelly, gave a joint thumbs-up despite the building's completely derelict state.
Built in 1926 as a vaudeville house, it served as a cinema from the 1940's until 1986, when it was abandoned. "Truly frightening" is how Kelly describes his earliest encounter. "There was no light. Old film reels and projection cameras were stacked about, like Cinema Paradiso." Permit processes dragged on for two and a half years, followed by three years of demolition and construction. During that time, Ford and his longtime friend John Brady, a fellow cyclist and a designer, decided to go into the furniture business under the name FordBrady. And Ford decided to move into the store's loft space with fashion designer Michelle Yu, whose women's-wear line launches in August.
Xten retained the marquee of the theater; its entry tunnel, refreshed with tangerine paint and fluorescent tubes; and the brick perimeter walls, although they desperately needed seismic upgrades. Inside, the site's original Douglas fir trusses have become an improvised overhead rack for hanging Ford's four racing bikes. Everything else in the 12,000-square-foot structure, including three additional retail units, was gutted.
"We carved out a courtyard. That was our main move to get light," Haefelfinger explains. The gesture also separated the loft unit from the leased shops, for now a hair salon, a pizzeria, and a convenience store. Xten let more light into the loft through five skylights and the courtyard elevation's 10- to 20-foot-tall windows. The glass alternates with oxblood-colored plywood panels incorporating doors. Asked about the robust color choice, Haefelfinger says simply, "It's Chinatown."
She and Kelly leveled the theater's raked floor and poured cement—lots of it—for a foundation. (During demolition, the team found three previous poured foundations. Not a bit was usable.) Where the projection screen was once located, three steps down, the architects thought it logical to create a semi-enclosed media room.
Beyond the media room lies the master suite. Upstairs are a bedroom for Ford's teenage son, a mezzanine studio for Yu, and a bathroom showcasing the Chinese glass tile FordBrady represents. The remainder of the 6,500 square feet is wide open.
Xten made the kitchen the literal centerpiece of the living space. MDF cabinetry, a mammoth 30 feet wide, is finished with thick conversion lacquer, aluminum, and bamboo laminate. "Now all my clients want that size," Kelly says. The equally oversize island houses the dishwasher, sink, and oven in addition to doubling as a breakfast bar.
As for merchandise, FordBrady began with Thailand and then branched out to the U.K., Switzerland, and Japan, all the while selecting pieces that are modern, organic, and environmentally sensitive. The two friends have sought out local talent as well. Recently, art joined the mix; FordBrady is the downtown representative for West Hollywood's Earl McGrath Gallery—an unofficial landmark by Arata Isozaki & Associates—and pieces by gallery artists are displayed throughout.
All the furnishings are for sale, too. Teak offcuts constitute a rectilinear bench. A cocktail table gleams with red automotive paint. Bar stools look like spider webs of dark gray powder-coated cast aluminum. Chandeliers and pendant fixtures are made of silkworm cocoons, reclaimed mulberry bark, handblown glass, or delicate porcelain.
When those particular items are sold, that might just be it for them. Ford and Brady order only three or four of any given design. Then they move on, their wheels in perpetual motion.