Lauren Rottet expands her Los Angeles operation, opening an office in her native Texas
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 5/1/2002 12:00:00 AM
The storefront of downtown Houston's historic Niels Esperson building gives one pause. Is the pristine white interior home to the latest gallery? Perhaps a smart boutique or fashion showroom? The correct answer is none of the above. As the "DMJM Rottet" discreetly applied on the glass of a window indicates to those conversant with architecture and design, this is the new studio of Lauren Rottet's Los Angeles interiors group, DMJM Rottet. "It's meant to be a gift back to the Houston street," says the native Texan, an FAIA designer and member of Interior Design's Hall of Fame.
The project is also meant to be an efficacious business move, figuring into a heightened national marketing strategy. Proximity to potential and existing Texas clients—Harwood International, Vanco Energy, and BMC Software among them—was another factor. "I love L.A., but Houston is central," remarks Rottet, whose routine entails biweekly travel between the two cities. "It's also a good place to design. You can relax your mind."
Rottet's leasing of the 6,000-square-foot space, with its 14-foot ceilings and wraparound windows, seemed predestined. Growing up in Houston, she had long admired the Italian Renaissance–style Esperson building, located just a block from her father's office. The city's tallest skyscraper when it was erected in 1927, the building was named for a Danish wildcatter who struck oil in Harris County in 1904. Thus, sensitivity to history as well as her own modernist leanings formed the foundation of Rottet's project. She did nothing to alter the limestone facade and grand, arched windows. Inside was another story—she demolished the existing space.
Rottet adopted two organizing principles in designing the studio. The first, she says, stipulated that all inserted elements be "pulled away from the shell." There would be no blurring of old and new. The second mandated egalitarianism. With no closed offices, the light-drenched workplace would be open to all. Circulation occurs in 6-foot-wide corridors along window walls. To delineate the studio, library, conference room, and two meeting rooms, Rottet dropped the ceilings and constructed a series of intersecting planes. Angled and/or canted to barely perceptible degrees, with some sectors carved away to diminish mass, these uprights create "warps meant to break the rigidity of boundaries, visually manipulating the space so it doesn't feel static," she says. Completed, the "box within the existing rectangle" reveals elements of surprise not immediately apparent on plans.
This is a working studio with materials, finishes, and furnishings pared down to basics, but basics for Rottet, with her highly developed personal style, entail a low-key luxe. Except for conference and meeting rooms, flooring throughout is terrazzo, and counters for reception and presentation are marble slabs. Solid doors and glass walls, all frameless, form a clean front for meeting and conference rooms. "I love furniture design," Rottet continues, and the studio provided an opportunity for experimentation. Her workstations combine storage units of painted wood and surfaces of scratch-resistant sanded acrylic. (Look for a facsimile from Bernhardt in the fall.)
Rottet's background as a fine-art student and her painterly eye resulted in a serendipitous "artwork" on the project's focal wall. She was having the surface painted lavender as a subtle relief from the pervasive white when she changed her mind in favor of crimson. Midway through, changed her mind yet again. "Stop," she told the painter, and the wall remained in its color-field–esque state. Fittingly, this process meshed with Rottet's overall approach to design: "I always look at an interior as a canvas that should stay a little unfinished. The goal is to inspire creativity, not control it."