To The Manner Born
Paul Young -- Interior Design, 8/1/2008 12:00:00 AM
"Drama seems to follow my family. We've certainly had our share of tragedies," Honor Fraser explains in an accent that betrays her posh London schooling. The retired fashion model is a Scottish royal, a Fraser of Lovat to be exact, with a 900-year ancestry full of lords and ladies, tartans and bagpipes, fighting and infighting. But today, as she sits in her namesake gallery in Los Angeles, this 34-year-old with closely cropped brown hair is the picture of elegance—a young Audrey Hepburn with black-rimmed eyeglasses, all crisp gestures and self-assured smiles. "Thankfully, all that drama's behind us now," she says with a laugh.
She first discovered contemporary art during her "former life," as she calls it, while living in New York and modeling for the likes of Christian Lacroix, Comme des Garçons, and Alexander McQueen. A move to L.A. in 1998 led to an undergraduate degree in literature from the University of Southern California and eventually a job at the powerhouse Gagosian Gallery in Beverly Hills. In 2006, she opened her own gallery in beachy Venice and quickly gained a reputation for high-quality shows. "While I didn't see it at the time, exposure to the fashion world prepared me for dealing with artists," she says. Her next move was to "upgrade," as she puts it, to the burgeoning art scene of Culver City. But the space she chose, 3,000 square feet in a 1963 redbrick warehouse, presented a challenge architecturally, given that the back was already occupied by a friend's gallery. "My concern was how to make my own gallery distinctive," she continues.
It was an inspired choice to hire Johnston Marklee & Associates, which enjoys toying with context in both commercial and residential projects. As Sharon Johnston explains, she and her husband, Mark Lee, were particularly excited about the fact that both galleries have entries off the same wide corridor leading from the building's main entry: "That meant we could create a 'facade' not on the street but in this quiet, almost ethereal transition space." And that's just what Johnston Marklee did. Around Fraser's front doors, the architects installed a huge black-painted box angled slightly to create a forced perspective when approached from the street entrance. "It's not noticeable at first, but it plays with perception," Lee says. The shiny surface of the box also provides a delicious contrast between the corridor's exposed redbrick walls and Douglas fir beamed ceiling.
Subtle surprises continue as you step across Fraser's threshold, where the gallery name appears in capital letters etched into the sandblasted concrete floor. At reception, the ceiling is a low 7 ½ feet—producing a more pronounced transition into the white-box main gallery and project room, with their 12-foot ceilings and large new skylights working in tandem with track lighting and fluorescent linear fixtures. "You can almost feel the space expand," Johnston says. Fraser's adjacent office is relatively straightforward, furnished with little more than a desk veneered in birch, a Niels Diffrient task chair, and a pair of Easy Edges side chairs by Frank Gehry. Meanwhile, utilitarian areas remain as far removed from the visual experience of the gallery as possible. Storage hides behind a sliding door in reception; the kitchen and restroom are reached via the building's shared corridor.
The greatest surprise may be not in the architecture, which is designed for quietude, but in Fraser's programming. Her artists—emerging talents working in mediums from acrylic to video—tend to embrace a kind of excitement that couldn't be further from what she calls the "dog portraits" of her Scottish youth.