While gluten-free food continues to gain traction across the United States (especially in the last decade), it has been a way of life for three generations of the Charlier family of Provence, France. Make that organic and sustainable, too. Upon graduating from Babson College, Chloé Charlier determined to combine her new-found business acumen and deep-rooted knowledge of bread and baking, moved to Los Angeles to embark on a venture. Breadblok, her retail patisserie and café, recently opened in the heart of Santa Monica on Montana Avenue. Credit Los Angeles-based Commune with design that’s itself a combo of the owner's past with hints of Provence and a strong So-Cal flavor. All new.
“She’s impressive,” Commune co-founder and principal Roman Alonso says of his 26-year-old client, who came to the firm having seen its Tartine Manufactory in San Francisco, and nearby Farmshop restaurants. Straight off, Alonso looked to her for cues. “Everything she does is so natural. All our finishes are natural, too.” Subliminal influences came from “the vernacular architecture of Provence,” where he had previously visited several times and the family’s home, seen only through photographs.
So, the light-filled, 800-square-foot shop has Saltillo terra cotta tiles for flooring and a mélange of subtly toned plaster for walls. One long wall is for breads, the racks are made of alder as are storage cabinets below. In front is the pastry display. Choose a coconut lime or Linzer tartlet from the vitrine atop a limestone base, then head to the coffee bar for a cappuccino or macchiato—the choices, among others, spelled out with hand-painted blocks fashioned like Scrabble tiles. Linger on a length-wise banquette, its cream upholstery a mix of cotton blends, its facing tables walnut. Meanwhile, sconces are of stitched parchment, and the overhead pendants are of woven rope as in basketry. Every bit is custom. “Like the product, says Alonso, “it’s artisanal.”
With design in the early stages, the Commune team was also charged with creating a mobile farm stand so Breadblok could hit the local farmers’ markets. Their solution based on European counterparts? Sawhorses to support the table and anchor the framework for a canopy. Handwoven baskets for bread and a patchwork linen and canvas tablecloth extend the bespoke approach. As for Alonso, design was akin to a labor of love. He’s been gluten-free for 10 years.