Inside the new Frankie store in downtown Los Angeles’ arts district, architect and designer Jimenez Lai has installed a single piece of furniture: a staircase that leads to nowhere.
But Lai being Lai – a University of Toronto grad and founding partner of Bureau Spectacular, an L.A.-based firm whose work often experiments with functional but hard to categorize “superfurniture” – this staircase is far from average. It splits open and apart, into nine individual geometric components, each one fulfilling a specific function of a traditional retail environment.
“The entirety of the store furniture is embedded into this staircase,” explains Lai. “We looked at Kevin’s interest in making a multi-functional object, and wanted to find a way for a diagram to deconstruct a whole into parts.”
Kevin is Kevin Chen, co-owner of Frankie, who transformed the brand from its roots as Frankie B, purveyor of denim hip-huggers, into a more mature ready-to-wear line for men and women. Chen and Lai collaborated closely on the design for the store – the first retail project for Bureau Spectacular – testing several iterations before deciding on the staircase.
On a typical day of business the staircase is disbanded, each of the nine geometric segments scattered across the 186-square-metre showroom, serving their purpose as fitting rooms, displays and a checkout area. Castors have been installed on the base of each unit, making it easy to wheel each piece into position, forming the seamless staircase when needed. “We anticipate scenarios where the store can house screening sessions and other performances,” Lai says. “Visitors of the store can use the staircase as a bleacher.”
The interior is otherwise spartan – whitewashed brick walls, exposed beams and ductwork and suspended LED light boxes. The choice of a monochromatic white scheme was inspired by the firm’s adopted home of L.A (it was founded in Chicago in 2008).
“After spending time in Los Angeles, we believe the colour white means something rather particular. Materiality is seldom exposed without paint, and almost every materiality is coated to mask its natural surface,” Lai explains. “Particularly after seeing the mass-censorship of white paint over the bank of L.A River that covers all of the former graffiti, the status of white is almost no longer just a colour – it is a language, and it is a material.”
Outside, Lai gave the store’s facade a bold graphic treatment, sweeping inky paint over whitewashed brick at 45-degree angles, creating optical illusions of exaggerated depth.