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El Centro, a new luxury apartment development, is setting the standard
for communal living and design for Hollywood. Showstopping amenities such as a
44-foot saltwater pool and lush botanical gardens, as well as smaller details
such as Caesarstone countertops, oak flooring, and custom cabinetry come
together in an elegant environment that goes beyond treating apartments as
isolated spaces and delivers something more like a neighborhood. The result is
a unique and fresh take on living in Hollywood.
Helming El Centro’s visionary aesthetic are the design wizards at Commune, an LA-based studio that brings a wealth of design experience from residential development projects and, with Ace and Standard hotels in their design portfolio, a fascinating history with hospitality clients. We sat down with Steven Johanknecht, the studio’s cofounder, to talk about Commune and the process of developing a vision for El Centro.
Tell us a little bit about Commune.
Commune was founded by four friends in 2004.
Commune stands for community: a community of like-minded architects, interior
designers, graphic designers, consultants, and artisans. We were inspired by
the Bauhaus and the Eames Studio. We represent a multidisciplinary and holistic
approach to design.
How would you describe Commune’s design philosophy?
Appropriate, Diverse, Relaxed, Elegant,
What was your vision for El Centro?
The El Centro project was about creating a
sense of neighborhood in the heart of Hollywood. We focused on what the overall
experience would be and, in our design process, considered the big picture as
well as the small details. We tried to avoid trends and gimmicks and worked to
create a space that would age well over time. We envisioned apartment designs
and comfortable amenity spaces that tenants would actually want to use and
spend time in.
How did the Hollywood location impact your
Hollywood has become a more vibrant community
in the past few years. It’s an exciting urban environment with proximity to the
hills and hiking. The location on Hollywood Boulevard meant that our design for
the project needed to be experienced one way on the street level and transform
into something else for residents. The retail façade level has a relationship to
the street and is distinctly urban, more akin to the experience of apartment
buildings in NYC. On the residential level, the buildings are arranged around
landscaped outdoor plazas and walkways with amenity spaces such as a gym, yoga
studio, outdoor saltwater swimming pool, hot tub, and sunbathing decks. We
focused on how the areas connected, creating a whole community and neighborhood
just above street level.
What atmosphere were you looking to create throughout
How places feel is just as important as how
they look. We wanted to create interiors that feel relaxed and modern and that
age well over time. We were inspired by the colors of Southern California, the
earth and nature, with a bit more intensity for a distinctive statement in the
urban Hollywood location. We also were inspired by the saturated color in work
of legendary architects Ricardo Legorreta and Luis Barragan. The buildings
provide the backdrop for the incredible landscape and the cactus garden that
weaves throughout the property. The color of the interior fabrics and
furnishings in the common spaces are also inspired by and rooted in nature. In
the apartments, the kitchen and bathroom designs are simple and efficient. The
finishes are simple and understated with matte finishes. We wanted to create a
good backdrop for various tenants’ personal style and furnishings.
Do you have a favorite design element at El
The Sunroom adjacent to the pool is a really wonderful space to be in. It’s hard to believe Hollywood Boulevard is bustling just below.
As a designer, what periods or architectural
styles do you find most inspiring?
We are fortunate to work on really diverse
projects that provide the opportunity to explore different styles. I love the
Bauhaus, Art Deco, Modernism, as well as the work of Donald Judd and hand
crafted artisans. I always like to be exposed to something new.
What advice would you give to someone looking to design
a smaller space, such as an apartment?
For interior furnishings, invest in a few
good pieces. You will end up having them for a long time. Sometimes a few
larger pieces make the room. Good lighting and a nice rug are key. It's
important to have a place you love that feels like home.
Who are some of your favorite local
Photographer Spencer Lowell and sculptor
Bradley Duncan come to mind, and both have a couple of pieces in El Centro!
How do you stay inspired?
I keep looking. There are so many interesting
things happening in LA these days. I also have a big collection of books on art
and design. Every time I pick one up, I discover something I hadn’t noticed