Downtown LA Proper exterior entrance Proper sign

Downtown L.A. | December 06, 2023

The Mother of ‘Eclectic’ Interior Design

“OK, she didn’t invent it, and she doesn’t like the word “eclectic.” But after almost 30 years in business, the designer Kelly Wearstler has remained a celebrity in an often faceless field.

If you had suddenly been blindfolded and transported to Dahlia, a cocktail lounge that opened in May at the Downtown Proper hotel in Los Angeles, you might have asked yourself: Where in the world am I?

The high walls are painted dusty rose, and the booth cushions are upholstered in velvety brown, like the desert floor after rain. Artworks in a terra-cotta palette cover the walls, including a bulbous wicker sculpture that looked somewhat suggestive, like one of Georgia O’Keeffe’s abstract flowers.

Had you been dropped into a boutique hotel bar in San Miguel de Allende? Sedona? Santa Fe?

The answer might not have become any clearer when Kelly Wearstler, the woman who designed the bar and the hotel, walked through the stained-glass doors. 

The Proper hotel in Downtown Los Angeles — a neighborhood that has struggled as the city’s homelessness crisis has accelerated — is a place to eat Iberian-inspired food on Mexican-made furniture. Work by local contemporary artists is mixed with flea-market finds, and upstairs, in homage to the building’s past life as a Y.W.C.A., there is a suite with a private indoor pool stretching beneath a grand ivory ceramic mural. It starts at about $4,800 per night.

In suites like that, about half of the décor is vintage and half is new, a combination that is essential to Ms. Wearstler. “A philosophy of mine is: Old soul, new spirit,” she said. “It’s how I dress. It’s how I design.”

In recent years, Ms. Wearstler has taken on a number of unconventional projects, like designing a techno brutalist-meets-midcentury-modern garage for an electric Hummer ad. At her studio, where she has about 50 employees, she is working on the conversion of the former Cal Neva Lodge and Casino in Lake Tahoe into the next Proper hotel. Cal Neva was once owned by Frank Sinatra.

“We’re going to make it sexy and cool,” Ms. Wearstler said of the casino floor. Such spaces, she added, are generally “not cool.” There will be game tables, but no slot machines, she said: “It will be something like you would see in Monaco.”


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