Pristine artists’ communities line the California coast but Venice is something of an anomaly, and residents old and new wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s the freethinking, bohemian energy preserved by longtime locals that has lured the tech companies that trade on pioneering spirit. It’s a mix of grit and sophistication; an edgy, urban destination that’s second only to Disneyland in attracting tourists to Southern California. People, as interior designer Martyn Lawrence Bullard will tell you, will always want “a fun play spot.” And that’s precisely what he crafted for a client’s bachelor pad right in the heart of town.
“This is his pied-a-terre,” says Bullard, who also designed the owner’s main home in Malibu and vacation home in Hawaii. “He’s here for work and likes to spend a couple nights a week, so he wanted it to be a place that was hip and relaxed.” It also needed to show off a growing art collection that includes works by Richard Prince, Nate Lowman and Wolfgang Tillmans, assembled with the guidance of contemporary art specialist Andrea Guttag of Nine Acres Art Services. But even more essential was the ability to easily host friends. “He loves to entertain,” says Bullard, “so we created a couple of different places for him to do so.”
The loft-like space is arranged around an inner courtyard that provided the perfect spot for a casual dining area “with a Zen garden feel,” shares Bullard. Open to the sky, it floods the interior spaces with fresh air and sunshine-important elements to the owner, an avid surfer. To imbue the home with a coastal vibe, the designer chose a traditional blue and white palette but weighted it with shades of black and gray. “It’s the flavor of the beach but more sophisticated,” he says, pointing to the layering of neutral tones like the Hermes saddle-colored leather and the bleached-out woods in the living room. Wrapping the space’s fireplace wall with steel upped the industrial feel, which the designer balanced on the facing dining room wall with a moody, textured wallpaper, the perfect backdrop to works by Leroy Grannis. “Touches of brass add a masculine edge,” notes the designer, as do the antique African shields adorning the upper wall. “I loved the idea of grouping them like an installation. It makes the art in the home more eclectic.”
Just off the living area is another outdoor entertaining spot (and a first for the designer): an alfresco home theater nestled within the balcony. “It’s all very Venice Beach-hip but it had to really work! You had to be able to push a button and make it all go,” says Bullard, paying homage to the AV know-how of Zuma Entertainment. “Everything had to be weatherproof, of course, and able to combat the sun,” says Bullard of the furnishings, “but it also needed to be inviting. The client likes loungy pieces.”
The “loungy” feel continues in the master bedroom, where Bullard appointed a cozy sitting area with vintage armchairs by Brazilian designer Sergio Rodrigues. “We made it feel more ethnic with Balinese fabrics and the grass-cloth wallcovering.” To counter the sunlight, the designer took the wallcovering to the upper reaches of the ceiling. “When my client closes off the room, it’s a dark cocoon. It’s his sanctuary.”
Reflecting on the project, the designer describes the abode’s style as a “crisp, masculine experience but with some yin-yang, too.” Working with landscape designer Stephen Block, Bullard brought greenery to the rooms. “They’re a real moment,” Bullard says of the plants, explaining that he likes how their sculptural shapes juxtapose the artworks. “We were going for clean, modern planters with unique, architectural plantings,” adds Block, who filled Willy Guhl-designed vessels with Beaucarnea recurvata, Dracaena draco, gnarly aloes and agaves. “Leafy and shrubby wasn’t the goal. We wanted it all to have an edge!”
For Bullard, conceiving a hidden world in the midst of a city was tremendously appealing. “To find this really cool, residential vibe here is so surprising. It’s a very urban situation, yet we’ve carved out a little piece of paradise right in the middle of a bustling hang out,” he explains. “It’s got a very special essence that captures you with a feeling of surprise. You don’t expect to find this amid an office complex!” The proof, of course, is in the using. And while the owner has several homes from which to choose, “He really loves this one,” says Bullard. “It does the trick. The whole thing feels like a giant hotel suite. A very cool hotel suite.”