Arts & Culture

Q&A: Architect and Designer Gulla Jónsdóttir

The Icelandic designer talks about living and working in West Hollywood, and how this community inspires her.

Dynamic and driven, Icelandic-born Gulla Jónsdóttir is the principal of her namesake architecture and design business, and also sits on the board of the West Hollywood Design District as the Arts Chair.

Before starting her own firm in 2009, Jónsdóttir worked for Richard Meier, Walt Disney Imagineering, and Dodd Mitchell Design where she was instrumental in the renovations for Hollywood’s legendary Roosevelt Hotel.

When she’s not designing hotels around the globe, curating a show at the Salone del Mobile in Milan or an installation at the WestEdge Design Fair in Santa Monica, this uber-talented creative force is in her Atelier at the La Peer Hotel, which is the first hotel in the West Hollywood Design District, that she also just happened to design as well.

Check out the furniture in Gulla’s studio, Atelier Gulla Jónsdóttir, in the heart of the West Hollywood Design District

Why did you decide to live, work and play in the West Hollywood Design District? What about this area resonates with you?

To me, it’s a combination of things but it’s a little bit like the West Village of New York where there are charming tree-lined streets with the best restaurants, design stores, and galleries. You have everything in this condensed, charming neighborhood of my favorite places. I can walk to work, my studio, my gallery and to dinner. It just feels residential but high-end commercial and accessible. It combines the best of what this city has to offer — and the lifestyle in LA that attracts me to this city.

How have you seen the the district develop since you first started working here?

Well, luckily, I’ve been a part of the evolution. The first hotel in the Design District is now here—the Kimpton La Peer, which used to be my studio (more on that later). I’ve been a big part of this and designed the hotel. Now there are another few others coming.

Can you speak about the sense of community here and how that inspires you?

When I was designing the hotel [Kimpton La Peer], I looked to the neighbors for inspiration. I always like to design something to be site specific. So here I was in the Design District and all the neighbors were the most high-end aficionados, importers and world traveled. So, I designed for them and their friends. We are all friendly and the more the merrier. We work together vs in competition and I tried to shop from the neighbors for the hotel. The community is very friendly here. 

How is it different from other parts of LA?

I think the fact that we don’t have so many high rises and it’s more street level.  There are people walking on the street and not going up to get stuck on the 53rd floor. I think the neighborhood craves that sense of community and attracts it. It forces people to mingle and meet at the local café, restaurant, on the streets… We have the Pacific Design Center which attracts designers from all over the city and the wonderful restaurants Cecconi’s and Craig’s which also attract people. It’s a central spot for a luxurious, yet easy, lifestyle.

You truly came full circle with your new studio at the Kimpton La Peer. Tell us how that came about.

When I started my own studio in 2009, I was looking for a space to rent and I found this cute little 2,000 square foot space on 663 N. La Peer Drive. I rented it and the landlord told me I could have it for four years, then he had a permit for a hotel and he wanted me to design it. After four years, and completing the design, I moved my studio to allow for the construction of the hotel. Three years later it was complete but there was always this one empty space in the front.

About six months before the hotel opened, when I was doing a walk-through of the space with the contractor, I had an epiphany: It was my old studio-office and I wanted it back. I was also so happy here and I loved the neighborhood. So now I have a hotel with a bar, pool, gym and a lovely staff of people, so I convinced the owner to rent it to me for an atelier-gallery where I could showcase my furniture collection and other pieces of art from artists that I’ve met around the world that inspire me every day in my work. It’s a nice collaboration. It has become a beautiful family that works together with the hotel, restaurant, and gallery.

Indoor/Outdoor bar at La Peer Hotel, designed by Gulla Jonsdottir, opened in January 2018

What are some of your favorite places to hang out when you’re not working?

Marco Pelusi on Robertson has become my local Italian hairdresser and friend. Du Vin is my favorite wine store on San Vicente. I like Petrossian. I also like M+B Gallery and Maxfield. When get out of the office to select furniture for my various hotel projects around the world, I walk on Beverly and stop into Minotti, Mass Beverly, Poltrona Frau, and Luminaire.

What’s next for you as the WHDD Arts Chair?

My dream is for West Hollywood to have their own fair. I’m the new arts chair for the West Hollywood Design District. I’d love to attract a more international art crowd that is more design savvy to the city and likes what we have to offer. The fact that Frieze [has come] to the city, it automatically brings that extra chic culture and art collectors into Los Angeles, and for us to participate is just a wonderful opportunity to meet these people and show them what we have to offer as far as the culinary and design scene. We want to welcome the international people, plus our neighbors and friends because we are super proud of it.

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