NATIVE [ney tiv]:

adj. belonging to a person by birth or to a thing by nature; inherent.

Interior design has been one of my great loves for as long as I can remember. I’ve had the great privilege of creating splendor and allure in various arenas throughout my professional career. Everything from designing a retail store and private yachts to turning airplane hangars into plush production offices has allowed me to use my design expertise to completely transform spaces. Native has been such a labor of love for me as a designer because of everything that exists within it, both literally and figuratively.

Photography by Wonho Frank Lee for EATER 

NATIVE is Santa Monica’s newest restaurant featuring impressive culinary selections by renowned chef Nyesha Arrington. Appropriately labeled “Progressive Angeleno cuisine,” her food personifies cultural inclusion and incorporates the best of locally sourced ingredients with imaginative approaches to farm-to-table fare. With a high bar set by such divine delectables, I knew bringing an additional aspect of excellence to our patrons would be paramount. That began my journey through regal textures and color combinations to complement the menu with casual but elevated elegance.

I took an intentional approach to establish an inviting atmosphere of warmth accented with layers of textured glamour. Walking through the doors of NATIVE, guests are greeted with visual compositions that initially appear eccentric but, grouped collectively, illustrate what I feel is the narrative of Los Angeles culture. The heart of the restaurant, in both name and cuisine, is an ode to the distinct diversity that makes LA a melting pot of multiculturalism. While reflecting that in decor and design can be a huge undertaking, my interpretation of that concept can be seen and felt in the strategic design styles, furnishings and materials I used throughout the space that, to me, confidently blend and balance the restaurant atmosphere.

I selected contemporary-style seats to pair perfectly with a custom-created communal bar table constructed with reclaimed wood and classic brass banding. Leather banquettes are arranged across from wooden dining chairs and sit atop raw concrete polished floors. Drop pendant and recessed lighting dazzle against an unexpected charcoal-hued tin ceiling. It was a bold design choice in material and color, but it was well worth it for both visual interest as well as an unmistakable intimacy within the space.

NATIVE is dripping with avant-garde design, as I incorporated a French Baroque antique furnishing that feels natural as an updated hostess stand opposite a more modern velvet waiting table. I decided on integrating whitewashed brick elements on a wall that would have traditionally been painted–a perfect historical homage to the roots of Los Angeles. Using such varied textures in one establishment is both a design challenge and risk, but an artful intertwining presents a vision that harmonizes comfort and refinement with the heritage of Los Angeles.

Throughout NATIVE’s interior can be found one of my design signatures: gold accents in abundance. Golden handles and dining room chairs shine amid the backdrop of black and smoky charcoal detailing. I even transformed the restrooms with gold, making even the fixtures appear ornate. My goal was to allow sophistication and innovation to take center stage by using marble on the front of the bar stand instead of the traditional bar top, setting NATIVE’s bar program apart with a distinguished but approachable flair.

I maintained a consistent focus on NATIVE’s historical connection to Los Angeles with the photos I chose. Sourcing images from the Los Angeles Public Library, I discovered and ultimately chose a photo taken in Santa Monica during the early 20th century portraying a woman calmly feeding her pet lion inside of a restaurant. I saw this photo as a symbol of the control and finesse chef Nyesha embodies in her kitchen, as well as a depiction of her strength, character and fearless choices as a culinary genius.

Perhaps one of the most notable successes when designing a remodel from the ground up is achieving a complete space makeover without changing any of the major infrastructures. It is a challenge I meet eagerly, placing heavy emphasis on the harmony of form and function. By requiring every component to charm and perform simultaneously, I ensure no space is taken for granted. The use of glassware to accent a bar wall and handpicked greenery throughout the space demonstrates a few ways I guarantee efficiency and efficacy in available space, a skill I think is essential in the world of design.

My final vision, from the entrance to the bar and throughout the dining areas, encompasses all that NATIVE stands for in its essence and intention. Named to represent the tastes, textures, and traditions of southern California, I have no doubt that the fusion of delectable dining and enchanting design will take our newest establishment to the top of everyone’s list.

But I’m a tad bit biased.

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