Interior Matters with L.A.’s ETC.etera

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The word “etcetera” brings to mind extras and additions, occasionally frivolous but ultimately vital. The whole, after all, is only the sum of its parts. Los Angeles interior design firm ETC.etera lives up to the promise of its name. Founded by interior designer Sally Breer and stylist/creative director Jake Rodehuth-Harrison, ETC’s residential and hospitality projects are eclectic tableaus upon which the eye happily travels. Each room feels a blend of unexpected references from implacable eras. Here, whimsy and modernism are free to meet, and a balance is struck between the cozy and what could become, in the wrong hands, cold.

Since Breer and Rodehuth-Harrison opened shop in 2016, ETC has gone on to complete some of L.A.’s beloved new spaces. There is Oriel, an unstuffy French spot downtown that manages to do more with pink than the Millennial varietal ever could. In Highland Park, Cafe Birdie, which feels European and deeply Californian all at once. Not to mention their work on private homes across the city: an industrial loft with a warm 1970s patina, a Spanish villa with a dose of classic Americana, a newly built Modern walled with art and other sentimental details.

All of this is to say that ETC is not any one thing. In their openness to draw inspiration from all times and places, Breer and Rodehuth-Harrison do an excellent job in feeling precisely of this moment. Their unique eye and ability to flawlessly execute their vision has not gone unnoticed: ETC’s work has been featured in Vogue, T, Domino, Dwell—to name just a few. Below, Breer and Rodehuth-Harrison let us into their office to talk formative velvet, brown shag, and a premature awareness of Perspex.

Former occupation and your most notable memory there:

SB: Bunbury’s Coffee in Peirmont, New York. They named a muffin after me.

JRH: Creative Director for Los Angeles-based furniture company Lawson-Fenning.

Your first experience with design as a child:

SB: My parents were artists so there wasn’t really anything that wasn’t about design.

JRH: My mother, one-hundred percent. She was always taking me to antique stores on the weekends, where I learned about different eras and styles of furniture. I was probably the only seven-year-old who knew what lucite was.

What did your parents do for work? 

SB: C-ABOVE. My dad was fairly serious about design/art. He was an experimental animator, sculptor, and painter in the 1950s. He approached design intellectually and taught me everything I know about scale/shape/color. My mom has an MFA and used to run a non-profit, The Film Collective in New York, so she was also fairly serious about art, but I experienced more of her interest in our home in a big way. When I was two years old, she rolled out a bolt of canvas and let me paint all over it, then she upholstered my playroom sofa in the fabric.

JRH: Both of my parents are retired, but my mother spent years as a non-professional decorator and we were ALWAYS changing something around the house. My father was a traveling musician and sold musical instruments, which was also a huge inspiration for my varied musical tastes.

Describe your childhood living room in detail:

SB: It changed all the time! My house growing up was an 1800s Victorian so it had a lot of beautiful old details. Some things I remember: a boxy green and tan striped sofa, a huge velvet floor pillow that my mom had made for me to hang out on, a collection of folk art on the walls, a huge Bruce Nauman lithograph over the wood burning stove that said “TONE/MIRROR,” a fish tank that during wintertime my dad would put the fish from the pond in, a couple giant blue glass table lamps that my mom’s godmother had made from old French apothecary jars, and a plastic dead chicken tied on the neck by a ribbon and hung on the window shutter.

JRH: As mentioned above, we redecorated a lot, but the one I remember most features multi-tonal brown shag carpet with a swirl pattern, overstuffed tweed sofas, my dad’s camel (faux suede?) recliner, oak inlaid coffee and side tables, and lots of dried botanicals. Everything was very coordinated and it was all very tonal and BROWN.

Where was your first apartment/house in L.A. and what did it look like?

SB: My first apartment/house in L.A. was a rented room from an old childhood friend who was living out here. It was a 1962 glass midcentury cube in the Hollywood Hills with a panty-dropper view.

JRH: My first place in L.A. was in Silver Lake, near the library. It was a small one-bedroom on a complex built in the late-1940s by the government for returning soldiers and their families. It had such great details, like the original stainless steel kitchen counters. I moved to L.A. from NYC and started fresh with a lot of the furnishings. Routine trips to the Rose Bowl Flea Market were my main source for furniture. It’s rare you get to have a fresh start in life (and design), so take it when you can!

Style of typical L.A. architecture you’re most drawn to:

SB:What I love most about L.A. architecture is just how diverse it is.

JRH: I love that L.A. is an architectural potpourri, and each genre has examples of what works and maybe what doesn’t. I love midcentury institutional buildings in L.A. They seem so simple at first glance but there’s so many details when you look a bit closer. There’s a city building in Glendale that’s a bit Brutalist and essentially floating on these enormous pylons. It’s incredible and something not many people would dare try today.

Style of L.A. architecture you don’t personally love, if any:

SB: I appreciate craftsman but they always feel a little heavy and dark for me.

JRH: I’m really tired of seeing new “value-engineered” housing popping up around the city and changing the landscape of neighborhoods. There’s some new buildings going up on the Eastside that have absolutely no thought about the neighborhood around them. They could literally be in any area, in any city in the world, and that just feels a bit lazy, no?

Favorite type of client:

SB: Open and trusting.

JRH: Clients who trust us and the process are always a favorite. Design is such a personal thing for people and being hired to help make a concept a reality is such an honor. When a client lets us play and have fun and hopefully push them out of their comfort zone a bit, that’s the best.

What’s a day typically look like for you, from start to finish?

SB: Wake up at 7 a.m., coffee and family hang, breakfast at 8, office at 9.

JRH: Wake up. Make coffee and slowly ease into work by reading and answering emails before leaving the house. Once at the office, things get a little less routine, as a typical day can include site visits, showroom visits, sourcing new product, quality control of custom goods, etc, etc, etc. After work, it’s dinner at home with the husband and cats.

What color are you most interested in presently and why?

SB: I’ve been on a lavender kick lately. I really like how complex the color is; it can make you feel so many different things based on what the undertone color leans to.

JRH: Rich ochre brown. Joshua Tree from Portola is a favorite.

Vintage designer of note:

SB: Mary Colter and Charlotte Perriand, tied.

JRH: Pierre Paulin, Ettore Sottsass, Verner Panton.

Contemporary designer of note:

SB: Beata Heuman is doing fun work.

JRH: Dimore Studio is a master of creating moody and saturated spaces.

Trend you’re currently tiring of:

SB: I hate being a Negative Nancy because I do think everything can work in the right context and with the right voice but if I’m honest, I’m a little sick of arches. I know it’s absurd because they’ve been around for ages, but I think we’re starting to see them being overused in the wrong kind of context.

JRH: Beige everything / fast interiors. The idea of curating your home based on what you think others want to see as opposed to what feels authentic and, dare I say, weird?!

Trend you’re hoping takes off:

SB: Weirdness.

JRH: We don’t consider ourselves a trend-driven firm, but I’d love to see an overall return to spaces that took bigger risks and made a lasting impression.

Three things to always consider when designing a room:

SB:

1: It’s ultimately just for you, so choose things from your happy place.

2: It doesn’t need to happen all at once. Live in the space, let it breathe, see where the light is.

3: How do you live in the space? Where do you want to sit when you drink your coffee in the morning? Yada yada.

JRH:

1: Take your time and really understand how you want to live in the space. Sure, you might have a formal dining room, but if you don’t eat at a table very often, maybe it’s begging to be a reading room instead?

2: Functionality. If you’re prone to putting your feet on your coffee table, source accordingly. If you like throwing parties where everyone ends up dancing, think of furniture layouts that can be modified to make room. Think of how you live your life and decorate around that.

3: Curation. Nothing makes a space more personal than having stories attached to things. It can be a simple as filling a large glass bowl with matchbooks of all the places you’ve been. Your space should tell a story!

The definition of good taste, according to you:

SB: The hardest question. A combination of restraint, bravery, and a point of view .

JRH: Authentic, informed, and effortless.

What do you want people to feel when they walk into a space designed by ETC?

SB: Surprised! Inspired! Happy Birthday!

JRH: Good. Whatever that means. There’s so many different ways people approach our spaces, whether is the more personal residential projects we work on or the more public hospitality venues. Regardless, we always want people to come in and think, “Yeah, this is where I want to be.”

Photos courtesy of Tyler William Parker for SIXTY Hotels

Jenny Bahn

Jenny Bahn

Jenny Bahn is a writer and editor based in Brooklyn, specializing in music, fashion, the arts, and culture, both high and low. Her work has been featured in Cereal, Lenny Letter, and more.

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