GOLD STATE OF MIND

California design firm Electric Bowery is tapping into new ways of living, writes Jessica Ritz on the “Golden State Of Mind”

Designing physical spaces is a dance between our internal desires and the practicalities of our external surroundings. Architects Lucia Bartholomew and Cayley Lambur have closely observed the shifts in this dynamic since they founded Electric Bowery, an architecture and interior design firm based in Venice, California, a decade ago.

“It’s been interesting to see people thinking differently about their lives and their homes,” says Bartholomew. Electric Bowery taps into recent currents, in which “the lines between work and play” have become blurred. “That’s happening in both residential and hospitality [projects],” says Bartholomew. “We’re taking the best qualities from both of those typologies and infusing them in one another,” Lambur adds.

The pool deck at the hip Silver Lake Pool & Inn in LA
The pool deck at the hip Silver Lake Pool & Inn in LA

Their mission to design “for a life well-lived” applies to the portfolio of warm, refined and locale-specific homes, hotels, and restaurants located throughout California and in other states such as New York, Utah, and New Mexico. The ethos applies whether they are creating a bespoke home from scratch, reimagining a challenging urban site into the buzzy Silver Lake Pool & Inn in Los Angeles—with an elevated pool deck inspired in part by Mexican modernism—or sensitively rehabilitating the 30 guest rooms and suites at the rambling, historic Casa Cody in Palm Springs. The Spanish Colonial Revival and ranch-style cottages are filled with a mix of contemporary and vintage furnishings, in a rich palette that honors the romantic desert retreat’s past.

The firm’s process begins with a deep dive into the interests and passions of their clients, many of whom work in the creative industries. “We’re very concept-driven and get excited about how we can elevate an idea to make it more exciting and experiential,” Lambur says.

A residential compound that the firm designed and built on a large lot in Venice illustrates this approach. While a relatively spacious 5,000 sq ft house with only two bedrooms might not make much sense for resale, it serves as a sanctuary for its inhabitants, with dedicated zones for yoga, meditation, and creating art. Travertine exterior cladding, custom plaster and woodwork, and lighting fixtures by design industry favorite Apparatus make for a calm, immersive environment. Understated structures, ample window openings and doorways, and intimate alfresco seating vignettes encourage indoor-outdoor living. The landscaping, by Terremoto, another LA-based firm (and frequent Electric Bowery collaborator) features native planting.

In the hospitality sphere, “what used to be a lobby is being transformed into a place that is more like a living room, where you can sit and linger,” Bartholomew observes. Electric Bowery’s first hotel project—the Wildflower Farms resort in New York’s Hudson Valley, which opened in 2022—is a case in point. The architecture of the 65-key property, composed of freestanding cabins with angular roofs and earthy materials, feels deeply Scandinavian. The relationship to the outdoors and emphasis on sustainability were ways of “bringing California into the project,” Bartholomew says. The buildings sit delicately on the land, with direct access to the grounds from the guest rooms and dramatic views from the restaurant and spa. New York City-based design firm Ward + Gray helped introduce classic Americana into the interiors. The resort immediately drew accolades: House Beautiful magazine appreciated how, “thanks to the careful consideration of the cabins in the topography, it almost immediately feels as if one is alone in nature.”

With its name featuring two iconic streets from Venice and Manhattan, Electric Bowery expresses the founders’ bicoastal roots. Bartholomew worked at powerhouse firm SOM (Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill) during the World Trade Center rebuilding effort, while Lambur’s resume includes Rafael Viñoly Architects, the prolific studio founded by the Uruguayan-born architect who died earlier this year. Bartholomew initially moved west to attend graduate school at the experimental SCI-Arc (Southern California Institute of Architecture) while Lambur helped Canadian firm B+H Architects establish an office in Ho Chi Minh City. The two women met while working for Frank Gehry in Los Angeles in 2010. When a large museum commission they were assigned to was put on hold a year later, they decided to strike out on their own. Ground-up speculative developments, during which they learned the nuts and bolts of real estate finance, also stoked their entrepreneurial spirit. (They are now working on an ambitious investment project in nearby Santa Barbara.)

Even though Electric Bowery still maintains its Venice headquarters and the founders frequently return there, they have relocated their families to elsewhere in the Golden State. Bartholomew primarily lives in Santa Barbara and Lambur is based in the ecological and counter-cultural haven that is Big Sur, farther north along the California coast. The closer connection they now have to the regions and municipalities where building is notoriously complicated—physically and bureaucratically—brings other advantages. Electric Bowery has multiple commissions in progress in both areas.

This Venice home was built to maximize indoor-outdoor living and features spaces for art, yoga, and meditation.
The firm remodeled Casa Cody, the oldest operating hotel in Palm Springs, to honor its Spanish Colonial Revival heritage.
Electric Bowery transformed an industrial building into “Hart,” beach cottage-style home.

In a climate where neutral, greige-dominant interiors are still in demand, Electric Bowery’s mastery of volume and the intelligent interplay of color, texture, and pattern feels refreshing and authentic. “We try to tell a story that’s true to the bones [of a site], but also true to the clients,” Bartholomew says. Yet, if someone wants to lean into a neutral palette, Bartholomew and Lambur will oblige, and likely find an outcome that is far from predictable. As Lambur says: “It’s the little details and nuances that make the project specific to that client, that context, to that site as opposed to, ‘This is our style.’”

 

Photos: Kate Berry; Auberge Resorts Collection; courtesy of Electric Bowery; Laure Joliet.

 

Originally POSTED IN RESIDE OCTOBER 2023

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