Sean Knibb is an environmental designer, working at a range of scales, from gardens to his biggest project yet, the interior of the new LINE hotel in Koreatown and its newly opened Pot restaurant, helmed by chef Roy Choi. The nightclub was designed by The Houston Brothers and the “tabloid” menus at Pot were designed by Folklor.
Knibb got to know Choi when the chef hired him to design A-Frame restaurant in Culver City.
DnA talked to Sean about the project.
DnA: What was the idea behind the look of LINE and Pot?
Sean Knibb: Pot is Roy’s restaurant, and the idea was to create a sense of lightness and freshness with gardens and plants in an inside space that has no sunlight or windows to the outside world.
DnA: Roy seems to have a particular affection for ‘90s era hip hop. Do you share that?
SK: To a point. The restaurant is Roy and it’s purely part of his flavor. I think there’s a dialogue between creating that energy between the restaurant and the lobby. There’s a subdued form of that genre at earlier times in the lobby when it’s not supposed to be that lively. But a lot of it stems from the energy in the restaurant when it’s being activated during those hours. In the morning, the hip hop doesn’t work in the lobby. You have to look at it from an operations point of view, it has to be quiet, and warm and peaceful and have a family dynamic.
And then in evening you can start delivering that street vibe.
DnA: Do you think the flowery elements in Pot were inspired by your aesthetic?
SK: Absolutely. I mean I think like we definitely wanted to represent nature and gardens; I think everyone has a feminine side.
It’s beautiful and represented in nature, I wanted to bring a general understanding of where we are right now with food culture and nature. I wanted to juxtapose nature into the urban design.
DnA: Did you have fun with all the marijuana or drug references?
SK: That was done by David Irvin (of Folklor) and Roy, and that’s their fun dialogue, and that’s just them having a nice time. I think it’s cool, I think it’s very insightful of them for them to see that happening and to put that into discussion. It’s right there when you’re ordering the food, and it’s great. It’s very ballsy of them.
For me though, I’m Jamaican, and when you’re Jamaican people pull you over all of the time, thinking you’re a drug smuggler. I’ve spent my whole life trying to ditch that, so I’m happy they took over that aspect.
DnA: Is Roy Choi fun to work with?
SK: He’s fun to work with, he’s different from most. He affords me a great deal of freedom and a great deal of trust, and I think we both sort of come from the same understanding of what we’re trying to represent in our work.
And there’s an interesting parallel with our work. He used to work in hotel restaurants, and then he went to the streets, taking his understanding of craft, and taking everyday, simple food to create a new experience bringing cultures together. And for me, I take high fashion, high art and luxury and I pair it with every day art and materials. We both offer an alternative view on what is luxury and what is naturally modern.
I think there’s an interesting parallel between our work and its ability to fuse high and low. I like extremely refined objects and spaces and very simple and accessible materials.
DnA: Was there a particular interest for Roy Choi to work in Koreatown which has a strong cultural identity?
SK: It’s about Los Angeles, as opposed to one particular neighborhood. That’s why we tried to reference all types of ethnic diversity in this one project.There are Mexican fabrics in the bedrooms, and Roy brought his culinary background which is a hybridized Korean flair and sensibility in the food. Then you have mid-century modern and simple building materials with the use of plywood.
I use T-shirts (on the ceilings of the lobby) to reference the garment industry and the worker and that whole casual culture. The colors were chosen to reference West Coast beach culture and vibe.
There are a lot of things coming together in our geographic location.It’s a matter of representing the city as a whole and not carving out just one aspect of it.
DnA: The LINE Hotel is replacing a Radisson. Are boutique hotels trumping chains?
SK: It just offers a different point of view.
A chain hotel is about repetition, a boutique hotel is about a unique experience. Underneath all of the exterior and the design, there’s one thing, it’s service. Whether it’s the Radisson or the LINE, we’re all trying to do the same thing: to create an experience to feel special.
Maybe people come to the LINE and feel a little more complete, and get a special type of service that’s youthful and not so regular.
DnA: To what extent are Roy Choi’s bar and restaurant an integral part of the experience offered by the LINE Hotel?
The new boutique hotel is having the guest experience centered around the culinary experience. People come to a hotel to eat and sleep, so why not centralize the culinary experience?
I think it’s happening more and more that you have hotels where the culinary experience is front and center. You can have people who are in town and in the vicinity who engage in the culinary experience which adds to the makeup and the energy of the hotel.
So it means locals integrate with visitors.
DnA: Is there a benefit to setting up shop in Koreatown with its density and slew of late night businesses?
SK: Definitely. Being in a dense neighborhood with places that are open late, you have the possibility to garner patrons for food or have a late night coffee culture.
It will be interesting to see how the space activates as people spill in and out of the nightclub. It’s still new, so we haven’t experienced the full charge of what the venues at LINE can do. Are we going to be serving people food until 5 in the morning? Are people going to be eating pastries? We’re hoping it evolves into a full 24 hour cycle. It will be interesting to see if we can create a no dead zone.
DnA: The CEO of Sydell group said the idea behind the aesthetic of the hotel was ‘celebrating everyday stuff.’ How did you do that?
SK: I used materials and shapes like the plastic water jugs (that serve as pots for cacti), different shapes and materials that are part of everyday life.
I like taking those shapes and materials and giving them a feeling of luxury.
What is luxury? Is luxury not just a deeper understanding of something you’re trying to acquire? Is it the ability to know that Palmolive used in a certain space makes it luxurious?
So he picked up on that. Henry Taylor’s art piece behind the front desk is also picking up on those shapes and playing with that idea.
DnA: The bedrooms are compact but stunning as each is oriented to a floor-to-ceiling window with a view onto the hills. What was the main idea behind the bedrooms?
SK: The main idea was to create a space where a guest could come in and relax and regroup before going back into the city. And because of the nature of the room with its incredible view, the room serves as a place to look out onto the city. The room is oriented for people to look out the window to the city and a landscape as opposed to the TV or another distraction.
SK: I don’t know what about a textured ceiling invokes ugliness, and the idea is to me is that if you have a concrete box (three walls of the rooms are concrete), you can add texture with a textured ceiling and using a bunch of reflective paint. I got a lot of light to bounce around that way so I could use a minimal amount of light fixtures.
Textured ceilings have great acoustic properties and given all of the other elements in the room, the cottage cheese works well with flat surfaces.
The room is basically a three-sided concrete box, so it just helped to give another surface to look at that wasn’t flat. Visually it’s interesting.
Exactly what is ugly about cottage cheese ceilings? Is it that they are from the 60’s or 50’s and everything is ugly from that era? Or was it in environments that were ugly? On its own in this environment it’s not ugly. The cottage cheese has a chance to survive as opposed to being in a super ugly apartment.
DnA: Is there anything else about the design of LINE that you’d like to share?
SK: I just hope I’ve represented it well and that I’ve represented Los Angeles and the design.
I love my shopping cart chandelier. We made a chandelier out of a shopping cart and it’s in one of the stairwells. It’s really cool, and I think that sums up my mix of attention and tongue-in-cheek and thoughtfulness into the design, bringing a new feeling to boutique hotels in a city.