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Bedroom

How Kelly Wearstler transformed a niche hotel in downtown Los Angeles into a design destination

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With a gorgeous “Proper Hotel” sign in bright neon lights running along its corner, my first impression of the Downtown LA Proper Hotel began long before I even reached its grand arched door. I entered via the facade’s original terra cotta detailing into a more impressive lobby – two giant cacti serve as the gateway to a whimsical corridor painted with popular Mexican fauna. I soon discovered that the intimate foyer is just an aperitif for the visual feast created by world-renowned designer Kelly Wearstler.

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“Other hotels make their presidential suites very secure, and that’s audacious,” General Manager Stephane Lacroix told me when we got to the seventh floor during a hotel tour the next day. He opens the doors to the suite and I’m immediately struck by the sight in front of me – a huge indoor swimming pool.

Measuring 35 feet long and 12 feet wide, the heated body of crystal water reflects a mosaic mural of ivory porcelain by local artist Ben Medansky on one side and sumptuous armchairs on the other. The open plan living room extends into the bright kitchen, where warm woods are complemented by a Portuguese chess-inspired marble floor. The sensual fun continues in the bedroom, where an inviting bed overlooks a TV held by an art easel. Everything encourages entertaining, including the en-suite bathroom where a two-headed shower envelops you with water on both sides.

What inspired such a distinctive suite? HistoryThe building was named YWCA in the 1960s. “The guest rooms have unique features that reference the building’s past life, and these whimsical features have provided canvases for us to design moving environments,” explains Kelly Wearstler via email.

The building’s past life as a World YWCA is also evident in the hotel’s other presidential suite—the “Court Suite,” aptly named after its former function as an indoor basketball court. Aside from the original painted wood floors and two-story ceilings, you’d never guess the living room was once the site of basketball games. Like its sister presidential suite, Wearstler filled the 1,430-square-foot space with custom furniture, in a variety of textures and geometric shapes. Color blocks of charcoal, moss, and smoky blue transform living room walls into large-scale art installations, while bedroom walls are lined with patterned fabrics that complement the handmade rug.

While the hotel was formerly a YWCA in the 1960s, its roots actually date back to the 1920s, when it was built by Los Angeles architects, Curlett & Beelman. The building was originally a private club with members like Cecil B. DeMille, so it has a very authentic Old Hollywood vibe,” says Wearstler. “My job was to bring this landmark into the modern era but also to preserve its rich history, so I added balanced contemporary design elements.” With vintage pieces that nod to the building’s roots in early 20th-century Los Angeles architecture.”

This blending of old and new can be seen throughout the hotel – from the eclectic mix of custom furnishings to handcrafted textiles to the use of over 100 different types of tiles. The attention to detail transforms the hotel into a treasure trove of design elements to discover, each harking back to the building’s heritage. “I drew inspiration from the Spanish Missions, Moroccan architecture and crafts, and Mexican Art Nouveau,” Werstler explains. “Los Angeles is a very multicultural city, and my goal was to capture that cultural richness and create a design that feels authentic to the surrounding community.”

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The hotel stands not only as a celebration of the city’s diverse history, but of its thriving culture today—from the graphite reception desk installation by local ceramist Morgan Peck to the stained-glass doorways by Los Angeles-based Judson Studios to the alluring floral arrangements arranged by Issa. Everything has a story to tell, as Wearstler describes, “A variety of stucco decorations, leathered stone, and hand-painted tiles give the hotel a warm, lived-in residential feel.”

The local, bespoke experience continues in the hotel’s 148 rooms and suites, where original windows bathe custom furnishings and amenities—like Wearstler-designed sheets and Wearstler x Parachute bathrobes—in the warm Los Angeles light. Even the minibar reflects the city’s culture with desserts from local Milla Chocolates and libations from Amass gin and Nat Kidder Vodka in downtown LA.

The hyperlocal focus is particularly appreciated among guests, 75% of whom are from the Los Angeles area, according to Lacroix. Staycations have been thriving during the pandemic, the general manager told me, “They feel like they’re discovering their city because they’re not used to coming to downtown LA.” Angelenos who don’t intend to spend the night are drawn to the hotel because of its 5,000-square-foot rooftop, where Mexican fare from James Beard Award-winning Chef Suzanne Goin is served alongside sweeping views of the city.

Adorned with glowing green Palu trees, heat lamps, and an intimate pool, the rooftop offers a lush retreat from the bustling city center below, an area that stands out as a destination in its own right. “Our city is really experiencing a cultural renaissance,” says Wearstler. “Because downtown Los Angeles is so rich in historic architecture, it was the first to enjoy this resurgence.”

The historic architecture Wearstler is referring to isn’t limited to Hotel Proper—several downtown hotels have taken over buildings dating back to the 1920s. Across the street, The Hoxton is located in a 1922 building that was once the headquarters of the Los Angeles Railroad Authority. The hotel celebrates Art Deco charm with bold colours, restored windows, original marble and grand entrances.

A block away, you’ll find the Ace Hotel in the 1927 United Artists Building while a couple more blocks away, Hotel Figueroa originally opened its doors as a YWCA in 1926. It was the first made by women for women and continues to be. To support her feminist legacy today by showcasing the work of women artists and amenities by local women-owned businesses.

But few building revivals compare to the 1927 Tower Theatre, which Apple has turned into its flagship store. The latest addition to downtown’s Renaissance Renaissance hints at what’s to come—as Lacroix tells me, “If you have a brand like Apple investing in a building like this, there’s a reason.”