Obsolete, Ray Azoulay’s shop-cum-gallery in the Venice district of Los Angeles, has been described as Gothic and moody.
It’s a look that has lured such customers as Helen Hunt, Diane Keaton and Sheryl Crow. And little wonder, as it is the perfect place to find that special piece to set your Hollywood Hills hacienda apart from the rest. The shop offers an unusual mix of furniture and art, from the early 19th to mid 20th centuries, mostly picked up in Europe. Think a pair of boxy mid-century Danish white leather armchairs, battered trestle tables whisked from French country kitchens or a swirling steel art-nouveau mirror.
Alongside the Florence Knoll sofas, Jean Prouvé desks and Verner Panton lights are stranger objects with a touch of the macabre, including staring canvas-covered mannequins or a painted wooden hand stretching through a wall, which you wouldn’t want to reach out for on a dark night. Azoulay’s “installations” in the shop, where he arranges these objects and furniture with more regard for colour and form than chronology, have provided inspiration for many a Los Angeles interior designer.
Where the shop shows off Azoulay’s dark side, his apartment 10 minutes down the road on Abbot Kinney Boulevard is a lighter and brighter affair, with simple, regular spaces, polished concrete floors and gleaming wooden kitchen and bathroom cabinets.
It is one of seven homes in the AK Live/Work complex, which stretches half a block, and was designed – and is partly owned – by the architect Michael Sant. The building has been cleverly divided so that the apartments are sheltered from the maelstrom of hipsters and surfers in the street below.
A staircase from the street leads up to a glass entrance that opens on to the living-room, kitchen and dining-area, which are connected by a 50ft passage. Azoulay has used this to great effect as a showcase for his collection of photography, including a dreamlike landscape by Robert ParkeHarrison and an Irving Penn image of a tractor printed on aluminium, one of just three issued and a treasured piece.
The walls throughout are an elegant dove grey. Azoulay was lucky enough to get an “education” from Donald Kaufman, a renowned “colourist” who creates bespoke paints, while restoring his Pennsylvania farmhouse some years ago, and applied his new skills by choosing a colour that would create a play of light and shade through the day.
Mid-century classics in the living-room, including a 1950s Martin Visser sofa (TIM BEDDOW)
The walls were white when he moved here in June 2007, but the switch to grey was a smart move, as the bright California light streams in from the central terrace and grey mutes the glare.
A Jean Prouvé desk and chair in the office are overlooked by a 1930s sculpture of a man (TIM BEDDOW)
There is little fuss and even less clutter in his home, but those objects that he has chosen are surprising and often funny. On the terrace, guests might be unnerved to sip a cocktail next to an abundance of mannequin heads. In the kitchen a bird’s skull is suspended in a glass case, and a Humpty Dumpty egg is painted with the condescending eyes and twirly moustache of a concierge straight out of Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel.
The kitchen contains clues to the owner’s love of the macabre, with a dolphin skull on the worktop (TIM BEDDOW)
The master bedroom is homely, with a beautiful wooden wall salvaged from Alice Tully Hall in New York, and one of a pair of vintage indigo quilts, the other of which is in the guest bedroom. Azoulay eschews homely here, however, in favour of a mechanical taxidermy deer by the sculptor Ron Pippin.
A bedspread of African fabrics and a Tyson Grumm painting bring colour to the bedroom (TIM BEDDOW)
So how did a native New Yorker find himself running a business 2,800 miles away on the Pacific Coast? Born in New Jersey, Azoulay rose through the ranks at the women’s label Liz Claiborne, where he eventually became design director, before ditching the world of fashion and falling in love out West.
The kitchen, with teak cabinets installed by the building’s architect, Michael Sant (TIM BEDDOW)
The bathroom (TIM BEDDOW)
He is gregarious, laid-back and great company, and describes himself as “72 degrees and sunny” – a natural candidate for West Coast living. And so he made the move. After serendipitously spotting a To Let sign in June 2000, he established Obsolete and now travels the world to source stock, before hurrying back for stints behind the till. The one thing customers won’t find there are rugs, which are conspicuously absent in his apartment too. “I hate rugs!” he as good as yells. He and Sheryl Crow both, apparently.