Sylvia Chivaratanond and Philippe Vergne host an intimate affair at their new pad in Hancock Park.
The view from the upper floors of the El Royale, a storied 1929 apartment building in L.A.’s Hancock Park neighborhood which Mae West, William Faulkner and Clark Gable once called home, is unlike any other in town. Typically, to get a bird’s-eye perspective of the city, you have to see it from a secluded spot high in the hills. At this historic building, which was designed by William Douglas Lee (of Chateau Marmont fame) with his signature rococo details, residents are uniquely positioned to witness the action from the heart of the city, to be observers and participants at the same time.
It’s no coincidence, then, that Sylvia Chivaratanond and Philippe Vergne, star husband-and-wife curators and welcome additions to the city’s thriving art scene, have pinpointed this as their new West Coast home. And they chose the building’s rooftop as the ideal spot to host a lunch catered by Heirloom LA. Sixty of their friends and colleagues, including artists Catherine Opie, Alex Israel, Jonas Wood and Joe Zorrilla, musicians Moby and Devendra Banhart, and designers Bernhard Willhelm and Jasmin Shokrian, Chivaratanond’s college friend, got to check out the panorama for themselves, including downtown’s glittering skyline.
“I grew up here in Hollywood,” says Chivaratanond, “and my sister is an urban planner for the city. She kept telling me, ‘Downtown L.A. is going to happen. It’s going to be amazing.’ And I just didn’t believe her. Then, one day, it happened.”
In March, Chivaratanond, Vergne and their three-year-old son, Indra, decamped from Manhattan when Vergne was offered the director’s post at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA)—a coveted spot that had been vacated by Jeffrey Deitch last year. Chivaratanond is the Suzanne Deal Booth Adjunct Curator of American Art for the Centre Pompidou Foundation, a position which she also held in New York. That means she works on American artist acquisitions for the venerable Parisian museum’s permanent collection—and she and Vergne are both popular dinner party guests of late. It’s been a whirlwind transition for the young family, since Vergne, who was the Dia Art Foundation director back in New York, arrived to find a completely clear programming calendar at MOCA, which he had to plan and fill immediately. In September, Vergne brought live art back to The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA with a series of multidisciplinary performances, “Step and Repeat.” Also on deck is a presentation of more than 100 Andy Warhol canvases on loan from Dia, currently on display through Feb. 2, 2015, and an Elaine Sturtevant exhibit and a Matthew Barney retrospective (at Geffen) slated next spring. In the meantime, the couple’s home was another blank slate that required strategic planning.
“We kept our loft in New York, which is very spare and modern, and not at all like this apartment, so we didn’t bring much with us. It was exciting to start from scratch,” says Chivaratanond, who met Vergne when they both worked at the Walker Center for Contemporary Art in Minneapolis. “Obviously, we like things to be minimal, but I wanted something softer here.”
A disciplined shopper, Chivaratanond will buy only a handful of pieces from labels like Céline, Lanvin or Givenchy on her
frequent trips to Europe. But her interior design concept for the new three-bedroom plus studio, just-under-3,000-square-foot apartment began with a search on 1stdibs.com, and the purchase of Percival Lafer sofas.
“I knew I wanted some ’70s Brazilian pieces. I wanted fluffy and big,” she says. She re-covered the sofas in a plush and durable Ultrasuede in warm gray, playing off the deep tones of the unusual kilim rug she picked up at a shop in Silver Lake. Christopher Allen, who designed the coffee table in the living room, is working on furniture for the studio space that occupies former maid’s quarters off the kitchen.
Considering the family’s modern nomadic lifestyle with frequent trips back to New York and Vergne’s native France, the El Royale is the ideal, low-maintenance outpost for the family. It’s around the corner from Indra’s preschool, close to Chivaratanond’s parents, an easy commute to MOCA and right in the heart of the city.
“It feels very much like a European apartment, like something you’d see in Paris,” says Vergne of their ninth-floor abode. When asked if the decor is a collaborative effort for the couple, Vergne, who has been quietly standing in the background most of the day, cracks a wry smile. “Yes, we collaborate on everything. She has ideas. I say, ‘Yes.’”
By Christine Lennon.
Photographed by Trevor Tondro.