If you’ve ever tucked comfortable into the low, plush bench seating at Echo Park’s hip mezcal joint Bar Caló, perched on the custom-made white, triangular stools with bright wood tops at Sawyer in Silver Lake, or partied on the charming rooftop bar of downtown LA’s Ace Hotel, then you’ve already experienced the work of Carlos Anthony Lopez.
Each business has a lightness of design and a specific, restorative aesthetic that makes walking into them a near-therapeutic experience, and his influence doesn’t stop at these three spots; Lopez’s fingerprints are all over the dining scene of Los Angeles, with past clients including Ysabel, Hotel Covell, Cafe Birdie, Good Housekeeping, Atrium, Oriel, Bloom & Plume, and so many more.
Not only is he responsible for transforming ordinary restaurants into safe havens of sorts, but the completely self-taught artist, custom furniture maker, interior designer, and DIY genius is quietly creating similar designs all over Los Angeles’ east side. He’s so renowned for his expert precision in the design community that it earned him the tongue-in-cheek nickname The Project Assassin, a label he embraces, even using it as his Instagram handle.
But 2020 is bringing plenty of expansion for Lopez, who is launching his own additional company, Winston Studios, a boutique workshop to house his prototypes, set design, consulting, and floral and landscape designs. “This can be more fine tuned, more honed in, and more about my creative process,” Lopez explained of the new concept, when we met up recently in his expansive, self-designed loft downtown. “I love my hospitality projects, but I’m also excited to work on spaces that I haven’t seen before. Dream clients are people that are looking for different aesthetics, and something unique.”
If anything reflects his desire for singularity, it’s his own home. The loft is another beautiful space that feels just as therapeutic as his hospitality work, if a bit more eclectic — there are antiques, prototypes, and works of art adorning almost every wall, instead of the cleaner, more precise atmosphere of his public-facing spaces. Lopez shares the space with his boyfriend, a musician, and the pair use an elevated stage area toward the back of the loft to shoot live videos performances and host small performances.
And when it comes to discussing the career path that led him to become one of the most sought-after fabricators, interior designers, and decorators in LA, the biggest influence Lopez credits is simply being outside. Growing up near Fresno, in Clovis, California, Lopez credits hours spent playing in nature, and the influence of his third grade teacher, Mr. Reese — a former architect who introduced Carlos to the idea of the profession — as two of the biggest factors on his current career.
After graduating high school, already convinced that college wasn’t the route for him, the young designer moved around between New York and London, Barcelona and San Francisco, where he lived hand-to-mouth, doing odd jobs or waiting tables, and soaking up as much culture as he could before finally settling in Los Angeles in his late twenties.
“I started as a floral landscaper back in San Francisco, then moved into landscaping before focusing on furniture,” Lopez explained. “My style is definitely more minimalist, but still warm and welcoming. It’s my use of plants, and incorporating really calm colors that brings that feeling. In hospitality, it’s different than sitting in your home: you have to also think about the functionality of people running through a space constantly, so it also has to be durable.”
In LA, Lopez began by designing furniture and selling the pieces he made at the Rose Bowl flea market, or begging room at showrooms on La Brea and Mid-City. From there, he began to make connections with customers who were requesting custom pieces. Eventually, one of these led to his first big break, when he worked in collaboration under Commune Design to create concepts for the Ace Hotel’s lobby and rooftop in 2014.
The Ace has long been one of the most popular and well-known spots in downtown LA — it brought hip hotels to the area long before Freehand or The Nomad opened their doors — so having his work on display at such a prominent and prestigious location led to a practically uninterrupted string of jobs throughout the city.
“For me, as someone who didn’t go to art school or do any of that stuff, being able to point to a place like that as proof of concept is important,” Lopez said. “After the Ace it was kind of just word of mouth. My business is referral-based, so if I didn’t do a good job I wouldn’t be getting that next gig, or the next one. I feel the pressure of that, but I also feel a confidence in knowing that I can perform.”
Lopez designed the storefront for the sleek, upscale restaurant Ostrich Farm in Echo Park, and the storefront for Dinette, as well as the full interior design of the above-mentioned Bar Caló, and more recently, fabrication for the storefront of New York transplant, Five Leaves, in East Hollywood. Currently, he’s working on another lodging project, a micro hotel called Hotel Lindy, which will be located above the Golden Gopher downtown, and seeks to convey a spa-like feel instead of the hostel model.
With only twelve rooms per floor, the hotel will boast a communal kitchen, great room, and shared bathrooms, each bedroom functioning more like a port on a ship than a traditional hotel room. “It’s more like communal life, almost a homestay, but with upscale bathrooms,” he said. “The idea is to go away from the dorm room feel. By the time you’re getting to your room, it’s like you’re getting into your own little cabin.”
No matter what kind of design work he’s doing, Lopez operates on a principle that seems intuitive, but more designers could probably stand to follow: space first. Any ideas or preconceptions he has in mind for a project are always accepted or rejected based on the bones of a place. So instead of over-designing a room, or cramming in furniture to meet his own projected plans, Lopez always makes sure to let the place breathe. This, of course, is another element that gives his spaces a relaxed and meditative feel — the building itself is taken into consideration when he’s designing.
Apart from doing permanent installations, Lopez has also started doing more photo shoots and set design, projects that are transformations of space — a direction that is fully embodied in his new concept Winston Studios — which allows a little more flexibility. “When it’s a temporary thing, so you can get away with a lot more,” he said. “What looks good on camera, things like that. That’s fun and challenging, and a new movement for me.”
But even more than set design, the thing Lopez loves doing the most comes back to the comprehensive, all-encompassing projects where he’s involved from top to bottom — when he’s designing everything from storefront to banquettes to light fixtures, that’s when he’s the happiest. “The more I can do in a project, the happier I am,” he laughs. “I want to do the most, you know what I mean?”