Across the street from The Original Farmer’s Market is Short Stories, Los Angeles’s newest boutique hotel, and our latest landscaping project.
Our talented landscape designer, Cindy Knotts, teamed up with Grifka Group and set out to create a hidden garden oasis in the heart of the lively city of LA. We sat down with Leo Grifka, real estate developer and owner of Short Stories, along with his interior designer, Kevin from Kevin Klein Design, to learn more about the design process and what it was like working with our horticulture team.
Let's start with the basics. Tell us about your backgrounds and how you two met.
LEO: My background is in development. I started with a company that specializes in creative office development. I was doing that for about five years. In 2016, I founded my own company, Grifka Group, where I started renovating various projects. We started with the renovation of Palihotel in Culver City and grew from there. During COVID, I acquired Farmer’s Daughter, which is now Short Stories. We renovated this space throughout the entire pandemic and had our grand opening in April.
KEVIN: I went to architecture school and started in hotel development. I worked on all kinds of hotels and restaurants for about 10 years. Then a couple of years ago, I splintered off and started my own interior design business. Working with Leo on Short Stories became the perfect application of my past life as a hotel developer and my new interior design business.
LEO: As far as how we met, we grew up together. We are both LA natives and went to middle school together.
Short Stories is located around the corner from Miracle Mile, an LA neighborhood filled with history. This hotel also has a fun background. Talk to us about the inspiration behind the design. Did any of it stem from the history of the area?
KEVIN: I wouldn’t say that the inspiration for Short Stories was directly drawn from the history of Los Angeles but there is a historical context to it. I think the design of the hotel is geared towards a long-lasting design narrative. You walk into the courtyard and you immediately feel like you are in this old-world environment that will never drop out of style. Some of the original inspiration was drawn from an old European backyard. The goal was to have people step into another world.
LEO: It was very important to us to stay true to the architecture of the building. The bones of the original building gave us a lot to work with. When you look up at the property from the front entrance for the first time, it looks a bit like a typical LA motel, but then you walk inside and are greeted by a space that is much more high-end, unique, and transformative.
We love the artwork throughout the hotel! What was the process of picking out the art like?
LEO: One of the cooler experiences we had with this project was we did what we wanted. That especially goes for the artwork. We chose pieces that we really liked and thought people would also appreciate. With the pieces in the lobby, they came from an artist named Jude Pauli. I actually discovered her on Instagram. She is a local artist in Echo Park. We loved how different her pieces were and asked her to create some for us. We gave her a lot of freedom and they turned out perfectly.
KEVIN: The color palette and materials incorporated in her work were so relevant to the design as well. They’ve got an earthy terracotta color and the material creates the perfect contrast to the rest of the space. It was such a breath of fresh air to work with her.
LEO: We took our time to get to know the artists. In addition to Jude Pauli, we worked with a well-known Los Angeles based artist by the name of Kenton Nelson. I’ve always loved his work and I reached out to him on a whim and we immediately hit it off. All of the artwork in the rooms are from him. We wanted to keep things minimal. The goal was to have one big statement piece in each room and Kenton’s work helped us accomplish that.
How much of your design styles live in the aesthetic of Short Stories? Was it difficult to find a balance between incorporating your design preferences while also staying true to the brand of the hotel?
LEO: It can be difficult to take yourself out of it but to a certain degree you kind of have to. Kevin is great at designing for the market. Funny story. Both Kevin and I are quite tall. So during the process of placing a lot of the artwork, we had to lower the height of each piece because in the beginning, we were hanging everything at our eye level.
KEVIN: There is a business model to it all. If we were designing just what we wanted, we wouldn’t be able to accomplish what we set out to do. Yet in the umbrella of accomplishing the overall design, we did pick out pieces that we loved as well.
You worked with our landscape designer, Cindy Knotts on this project. At what stage in the design process did you start thinking about landscaping and interior plantscaping?
KEVIN: Very early on. It’s fair to say that my interior design thought was rooted around what the landscape would be. It’s been incredible to see the landscaping grow into its true effectuation of the secret garden we set out to create with Cindy.
LEO: We've worked with Cindy in the past and she was the first person, aside from Kevin, that saw the property. I called her up immediately and told her that this is going to be the craziest secret garden you’d ever seen. She came over immediately. In fact, she met up with us before we ever really had a design. The courtyard is the heart and soul of this property so bringing Cindy in at the start was essential.
Through working with her, did you learn anything new about plants or plant design?
KEVIN: To be honest, I let her just do her thing. I think we provided references and we’ve spoken with her on a visceral level. On a tangible level though, there is no amount of knowledge I could absorb that would get me close to where she is at. I am not trying to be the expert on this aspect. She has given us a lot of great pointers which I’ve applied to other schools of thought within other potential projects. When working on a project like this, with so many moving parts, we wanted to leave the plant designing to the experts.
Short Stories has a lot to offer. There is the hotel stay, the dining, and the courtyard. There is also the Members Club, a service you don't see in a lot of hotels. Tell us more about this program and what motivated you to create it.
LEO: The thought process was that we have this beautiful and robust restaurant and courtyard space. When it’s not activated with a lot of people, it doesn’t feel as alive. That got us thinking about how we could activate the space regularly. We realized that the demographics that are a part of co-working offices may want to work in a space where they have access to luxury items like high-end food and beverage, a pool, and a hotel room. Basically, taking them out of their glass cubicle and putting them into a beautiful outdoor setting, and for the same cost as a co-working membership. We are in the process of signing members up but haven’t fully launched the program, so stay tuned on that.
Alright, last question. If you were to describe Short Stories in one word, what word would that be?
KEVIN: Oh gosh! It would be either contemporary or sophisticated. I mean, there is something so different about this space compared to other hotels… I am going to go with sophisticated.