Color and Character in Downtown L.A.

Get Lost Inside Los Angeles’ Largest Independent Bookstore with Our Latest Color Palette

There are many worlds contained within bookstores, from staggering true accounts of historic battles to fantastic stories set far in the future. But few bookstores can boast an environment that is nearly as captivating as the stories found within it. Among those few is the Last Bookstore, in downtown Los Angeles, which has us so inspired, it’s our latest color muse.

A feast for the eyes and mind, DTLA's Last Bookstore captivated our interest and imagination with its assortment of colors and book titles. Photos provided by the Last Bookstore.

The Last Bookstore uses colors in ways we’d never expect from a bookstore. In an industry that peddles experiences to be found between the covers of books, the Last Bookstore stands apart as providing a unique experience all on its own. The whimsical work of local artists like Jena Priebe, David Lovejoy, and others uses books to tell a different kind of story, enhancing the eclectic, bookish style of the massive retail space. Deep blues, rich reds and greens, and metallic accents adorn the walls, establishing an aesthetic that is truly one of a kind. And if this isn’t enough to make us fall in love with this special space, this bookstore has a moving backstory that only adds to its stylish, storied character.

Lofty Goals

For over a decade, the Last Bookstore’s owner and creative force, Josh Spencer, has toiled happily to create this massive tribute to one of his dearest loves: books. He started small, worked hard, and was surprised that, despite the prevalence of devices and digital media, the desire to uphold the ink-and-paper-book industry was still coursing through the people of Los Angeles. The enterprise outgrew its first iteration in Spencer’s tiny Los Angeles loft and blossomed into an enormous shared space for buying, selling, and trading books and records; hosting events; catering to fiber-arts crafters with its inclusion of the Gather Yarn Shop; and supporting local artists through the Spring Arts Gallery.

It was quite the road to success for Spencer, who first had to overcome a series of life-changing events. In 1996, a car accident cost Spencer the use of his legs, and hardship became his way of life for many years. Although his indomitable spirit was tested, he didn’t allow despair to consume him. He struck out into a career in the sales world but soon learned that the online-sales platform lacked heart. In order to bring passion to his raw talent, Spencer looked to bookselling, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Curl up with a good book—or several! The Last Bookstore makes books the center element in its retail design. Photos provided by the Last Bookstore.

In Chad Howitt‘s award-winning short documentary Welcome to the Last Bookstore—a film about Spencer‘s rise to entrepreneurial greatness—Spencer shares that, because of the number of times life knocked him down, he was prepared for whatever this new undertaking might bring. Failure, he mused, was not to be feared, and he resolved to embrace the potential for failure as one more life experience he could learn from and, ultimately, move beyond. “I’ve lost things in my life much more traumatic than a business,” he told Howitt. “No fear.”

In June 2011, the Last Bookstore moved into its current home, confirming once and for all that failure was not going to end this particular chapter of Spencer’s remarkable life.

The Last Look

The Last Bookstore’s current location, a 22,000-square-foot space on the corner of Fifth and Spring streets, would be overwhelming if it weren’t for the highly accessible and comfortable feel of the interior. This is largely due to the efforts of Spencer, who has succeeded in creating a haven for locals and tourists alike to bask in the hushed splendor of this friendly neighborhood bookstore. His vision has produced a unique aesthetic by combining the old bones of the building with fresh colors and inspired artwork.

Although its sheer size might rival that of its national chain-store counterparts, the Last Bookstore’s vibe is worlds apart. In a space that formerly housed the Crocker-Citizens National Bank, some elements of the old cathedral to wealth still remain. Vaulted ceilings, plaster-work accent borders, and towering pillars imbue the first-floor grand chamber with a Victorian elegance, while the book art, comfortable seating, and attendant coffee bar lend a more casual and bohemian vibe to the cavernous main floor. New and used titles as well as the Last Bookstore’s impressive collection of vinyl records await your perusal at street level. But something unexpected resides upstairs.

In this section of the Last Bookstore's Labyrinth, books are sorted by color, creating a kaleidoscope sure to delight any book-lover's eyes. Photos provided by the Last Bookstore.

On the mezzanine level is the Labyrinth—a twisting maze of discount books arranged in something resembling a magical grotto in which we’re only too happy to get lost. Books are shelved, stacked, strewn, sorted by color, or built into structures that patrons must navigate to get to other areas of the annex, and volumes are lit, used as lighting, and suspended from the ceiling, appearing to fly through the air.

In short, ascending to this level is like entering a portal to another world—one in which the book-as-object is revered and celebrated by means other than the words contained within it. The Labyrinth is an invitation to experience books in a new way, and to view this experience as an art form—indicated by the whimsical book sculptures, comic-book wallpaper, and mobile of dangling magnifying glasses supplied by the resident artists of the Spring Arts Gallery.

Classic Colors

Although frequently lauded as a symbol of L.A.’s revived literary scene, the Last Bookstore’s “unexpected” success is perhaps only unexpected to outsiders—because the booming literary culture in Los Angeles is nothing new. But it’s through examples like the Last Bookstore that this facet of L.A. culture has become a topic of conversation in the world at large. And the Last Bookstore’s colorful aesthetic is just one way that this literary leviathan upholds the bibliophilic spirit of downtown Los Angeles.

It was no easy feat trying to decide which Pratt & Lambert colors best represent the look and feel of this varicolored book-lovers’ paradise. But we’ve handpicked some hues that were inspired by this unanticipated bastion of the book world. This specially curated palette has the potential to bring some of the Last Bookstore’s mystique to your next design project.

The colors of Los Angeles’ Last Bookstore are recreated with Pratt & Lambert shades (top–bottom): Red Statement 3-16, Rattan 12-12, Allspice 6-18, New Glarus 21-20, and Serene Green 19-2. Photos provided by the Last Bookstore.

The Labyrinth’s iconic archway of books inspired the choice of bold, rich Red Statement 3-16 and charismatic New Glarus 21-20, the pair of them soothed by the addition of Serene Green 19-2. And to evoke the sensory experience called up by antique pages, creaking covers, and aged wooden shelving, we selected rustic Rattan 12-12 and Allspice 6-18, imbuing the palette with the gold-toned brilliance of the Last Bookstore’s welcoming interior.

Saving the Best for Last

If indeed this shrine to the written word becomes the last of its kind, a final, solitary brick-and-mortar establishment filled with paper-and-ink and vinyl relics, it would be a fitting epitaph to the centuries of scribes and booksellers who went before. Fortunately, this particular bookstore, the Last Bookstore, has shown the world that that end is a long way off and that the love of books—as art, as entertainment, as an escape—is still alive and well in Los Angeles.