The Line Hotel Revives a Midcentury Modern Monument in Koreatown
Koreatown is in many ways the quintessential Los Angeles neighborhood. In the 1930s, the mid-Wilshire area was an extension of Tinseltown, complete with art deco buildings, red-carpet nightspots, and the old home of the Academy Awards, the Ambassador Hotel. After a few decades of decline, the neighborhood was revived by Korean immigrants, who, filled with an entrepreneurial spirit, revitalized the neighborhood with spicy restaurants, neon-lit shops, and a dazzling annual parade.
Hotelier Andrew Zobler, of Ace and NoMad fame, grafts these two sets of roots in the Line Hotel, in the heart of buzzy Koreatown. To achieve this blend, he enlisted chef Roy Choi, a Koreatown native, and designer Sean Knibb, who is best known for his chic flower shop and cafe, Flowerboy, in Venice. Together they deconstructed the old Hyatt Hotel, and on top of that foundation they built a monument to modern, multicultural Los Angeles.
A Blank Canvas
Viewed from Wilshire Boulevard, the 12 stories of the Line Hotel retain most of the midcentury modern vibe of the Hyatt, which was built back in 1964 and designed by Daniel, Mann, Johnson & Mendenhall. However, designer Sean Knibb has livened up the classic gridlike exterior with lemon-, lime-, and dragon fruit–colored blinds in the rooms.
Inside the Line Hotel, however, is where Knibb’s vision is truly on display. Each of the 388 rooms has been stripped down to its concrete bones. This raw space allowed Knibb to rethink traditional notions of how a hotel room should be organized.
When asked how he was able to make the relatively small rooms of the old Hyatt feel so big and open, Knibb explained, “By removing the TV from the primary focus of the room and combining the bed and working desk ... we place equal importance on both [work and sleep], giving the occupant comfortable options.”
The industrial chic of the cool, gray concrete, as well as the nearly white ash of the beds and closets, provided Knibb with a blank canvas on which he could paint. Most of that paint, that color, comes from bright pops of color, like the vintage Mexican serapes that are used as upholstery on the chairs. These chairs are Knibb’s own design, and they reflect his beliefs about design.
“I feel strongly that all cultures should be represented in contemporary design,“ said Knibb. “Cultural eclecticism for me is what it’s all about, and the Mexican fabric is only one of many cultural design references found throughout the hotel.”
Not only does the Line Hotel offer guests a pool for lounging and Linus bicycles for exploring the famously 24-hour neighborhood, but it also offers two notable restaurants: Commissary and POT.
Commissary is situated in a second-floor greenhouse next to the pool deck. During the day, the all-glass restaurant is saturated with light, and at night it radiates light back into Koreatown. The hanging plants that drape from the ceiling of Commissary are another example of how Knibb subtly and skillfully added color to a blank space—in this case, a glass restaurant—without relying on any of the usual hospitality tropes.
Knibb described his vision by saying, “Commissary is all about light and nature in a dense urban environment, achieved by placing a working greenhouse on the pool deck and letting the plants grow wild, unmanicured.”
While Commissary creates space and color by interacting with the natural splendor of Los Angeles, POT is more self-contained. For one, its menu is more local and represents Choi’s unique take on the standard Koreatown hot pot. But even beyond the food, POT focuses inward and uses walls and paint to create space. After walking past the dramatic lobby bar, you enter the restaurant through a very dark and very narrow hallway. Knibb said this design is meant to “compress” guests to make the unveiling of the dining room even more grand and surprising.
In contrast to Commissary, Knibb used more industrial methods for creating a sense of space in POT. As he explained, “POT is all about how you take a room with no connection to the exterior or natural light and give it a feeling of lightness and nature. We achieved this by placing dried flower on the walls and gradating the wall color from green to beige and then white.”
Location, Location, Location
According to Knibb, the location of the Line Hotel made all of these bespoke elements possible. Koreatown, he said, “gave us the leeway to push the design envelope, pursuing alternative materials, challenging the traditional ideas of hospitality design.”
But even more importantly, what makes the Line Hotel special is the culture of Koreatown, and how it reflects the larger diversity that makes Los Angeles such a unique American city.
When asked where he drew inspiration for the Line Hotel, Knibb responded simply, “People, and my feeling of the cultural foundation of Los Angeles.” That feeling, and those people and their cultures, is on full display in the Line Hotel.