Imperfect Interiors: Reflections on an LA Apartment
By: Vik Pisipati
Vik Pisipati is the founder of Ink & Opium, an interior design firm based in Los Angeles that specializes in creating ‘well-traveled’ interiors. Ink & Opium offers full service interior design, e-design packages, design consultations, and fine art consulting.
When I decided to finally pull the trigger on moving to LA to build my interior design business, Ink & Opium,I faced a new design challenge in the form of a Koreatown rental apartment with no respect for my need for symmetry and proportion.
The design concept I landed on was “Dandy Hunting Lodge.” Just the simple “hunting lodge” theme would be a stretch, considering I’m the type to show up to a hike in Mongolian cashmere and Paul Smith loafers and wonder why I’m unable to make it more than a quarter mile before giving up and calling an Uber. But I couldn’t forget the style of the mountain stations in the Himalayas and stretches throughout India I’d fallen in love with during my travels there. So I took the aged metals, patinas, and nods to natural elements and gave them a shellac of my personal flamboyance to create what felt like an appropriate home base for the person behind my brand.
The one piece I insisted on bringing with me on the move to LA was also the most ridiculous to maneuver – a bar made from the front of an auto- rickshaw that originally met its demise in India’s desert kingdom of Rajasthan. I’ve moved so many times over the past ten years, from Philadelphia to Mexico City then on to Buenos Aires, Paris, Shanghai, Seattle, and finally Los Angeles, so I’ve only been able to keep my very favorite things. So besides the auto-rickshaw, I had with me only two suitcases and a few other pieces small enough to fit the average cardboard box when sand and sun called me here.
With antique, vintage, and refinished pieces, creating the right backdrop is essential to tie everything together. For example, the apartment’s ‘80s-era office canola oil beige walls were not doing it for me, so I began the long and unglamorous re-painting process, running a roller of pure white on every plane to maximize the light and make the artwork pop. I also added two accent walls, one in Baby Seal Black by Benjamin Moore, the other a custom nautical blue for a calming pacific vibe in the bedroom.
Getting the rest right took an entire year. I’ve realized that in the same way writers have to have drafts before the final, so do designers. Only they get to use the delete key. We have to spackle, touch-up, or return. I’m very picky with furniture (as it is my literal job), and ended up refinishing four dressers that I bought second-hand, including an old castaway from the Pebble Beach Ritz-Carlton.
Due to tiny apartment syndrome, I’d had to keep some of my favorite pieces stored away until I moved to LA but they finally got to see the light of my living room window. I gave a signed Dr. Seuss lithograph front row in the bedroom. Original paintings from Mexican artist and close friend Liliana Ang demanded the length of the hallway as well as the bedroom gallery wall. After this project’s literal blood (splinters, splinters, splinters), sweat (I don’t recommend moving a sofa on your own), and tears (crying in the Taco Bell parking lot after three 20-hour work days in a row), I also gave myself as a housewarming present a Kaws “Companion” statue. He now lives happily on a plinth in my living room.
When renting apartments, we have no choice but to wholeheartedly embrace imperfection, work within limits, and learn to coexist with the questionable design decisions made by builders, lest we want to kiss our security deposit goodbye with each move. As the incomparable Judge Judy says, “Don’t try to teach a pig to sing. It doesn’t work, and it annoys the pig.”
I realized that when designing in a rental apartment, there are going to be things that I can’t change. It’s useless to waste time agonizing over them, so I just put on my big boy pants and work around them. In my apartment, the pendant light that was already installed in the dining area without any regard to centering kept me wondering if it was the installer who was drunk or me. I had to resist the urge to get out the sledgehammer. But, like always, I ultimately learned to live with it. When it’s your own home, eventually you forget it’s there, especially if you design a beautiful room around it. And as long as you keep your guests’ drinks topped up, they will eventually cease to notice it, too.
As I do with my Ink & Opium design brand, I aimed to create a meaningful space that feels like an extension of a life well-lived and well-traveled. My clients come to me looking for something truly unique that expresses where they came from and where they’re going. It isn’t enough to create pretty rooms with sensible furniture – you have to infuse a deeper message into both the overall design concept and minute details to design a home that is going to be the place that puts a smile on someone’s face at the end of a long day. I use my own home as my laboratory, to test all of my ideas, and I’m happy with how beautifully this particular experiment has turned out.