Jamaican Designer Sean Knibb Creates His Own Strange Hybrid: a Cafe/Boutique/Florist in Venice
For designer Sean Knibb, flowers have been an obsession since his early years hanging out in his grandmother’s flower shop in his native Jamaica. His favorites are the Oakleaf hydrangea, known as the "snowflake" flower. “It reminds me of time,” he says.
As an adult, after spending years designing gardens for celebrities, Knibb expanded into furniture, restaurant and even hotel design — he's responsible for Koreatown's super-trendy Line Hotel. But with his latest venture, Flowerboy Project, which officially opened last weekend, Knibb embarks into his first foray into retail while also returning to flowers, his first love.
Flowerboy also allows Knibb, now 47, to fulfill his own vision without clients forcing him to compromise. Recently open on Lincoln Boulevard a few blocks from gentrifying Rose Avenue and next to Knibb’s design studio, Flowerboy Project is a flower shop/café/boutique, a strange hybrid that allows him to explore several of his interests at once. It joins the ranks of new retail and restaurants transforming Lincoln, including Superba Food + Bread, men’s clothing retailer Tradesmen and home goods shop General Store.
Everything in Flowerboy is available for purchase, including the furniture, lighting and housewares, but “the flowers are my favorite thing I sell at the store,” says Knibb, who finds his wares by visiting L.A.’s flower market twice a week at dawn. The shop sells a mix of potted jasmine and geranium as well as a changing selection of cut arrangements.
After his early years in Jamaica, Knibb was raised in Manhattan Beach and Playa del Rey. He went back to Jamaica to dabble in restaurant design at age 21 before moving to Miami to begin a gardening design apprenticeship.
Knibb eventually wound up back in Los Angeles, and expanded from high-end landscape design to furniture design and interior design over the past two decades. He claims the mantra “creative, human, experience” are his guiding principles in design. While nebulous as design doctrines, they give Knibb the flexibility to explore different aesthetics, materials and ideas, resulting in eclectic yet sophisticated spaces.
He also finds new ways to reimagine traditional materials. For instance, he helped turn an IHOP into A-Frame — chef Roy Choi’s first foray into a brick-and-mortar restaurant after he kickstarted L.A.’s food-truck culture with Kogi. Several more collaborations with Choi led to the Line, Knibb’s most visible project to date.
Choi, already on board to handle the hotel’s culinary program, insisted the developer, Sydell Group, meet with Knibb. Inspired by the midcentury modernism of the former Wilshire Hotel’s 1964 high-rise and the neighborhood’s surrounding Korean and Latino cultures, Knibb sought to blend these influences in the hotel’s aesthetic.
The result is “a different approach than what is normally found in the Hollywood experience,” says Knibb, referring to the entertainment industry scenes taking place nightly at hotels just a few miles north. It forgoes the maximalist glamour of Kelly Wearstler or the boho-chic aesthetic of the ever-expanding Ace Hotel chain.
The Line Hotel is able to effectively juxtapose serpentine banquettes and dark, angular nooks in a coolly Brutalist lobby with the lush, sunny greenhouse in which Choi’s eatery Commissary is housed. The rooms feature chairs upholstered in Mexican serapes, expansive views of the Hollywood Hills, and low, painted coffee tables with “cityscapes” composed of books piled atop one another in various configurations and heights to mimic an urban landscape. Touches of tomato red in the hanging lighting and bedding were inspired by the colors of Koreatown.
Knibb has applied the same multilayered approach to Flowerboy. “Café culture is at the forefront of the project,” explains Knibb, as it serves Vittoria Coffee, Madame Monsieur sandwiches and Sugarbloom Bakery goods.
Yet Knibb is looking to expand that culture's confines. He partnered with Lindsay and Raan Parton to help curate the product lines to complement Knibb’s own object and furniture design. The Partons are no strangers to a hybrid retail concept, as they run the Arts District’s Alchemy Works, a gallery, boutique and event space.
They’ve brought in a few lines from their Arts District venture, including Italian-made sandals and Rachel Craven linens. Local designers are also represented, including Clare V’s handbags and jewelry designed by architecture firm Marmol Radziner. Items are cleverly displayed on upside-down ladders and white pine planks.
He recently introduced a series of white Carrara marble tables that at first glance look like crumpled T-shirts and jean shorts (an ode to Southern California beach culture, perhaps?), intricately etched into the surface. Similarly, Knibb is working on a version of a Louis XV couch that replaces the traditional ornamentalism with pop culture references ranging from crushed soda cans to cowboys and Indians to paint brushes and Bazooka bubble gum.
It’s this kind of irreverent play on traditional forms and materials that has made him one of L.A.’s most in-demand designers. “I want to convey the same sensibility but using different materials or alphabet to get to that point,” says Knibb.
Originally posted in LA Weekly