Everything in Alejandro Artigas' house in West Hollywood is for sale. People — friends, relatives, total strangers — are constantly popping in for a visit. They receive a kiss on each cheek in the traditional European manner from 32-year-old Alejandro or his younger sisters Gabriela, who is 30, and Teresita, who is 28. The siblings aren't having a garage sale. It is like this all the time at the corner of Genesee and Fountain avenues.
Not long ago, the cops stopped by. They did not receive a kiss, but they took a look around at the great natural light, at the clothes made by avant-garde Mexican designers, at the countless stylish items for sale.
What you're doing is great, is perfect, the police said, but you have to stop. The siblings were in violation of the city's zoning codes.
The house on Genesee — officially (and subtly) known as the House on Genesee — is located in a residential zone but was being officially and subtly used for commercial purposes.
“Legally we can't be open all the time,” Alejandro says. “So now we have to say we're open only by appointment, and we can't advertise the address. People have to contact us to find out where we are. After they contact us, then there's been a personal exchange.”
People who come to the house often don't want to leave. They linger. They conduct meetings in the dining room. They try clothes on in the bathroom. They do yoga in the backyard next to the vegetable garden. Teresita remembers a guy who stopped by on Valentine's Day. He wound up staying the whole day, parked on the couch, perfectly at home. “Do you have any special plans?” she asked politely.
“I'm here, aren't I?” he said.
“The original notion of an 18th-century French salon was a public-private space,” says Alejandro, who lives in the house. The bed he sleeps on is for sale. So are the nightstands, the wallpaper and the photographs on the wall. If you want to live exactly as Alejandro does — if you want to use the same vegan shampoo, or light the same pollen soy candles, or wear the same sneakers — these items are all on view and ready to be purchased at the house. Some might call this “stalking.” The Artigas siblings call it “showcasing.”
When someone expressed interest in the chandelier hanging over the dining room table, the siblings hadn't really thought of selling the various fixtures that are semi-permanently attached to the residence. But then they figured, if they were to truly carry through with their concept of a showcased life, why not?
Are the plants for sale, too?
“Well, if you want them,” Gabriela says.
Is the lamp for sale?
Is the couch for sale?
Is the dog for sale?
“No!” she shrieks. The sleek Italian greyhound skitters across the living room. Well, she allows, Alejandro did put a $9.99 tag on the dog once as a joke.
Pets aside, sometimes items are so perfect, it is hard to part with them. “We had these bronze rabbits — ” Teresita says.
“Amazing bronze rabbits!” Gabriela interrupts.
Things come and things go. Terrariums, the purse slung casually over the doorknob, the slick Trista dresses and Te Amo blazers with ferocious, asymmetrical shoulders, the jewelry that Gabriela makes, even the display cases. Minimalism is the art of letting go.
“Probably we wouldn't buy another lamp if they bought the lamp. Probably it would be a vase,” Gabriela says.
The house is neat and well presented with almost zero human mess. “The thing is, we've always lived like this,” Gabriela says. “My mom's house is very similar. My house is presentable also.”
“Our grandfather was an architect,” Alejandro explains. “He was very strict. Everything in his closet was perfectly color-coordinated. I saw him wear a suit maybe twice in his life, but he had a row of suits in plastic bags with the belts already threaded through the loops and pocket handkerchiefs in the pockets, and shoes aligned beneath.”
Alejandro's grandfather, Francisco Artigas, was of the midcentury-modern school, Mexico's version of Eames. Which means he was the sort of person who liked clean edges, negative space and his cars lined up just so in the driveway. He asked people to kindly dry the bar of soap after they'd washed their hands.
Yes, keeping up a high level of show-readiness is taxing. But it is also deeply ingrained in the siblings, Alejandro especially. He would be miserable not doing it. “It's like you do a sequence every morning,” he explains. “You make the bed, pick stuff up from the floor, and so on.” After years of practice, chores become habits, which become compulsions, which become beliefs.
“I try to leave my house like no one lives there,” he says proudly.
If people visit, it's because they can relate aesthetically. Even though the siblings own the house and struggle to pay the mortgage every month, they seem less interested in aggressively selling the stuff inside it than in having people over to check it out.
“We're showcasing the way we live,” Alejandro says, “and that's a different form of communication. If you want to buy it, it's okay. If not, someone else will.”
That they do. Gabriela mentions that every time she leaves the house, someone comes up to her to ask where she got her shirt, or necklace, or whatever, and that she is not bragging, just relaying a point of fact.
Alejandro, who built most of the furniture in the house, like his grandfather, originally studied architecture. He runs his hand over the smooth plane of a desk and says, “Why I do furniture now is because furniture allows me a level of perfection and control that architecture doesn't.”
For instance, Alejandro designed the clothes rack in his bedroom. It is made of two wishbone-shaped pieces of dark walnut pierced by a chrome pole. He could have joined the two pieces of wood and the pole with little silver bolts, but he couldn't stand the seam of the pole not being exactly flush with the wood. It is that sort of attention to detail that drives him to distraction.
“I remember pencils,” Gabriela says of her grandfather. “They were on his desk. If one was out of place, he noticed.”
“No, that's not true,” Alejandro says.
“Yes, he did,” Gabriela says.
The house is perfect, but memory is not.