“Our dream project is a post office, a school or a civic building where everyone has to go — a grand space that addresses the community,” says Kara Bartelt, one half of the team that started Lettuce, among the freshest architecture-and-design firms to come around in a while.
Taking inspiration from Charles and Ray Eames’ all-encompassing roof-to-chairs-to-films business model, Bartelt and her partner Michael Chung, both graduates of the Yale School of Architecture, were looking for a way to break out of the traditional confines of architecture when they created their multimedia/design think tank. They even employ an in-house color consultant. And through Landon Cole, they’ve designed their own line of furniture to extend their idea of a modern design-build practice.
(Photo by Kevin Scanlon)
“L.A. fosters that kind of sensibility,” comments Chung. “It’s what motivated our decision to move here. We investigated a lot of places — New York, Copenhagen. There is space here that provides opportunity.”
Bartelt adds, “Antonio [Villaraigosa] is someone who understands the role of good architecture. That’s refreshing.”
Although it’s considered risky to incorporate Lettuce’s kind of one-stop design shopping, Chung and Bartelt are used to high-pressure projects. They worked for Cesar Pelli’s busy architecture firm upon graduating, and their first Lettuce project was a Cape Cod–style home in Pacific Palisades for the editor of Architectural Digest.
Chung and Bartelt are on the faculty at USC, under the direction of new dean Qingyun Ma, and they’re currently overseeing their first ground-up house in the Hollywood Hills. Like the majority of their projects, the house uses environmentally sound materials.
“Green is very important,” Chung says. “It’s part of every conversation now. Sustainability is not a specialty anymore, it’s reality. While the products are still at a premium, we make the math work.”