CHARLIES in Los Angeles

CHARLIES in Los Angeles

My latest interiors project is located in Raleigh Studios, the oldest working studios in Los Angeles. It’s a creative club named Charlies in honor of Charlie Chaplin who used to visit and play cards there in the early 1920s when it was the studio of his great friend Douglas Fairbanks. The brief from Australians in Film (AIF) who leased the space was to create an anchor point for Australian writers, directors and producers in Los Angeles, with four dedicated desks for residencies and a meeting room that could accommodate hot desks for members.

Charlie Chaplin, the fighter Jack Dempsey and Douglas Fairbanks outside the Bronson Building at Raleigh Studios, early 1920s. Charlies is located top left of frame.

Whatever the visual style, I always aim for a warm, relaxed yet vibrant atmosphere. To break down the line between personal and professional. With Charlies it was important to keep the underlying structure workable and useful: accommodating services like printing & photocopying and separating the desks from the meeting room so that mobile phone conversations could be held in private. The top few layers of the design could be more club like, with comfortable leather chairs, unique objects sourced from the flea markets, cosy armchairs upholstered in vibrant barkcloth. A space that people would feel at home in. Where creativity and ideas could flow.

Paramount Pictures water tower just across the road. The entry to Charlies

I wanted to evoke a timeless atmosphere, a space with an intangible quality. A feeling of the potential still to come. Charlie himself was key to this: a rare photo from his early days became my inspiration for the mood. A portrait where he holds a clear gaze straight down the barrel of the lens. A pioneering spirit about him. His ragamuffin outsider charm still holds. I think if he were around today he would be a star YouTuber.

The inspirational photo of Charlie Chaplin. Without the moustache he is a man, not an icon.

One of the most wonderful parts of the process was reconnecting with Norman Lloyd, Hollywood’s oldest working actor/producer at 101 and a half, who amazingly, was friends with Chaplin. A charming and vibrant presence, Norman provided a portal back in time. Over a series of lunches, he told me stories that Charlie had told him – like the one about his snobby butler with the wooden teeth and the time he buried a million dollars.

The Mermaid Lounge: a space for writers meetings, script reads and intimate events.

The Mermaid Lounge was the name given to the meeting room: in honour of the great Australian swimming film star Annette Kellerman. Initially, a rather boxy room, Raleigh Studios management generously provided their wonderful carpentry team to knock through the back wall and connect to the kitchen. This completely changed the energy of the room, making it more contemporary. A coffee bar of salvaged wood was added under the windows.

Salvaged sidelights frame the knock through to the kitchen, the reused bookcase.

Just about all the furniture was sourced from the great flea markets held weekly in LA, including the iconic Rosebowl. A couple of salvage yards were excellent sources – the bookcase in the Mermaid Lounge came from the ReUse People of America: $300 for shelving that filled nearly the whole wall. I loved its soft green colour, the South West style detail and its scale.

The inky dark workroom at Charlies. Charlie Chaplin at work.

Something great about the design process is the random things you learn along the way. Finding this magnificent poster of Hedy Lamarr at the Topanga Canyon Fleamarket, I had no idea that her invention in the 40s was to eventually lead to mobile phone technology.

Artist Luke Chiswell’s painting of the doors and found objects in Charlies

An Australian artist, Luke Chiswell, who I had met while touring as an ambassador for QANTAS happened to be in town. Luke painted the doors of Charlies with his signature loose strokes and evocative phrases. On the front door he wrote “Friend Welcome”, “Let’s begin”…

Designated desks in the work room, the coffee bar in the Mermaid Room


One time at lunch with Norman Lloyd, I showed him a picture I had found of Charlie (below). He said “There he is – there’s the man the world loved”. He later talked of the idea of a creative lineage, how it is handed down through people. And I hope that’s how it will be with Charlies.

The Mermaid Lounge. Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks, in a shot taken at Raleigh.