Step Inside One Couple’s Game-Changing Live/Work Loft

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By Jenny Xie / Published by Dwell
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Drawing inspiration from game design and the whimsical geometries of M.C. Escher, architecture firm CHA:COL designs a multifunctional studio in Los Angeles that plays with perspective.

While some city dwellers prefer to escape to the country, creative couple Marie Lu and Primo Gallanossa chose to burrow into downtown Los Angeles, purchasing a live/work loft in the cultural epicenter of the Arts District. The bestselling author and game designer approached the architecture firm CHA:COL for an urban sanctuary that would host their writing and game design needs between frequent trips. "What they really required was a creative den in the heart of the city, so they could write, draw, and retreat to it between projects, deadlines, and tours," says design principal Apurva Pande.

Young adult author Marie Lu travels often on book and publishing business, as well as for music gigs with her partner, Primo Gallanossa. The couple asked for an urban oasis that would allow them to get work done between trips.

Young adult author Marie Lu travels often on book and publishing business, as well as for music gigs with her partner, Primo Gallanossa. The couple asked for an urban oasis that would allow them to get work done between trips.

The Writer's Block is a piece of custom oak veneer millwork that both divides the space and acts as furniture. "It can be used as a place to lounge, or as a place to retreat and write, or as a place to entertain, and sometimes as a place to just sit and meditate," says design principal Chinmaya Misra of the flexible piece.

The Writer's Block is a piece of custom oak veneer millwork that both divides the space and acts as furniture. "It can be used as a place to lounge, or as a place to retreat and write, or as a place to entertain, and sometimes as a place to just sit and meditate," says design principal Chinmaya Misra of the flexible piece.

In playful mashup of 3D and 2D elements, a wall mural echoes the FLOR carpet tiles that accent the natural oak engineered flooring. "We looked at Monument Valley more as an environment of possibilities than simply a game," says Pande. "We really wanted to play on the premise of constantly shifting conditions created by geometric manipulations."

In playful mashup of 3D and 2D elements, a wall mural echoes the FLOR carpet tiles that accent the natural oak engineered flooring. "We looked at Monument Valley more as an environment of possibilities than simply a game," says Pande. "We really wanted to play on the premise of constantly shifting conditions created by geometric manipulations."

The resulting 1,450-square-foot space not only provides space to work, but also includes sleeping and kitchen areas. The fulcrum of the project is the "Writer’s Block," a multifaceted, fixed piece of millwork that functions as a desk on one side, a lounge on the other, and shelving in between. Taking cues from the couple’s backgrounds in writing, illustrating, and game design, design principals Pande and Chinmaya Misra used the game Monument Valley as a guiding concept for the retreat. In the game, players maneuver Princess Ida through Escher-like landscapes of surreal architecture. "Exactly the way Ida moves through different levels in the game," explains Misra, "we saw the clients navigating the loft and inhabiting it in unique ways."

"Since they write, sketch, and play music, their professional creative interests were extensive, so we produced many iterations of millwork that could help each activity without shutting off other possibilities," explains Pande.

"Since they write, sketch, and play music, their professional creative interests were extensive, so we produced many iterations of millwork that could help each activity without shutting off other possibilities," explains Pande.

CHA:COL took acoustic concerns into consideration when designing the final environment. In addition to the one facade of windows, a Zaneen pendant illuminates the loft.

CHA:COL took acoustic concerns into consideration when designing the final environment. In addition to the one facade of windows, a Zaneen pendant illuminates the loft.

The kitchen features IKEA cabinets and a peninsular bar that encourages mingling between areas.

The kitchen features IKEA cabinets and a peninsular bar that encourages mingling between areas.

"Exactly the way Ida moves through different levels in the game, we saw the clients navigating the loft and inhabiting it in unique ways." - Chinmaya Misra

"We kept to a very simple and streamlined palette and carefully selected light fixtures that echoed the lines and movement within the space," says Misra. The monochromatic bathroom features a custom white lacquer vanity and Porcelanosa tiles.  

"We kept to a very simple and streamlined palette and carefully selected light fixtures that echoed the lines and movement within the space," says Misra. The monochromatic bathroom features a custom white lacquer vanity and Porcelanosa tiles.  

The sleeping area is tucked into the back of the loft. Says Misra of the clients, "As they moved in and felt the energy of the place, they admitted they could see themselves staying here more and more and commuting less and less." 

The sleeping area is tucked into the back of the loft. Says Misra of the clients, "As they moved in and felt the energy of the place, they admitted they could see themselves staying here more and more and commuting less and less." 

A George Nelson Saucer Lamp hangs over the bedroom.

A George Nelson Saucer Lamp hangs over the bedroom.

In another nod to game design, the Barker Den—so named for the block on which it resides—plays with both two-dimensional and three-dimensional elements. Planks of white oak on the Writer’s Block transition into carpet tiles that appear to climb the opposite wall, thanks to a matching mural. "We had 50 different studies done about the geometry on the wall," says Pande. "Then we thought, ‘What if we just used paint swatches?’ That sort of completed the whole project—the three-dimensional became two-dimensional, and back again." 

While the clients intended to treat the loft as an occasional getaway, they have stayed more and more often—a testament to the ingenuity and functionality of the space.