Journal Entries:
April 29, 2015
May 7, 2015


April 29, 2015

Matt, the extremely talented and tenacious contractor who has run the buidling side of RTR-Homes for almost 10 years, laughs all the time because I always gravitate to the brain-twizzler projects.  He knows I have a particular affinity for the kitchen centric lifestyle of chefs, artisanal foodies, and their families. Hence we have residential design-build clients like the James Beard honored Chef Suzanne Goin and Edible Gardens creater Lauri Kranz. So when my dear friend Akasha Richmond called us to come look at a spot for her new modern farm to table Indian restaurant, Sambar, in Culver City California, Matt and I knew we would have a new challenge on our hands. When it turned out to be a dark, old, frat house of a gastro-pub in desperate need of a remodel, we couldn’t resist!  What could we possibly love more than the challenge to use design to solve problems in both the structure and function of a space.




I could feel the gritty earthiness of the space’s "back in the 'Dog Town and Z Boy' day," past as soon as I walked in.  Back then it served as an edgy artist/photography studio. Perfect, with its raw concrete floors, brick walls and glass storefront windows and skylight. Not to mention the super cool exposed mechanicals, structural steel, and wood beamed ceiling. But now, a lot of that was either lost or only partially realized in the latest redesign by the previous tenant who turned it into the gastro/pub. Sadly, towards the end of the pub's 11 years lifespan, the owners just kind of let the whole place go.  Not only was it essential to breath new life into the space, but I wanted to make sure we did it in a way that met all of Akasha's culinary requirements, needs and desires with an artist's hand.

To achieve that, we discussed every detail of Akasha's front of the house and kitchen needs with both she and her husband/business partner Alan Shulman.  From those conversations, I realized the issues they had with the space were perceived limitations due to what they saw in layout and usage of the existing space.  They thought the space was dark which drives away customers and the for its size, the seating was limited. Unless I could solve those problems their bottom line would be seriously compromised.

Like I said, I love a challenge and I have my secret weapon, Matt and the guys. I know anything I can dream up, they can build. So here is how we used inventive and beautiful design combined with gorgeous craftsmanship to not only realize Akasha and Alan's, hopes, dreams and needs, but to achieve it in a way that was respectful of the history of the building and the very distinctive Culver City, eco friendly, artisanal food loving, design conscious, edgy vibed neighborhood.

Creating a new entry

From the get-go, it was clear, the problems Akasha and Alan were having with the space started at the entrance - -Actually make that plural, entrances - because there were too many of them.  One of the greatest and most coveted thing about dining in LA is our weather that allows year round al fresco dining. The space had a huge outdoor area, but most of it was used as pathways to all the entrances. Inside the restaurant, one entrance had a curtain on the outside cutting off the light and a strange box protruding out into the room not only taking up a huge amount of seating area, but also bottlenecking the flow of people, cutting off the pathway to half the bar, reducing the seating by at least 20.

In my mind, as I explained to Alan and Akasha, unusable space, less seats and bad flow meant lost revenue. I recognize how hard it is for people to see beyond whats there, so  I sat down and did a number of hand drawings for Akasha and Alan, showing them we could remove the light and space absorbing entrance box. Then, cleverly use the buildings original design element, glass brick concrete and steel we could redirect the flow of traffic with a new entrance, bring in tons of natural light, and most important to restaurateurs, create more seating without making the restaurant feel more crowded.  Akasha and Alan loved the ideas.  Here's how Sambar took shape.


You can see here, how much natural light was lost from the protruding entrance box, the narrow passage between the box and the bar, restricting access to the bar and reducing the surrounding seating capacity. Below are some of the drawings I did for Akasha and Alan to help them understand the new entry and redirection of traffic.

Existing with entry box
New entrance, new open plan and new outdoor seating patio

Dealing with multiple door styles and sizes

Aside from the box, there was the issue of the three sets of doors with three different sizes and designs at three different floor heights. Talk about visual clutter! Our design goal - To bring back the cool Culver City industrial vibe and unify the look of the doors with the existing steel I-beam moment-frame storefront. To bring in the light with clear star-fired frameless glass doors. To bring a visual continuity by making all the doors the same height, size and style.  Clean, creative, and light filled - just like Akasha's food




Removing the Box

Finally! The city of Culver City gave us approval to take out the non-structural box and put the clear glass doors inside the front facade's structural steel moment frame. Not only did we open up the flow around the bar, let in more light, create more seating and clean up the visual clutter - we ultimately used design to add revenue to Akasha's bottom line.

On the left, you see Juan and Jose gladly taking a sledgehammer to the box. Then, they jackhammered out each entry way and leveled all of the entries to one consistent elevations. I know its not very sexy, but leveling the floors was essential in creating an ease of flow throughout the restaurant, accessibility to all seating areas, flexibility in the arrangement of seating as well increasing the seating with out making the room feel more crowded. now, the entire restaurant is easily wheelchair accessible. What does that mean for Akasha? Increased revenue.

the box comes out

Bringing in the light

Matt and I have been working with George Gauley, the best, most precise glass man in LA, for years. Why? The answer is easy. George is the only glass guys willing to go the distance. He comes in to consult with us in the beginning and meets with us throughout the building process to see how things progress and change. This is essential in ensuring all materials (ie: stone, steel, tile, brick, drywall, concrete, etc.) and mechanicals (ie: plumbing electrical, IT, etc.) are fabricated and installed to create perfect and imperceptible transitions with glass.

Here you see George installing the new, frameless, ADA approved, sparkling clear star-fire glass doors. I love the final days of a project when George brings his finished glass and mirror. It's like icing on the cake, jewelry on a dress, gilding on a lily. His fine precision with glass and mirror makes everything sparkle.  I love it!

Creating Outdoor Seating



Now, we have our permits for the front patio deck, which will raise the floor height of the patio to that of the restaurant interior. Again, not sexy, but crucial to the easing flow and increasing seating in the restaurant.

An example of design, form and function coming together is in what appears to be a simple planter box preparation. You can see the irrigation and drainage designed and ready to receive the zinc planter boxes we built and designed specially for the completely hidden watering and drainage systems.  Which means when the restaurant is up and running, bustling with people, Akasha will never have to worry about water plants, water getting all over the side walk and violating city codes, or dealing with plants dying from lack of watering.  Small, but very symbolic of how we think of everything. Proper preparation is everything, now for the fun part, Jose is seen here helping to cut and install the eco friendly, all weather Trex deck flooring. Another kind of icing on the cake!

With every job, I am always looking to make our level of design more beautiful, more seamless and more substantial. Swinging a hammer and working along side the guys helps me achieve this synchronistic, integrative and supportive relationship between form and function.  We have all been working together for many years and have a close knit relationship, harmoniously working together and helping each towards our central goal to create effortless functionality with a peaceful beauty. Matt and the guys are masters at their crafts. Each of them willingly teach me so I can better understand the intricacies of their work, and how we can use that to better our design. Thus they are perfectly willing to have me help, nailing down tie downs, anchoring the deck to the sidewalk and giving it strength, allowing me to watch and listen, learning from everyone.



Gardens, even small ones in boxes, change everything about a space. Used correctly, they can masterfully delineate outdoor space into intimate outdoor rooms, direct people's movement through the space and my very favorite thing a garden does, is make a space warm and inviting.  Hence garden design and installation is a huge aspect of RTR-Homes. Even on this small scale, at the restaurant, the right plants used the right way - work miracles. So you can imagine how happy I am when Rodrigo arrives on site with the plants.

For Sambar, I chose crassula not only for their deep fresh saturated green color that beautifully echoes and compliments the usage of green inside the restaurant, but also because it is drought tolerant and rarely needs water -That aspect of the plant, was totally aligned with Akasha's eco-conscious belief system. On the left Rodrigo, with the help of Manzana, plants the crassula in rich organic soil, deeply nourishing, the plants so they will thrive and grow, needing almost no maintenance. On the right, Juan and Juan put the final touches on the deck, the final trick in keeping the watering and drainage system completely hidden making all garden maintenance totally self contained. Akasha never needs to worry about the garden, she can just enjoy it and cook her great food.

The project is still in process, we are just starting work on the awnings, the very last phase of the project, but the following shots really give you an idea of some of the things RTR-Homes has done at Sambar.

The NEw Entry

Juan and Jose are building the new hostess stand. Although it will be totally weather proof,  when the awnings are finished, it will be enclosed inside.

New Outdoor Patio



New Light Filled and Open Interior - Still in Process

We are almost done with Sambar, so stay tuned to see the final pictures of the finished project!

RTR-HOMEs • Ruins to Renovation • a design-build firm • email Ruth Black at ruth@rtr-homes.com