Journal Entries: April 29, 2015 May 7, 2015


May 7, 2015

Funny, you never know where inspiration can come from. A memory, a glimmer, a color, and then the whole space comes together. For me at Sambar, it was the Kartell Easy Pendant Lamp.

I knew the restaurant had to be uncluttered, light, clean, open and airy – My design  metaphor for Akasha’s modern take on Indian cuisine. But I also knew I wanted something beautiful, vibrant and kaleidoscopic to represent the colors of India – And - the origins of my 20 year friendship with Akasha. We met on our spiritual journeys.

Back in the day, when I started doing Kundalini yoga, Akasha was already a devotee. She was already honing her meditation skills not just on the yoga mat, but in the kitchen. She was whipping up incredible Indian food from her finds at farmers markets for the all the yogis saints and sages from India to LA.  I took one bite of her chipati… and...  20 years later – I’m STILL craving them!

I asked her then, how does a chick from Miami cook Indian food like that? She said, and I quote “It comes from inside.” Those four words - and we’ve been friends ever since.  Why? Because the source of my designing and building abilities comes from the same place.  

Inside.  Yes.  Inside.  The colors of the soul.   And to me, that’s Akasha. That’s her food. And that’s what the design had to express.

Before Issues

The previous restaurant had a lot of issues seating people under the skylight during the day.  It was sweltering hot. Because the sun moved through the day, that meant that a good portion of the restaurant was rendered unusable. But the restaurant was also dark, so the light the skylight brought was welcomed. Getting rid of the skylight was out of the question. But what this meant was, between the box at the front door and the hot seats under the skylight, at least a 1/4 of the restaurant was unusable - which is crazy if you think about what that equals in lost revenue because of lost seating.

I knew we could solve the problem with design. I knew we could solve it in a way that symbolized Akasha and the modern creative fresh light filled food she would be cooking. I knew that the Kartell pendant held the answer.  And I knew I had a budget I had to stick to.  I figured if I bought as many of the pendants as I could fit into my budget (it turned out to be 77) my friend John Dolio at Kartell could get them from Italy for me - and I - could build my own chandelier.  A chandelier, that on a functional level, by day, would filter the heat and let the light into the room. What it would also do -is turn the inside of the room into an experience, like a kaleidoscope, dappling the white canvas of the room with colors that moved around the room as the sun moved through the day.   And at night, I knew it would be a whole different romantic experience altogether.

The question, how to hang the lights from the skylight. I drew up a sketch, took it to Matt. He tweaked the design, allowing the sides to open so the electricians would have access to the wires and refined the way in which the structure would adhere to the rafters.  Then we took the design to our friend, Chris Ostray from Glendale Iron, who does all of our big structural steel for our residential projects. Luckily, he has the right amount of whimsy in him to be up for an art project. And that's a lot of whimsy - because this thing was heavy and no small task to hang.

Here's how it comes together

The Chandelier


Forget going to the gym, climbing up and down the scaffolding for days checking the height, the distribution of color and the shape of the assemblage was a work out!

Plus, the static electricity, high-school-science-project, hairstyle it created proved highly entertaining to Matt and the guys.

I know it looks a little crazy here with all the electrical wires hanging down.  But I needed the freedom to move lights around to try to get the shape I wanted with the limited number of lights I had in my budget. In the back of my mind, I knew I had my secret weapon, Matt, who would help me clean it up.  That's the great thing about working with Matt and all the guys. It allows me maximum creativity, because any mistakes or mess I make, Matt and the guys can solve or fix.  This one, not gonna lie, looks a little messy.  But hang on, wait until its done...


I know I'm lucky - Not only can Matt finish my sentences, but he can finish my art projects. He understands exactly how I want the technical side of the chandelier, to work with the creative design. Plus, Matt has infinite patience, which is exactly what it took to permanently secure the lights where I placed them, undo the tangled spiderweb of wires I made and run the wires to the J-boxes prepping them for electricity.


As great as Kartell is, they didn't make a sconce out of the easy pendant.  What else was there to do? Make my own. Once again, I made a drawing and this time brought it to Jimmy over at Ferro lighting. We've done so many projects together at this point, I knew he and Mario would be able to cut the Kartell lamp, weld it together my design and wire it seamlessly. It was so cool when Raul hung them and we got to see them lit up.

So there it was, I found the show stopper the restaurant needed. The piece that set the tone for the space, that represented Akasha, the colors of India and the spirit of her food.  But I felt like something was missing. Plus, I knew I needed to solve another problem, the noise. The previous restaurant had not only been known for roasting anyone who sat under the skylight, but also it was notoriously loud.  With all the stone we had added by replacing the bar,  I knew I needed to get more wood into the restaurant than just the tables.  And, I felt like however I solved that problem, I needed to make sure it didn't take away from the inner soul/kaleidoscopic feel created by the chandelier. 

That's how I ended up in our head carpenter, Juan's, wood pile that was getting ready for the dump.  He had all these strips of wood left over from building the wood structure for the bar. Actually, you can see it all right there in this picture, In the blue trash can and on the floor around it. 

The art installation


Once again, I drew a little picture. This one was really simple, just to show Matt what I wanted to do.  But we had a problem, how to get all those wood strips onto a brick wall? They would each have to be anchored one by one - a nightmare.  And, it meant I couldn't do it myself, which I knew, since it was a collage like art project -me, doing it by myself, was the only way it could be done.  We came up with another idea, anchoring larger pieces of plywood to the brick as a kind of backing and then I could place and nail each piece on my own. I laid the basic idea out on the floor for Matt, and RTR's other Juan, Juan Serpas, who came in to discuss how we were going to prime and paint each piece.


Anchoring the plywood backing to the wall took some serious brute strength. That's Matt for you. Although he did need some help from Jose too.  In other words, there was no way I could have anchored each piece.   This was an excellent solution. Once they were done, up I went onto the scaffolding for a couple of weeks to work on the collage.  I had something in mind that I didn't mention to anyone. I wanted to see if it would work.  On the right, you see it in process, starting to take shape.


What I was hoping to achieve, lined up and worked. So I finished nailing in the last of the wood strips. Then it was time to put on a last coat of paint to get the stardust brilliant white like the walls.

But then when I finally got back down onto the ground to look at the room - I realized, in order to really say what I wanted it all to mean, I had to bring the design all the way around the room and into the covered patio. It was a daunting thought because of the amount of work. But it had to be done. Of course the guys were there to anchor in the backing to the stucco wall so I could go to work, again.


Now the room felt complete. I can't show you the finished look until we put a few other pieces together. The tables, banquet, chairs and a few other little art projects.

Front Entry Logo Artwork

The first of those projects was the entrance logo. I needed a color expert to help me get the exact color I was looking for. And, I wanted the logo to be hand painted onto the entrance wall because I knew it would create a visceral feeling of caring, warmth and attention to detail that would be evocative of Akasha's food. There was no better color expert and painter of letters than the source of my own creativity, my mother, Barbara Graham. Not only is she a talented artist, but she was one of the most sought after, during the per-computer golden age of elegant handwriting. Needless to say, I was honored to have her work with us at Sambar.

Bathroom Wall Poetry Absence of Field Artwork

I realized that we needed one last clue to explain to those who still didn't understand the metaphor of the space - So I wrote this poem and thought I could put it on the bathroom walls in my mom's beautiful calligraphy. Only problem, my mom had left for a trip - of all places - to India. So I had to call on all of my memories, sitting by her side while she worked on invitations to great state galas and balls in honor of people like the Queen of England, and remember what she taught me. She makes it look really easy. You don't want to know how much time I had to spend in what had essentially become construction site bathrooms, trying to achieve even the slightest bit of my mother's calligraphy artistry.



I wanted the tables to be as much a part of the artistic vibe of the restaurant as everything else.  But, we were working on a budget and every table I loved, worthy of Akasha's artisanal food and fulfilling our need for another show-stopper, was outrageously expensive. The only way to achieve the look I wanted to fit our budget, was for us to make the tables ourselves, using what was existing in the restaurant. The guys and I did a sample with an existing table, sanding it down and doing an application Juan Serpas and I had created for lightening and changing the tones of wood on other projects.  We tried it here on these dark wood tables and the result - super cool!



Again, inspiration.  I knew I needed leather for the banquet to stand up against time, wear and Indian turmeric. And, I knew I needed another show-stopper. After exhausting every leather company and not finding a color I wanted, let alone a feel, I knew the person to go to, Aly White, an expert in fabrics and textiles, at Holland & Sherry. I fell in love with this color, a very modern green which I wanted to pay homage to the old English green tufted leather Chesterfield sofas - a symbol of India's past.  I knew to build the banquet, the leather, the size and the dimensional restraints would be tough to deal with. And with the price of this leather, there could be no mistakes.  This and the Kartell lighting and chairs were my show-stopper (with n the budget) splurges. In other words - The only person who could handle this one-shot-deal and build me a beautiful banquet of European quality - was Jose Louis of Design Quest.


It took 8 guys to get it in the door, but in the end, I think Matt's face says it all Mission accomplished.

Chairs and Barstools

It was like every holiday and my birthday all rolled up into one when Kartell delivered our gorgeous Phillipe Starck Masters Chair


The set up is temporary. We still have a lot more work to do, but it gives you an idea of what the finished rooms will look like.


We still have work to do at Sambar. Check back in and see how it looks when it's finished and ready to open!

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