Removal and Renewal

Turning a 1960s restaurant into a high-end fashion boutique was an exercise in restraint.

Paul Davis Architects

2241 West Coast Highway
(949) 642-4423

Newport Beach, California

The architect Paul Davis is telling a story: his own. He was born in 1961; educated at the University of Virginia, where he encountered the overlap between Jeffersonian contextualization and the thrills of high modernism; and is a Los Angeles citizen who loves his city’s aesthetic. The narrative is uncannily similar to the story he then tells of his adaptive reuse project for the high-fashion boutique A’maree’s—it involves a building completed the year of his birth, and finding a middle ground between historically sensitive renovation and the clean aesthetic of modernism for a structure that exemplifies the geographical context of Newport Beach, just south of L.A.

The idea of removal as architecture comes up frequently in the tale of A’maree’s, which opened in November last year. “We took a huge amount of junk out of there,” Davis says of the building that now houses the upscale retail space. Built in the beginning of the 1960s by the Pasadena-based architects Ladd & Kelsey to house the restaurant Stuft Shirt, the structure played home to a number of failed restaurants and sat empty for 13 years until it was leased to A’maree’s last year. “The interesting part,” Davis points out, “was that we couldn’t keep it all, and we didn’t want to keep it all.”

The building is a crisp, white, scallop-edged, two-story structure that faces the ocean. The view, Davis says, is unparalleled by that of any publicly accessible building in Southern California. Inside, a series of white steel mullion structures divides the space into legible shopping areas, while a polished concrete floor offers a clean setting for the fashion items. Floor-to-ceiling arched windows (now protected with the addition of UV film) bring light all the way into the shop and are supplemented by fixtures salvaged from the interiors left behind by the building’s previous tenants.

The three sisters who own the 35-year-old fashion retail business were crucial to the process. It was their desire for a place where clients could come, kick off their old shoes, and find a new pair in an artfully arranged pile on the floor—all while eating a just-baked cookie fresh from the exhibition kitchen (a remnant of the building’s days as a restaurant)—that drove many of Davis’s decisions. But it was Davis’s desire to blend history with the building’s own modern aesthetic that encouraged the sisters to approve of so much removal. The store won the California Preservation Foundation’s 2011 award for rehabilitation.

In many cases, adaptive reuse implies the wholesale gutting of a structure, while in others, it describes the barest hint of visible intervention. At A’maree’s, the design process was one of editorializing as much as it was of renewal, with Davis deciding which of the historical layers of the building should be exposed. “There’s an archaeological process here that amounts to telling a story,” Davis says, “making a story line for a place that helps it describe itself.”

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