February 28, 2019
L.A.’s Milla Chocolates Pairs Its Luxurious Sweets with a Restrained Jewel Box Interior
Custom-blended dark teal walls and tubular motifs repeated throughout Milla Chocolates incorporate the boutique founders’ love of Swedish design and 1920s Bauhaus styling.
In this era of visually over-the-top sweets, Milla Chocolates takes a decidedly anti-Willy Wonka approach. Its Culver City, California, boutique and cafe, which opened last fall, expresses this philosophy in a compact space that functions both as a minimalist jewel box boutique and a production facility for award-winning chocolatier Christine Sull Sarioz.
Her previous career in the New York City art world included institutions such as the Whitney Museum, the Asia Society, and Sotheby’s before Christine (and her husband, Goktug Sarioz) moved to L.A. But instead of being surrounded by rare precious objects, Christine can apply “that antique feel” brushing edible gold dust onto single-origin chocolate bonbons filled with coffee-infused ganache, among other delicate creations. “It’s very trial and error, and time consuming, but I enjoy it,” says Christine, who is largely self-taught, and launched her business in 2015.
Goktug, who’s also Milla Chocolate’s creative director, designed the interiors to reflect the couple’s shared aesthetic and the boutique’s luxurious yet pared-down chocolate bars, covered nuts, and truffles. The space’s former build-out (a Subway sandwich location) was completely gutted to accommodate the Sariozes’ exacting vision. Until then, Christine was making chocolates in their home kitchen thanks to California’s cottage food law, which allows small-scale culinary artisans to legally sell certain homemade products. They also tested the retail waters for eight months starting in the 2017 holiday season with an extended Milla Chocolates pop-up at the ROW DTLA development.
“Everything is almost in a raw stage, with almost nothing extra added to it,” Goktug says of the Culver City project, pointing to the polished raw concrete floor and the brass, black walnut, and quartzite elements of the sumptuous counter. Custom-blended dark teal walls and tubular motifs repeated throughout Milla Chocolates incorporate their love of “1920s Bauhaus mixed with Swedish design,” Goktug adds. Reeded glass panels at the rear of the shop contain steel display shelving and separate the public area from the kitchen; this quasi-transparency reveals shadowy silhouettes and the movements of Milla’s specialized confectionery production process.
Instead of adding a regular hard-lid ceiling, Goktug, who also operates a film marketing agency nearby, devised a system of acrylic panels connected with copper and brass components. (Goktug recalls building and designing objects throughout his childhood in Turkey.) His brother, Ali Gokay Sarioz, did much of the construction and building on-site. “I like to mix metals,” Goktug notes, picking up a Weck jar containing Milla chocolate-covered hazelnuts that’s sealed with bronze-hued metallic tape and stainless-steel clips.
At Milla Chocolates, every item, both functional and decorative, has a specific purpose. Another showpiece is the brass Mavam espresso machine that’s installed flush with the countertop. Hot chocolate and coffee drinks (made with beans from San Francisco’s Coffee Manufactory) are served in locally-made Humble Ceramics pieces. A Bang & Olufsen BeoSound Shape wall-mounted speaker composed of modular hexagonal cubes and covered in a shade of reddish-brown doubles as a work of art.
“It was a happy accident that they happen to have that color that works really well with the green,” Goktug says. Bonus: the audio unit also happens to look like chocolate.
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