“A good book gives you permission to dream,” says Richard Christiansen, founder of the design agency Chandelier Creative. “When you get a great photo, art, or design book, it really makes you feel like being a better, sleeker, more chic version of yourself.”
When the bibliophile moved last year to Los Angeles’s Eagle Rock neighborhood to restore a former porn studio on a seven-acre estate (another story), he lamented that there were no good book purveyors in the area. But, while searching for Chandelier’s office space in nearby Highland Park, he came across the former Owl Pharmacy building. Finding that it had far more square footage than the agency needed, Christiansen knew exactly what to do with the surplus space: Turn it into a bookstore stocked with the type of coffe-table tomes he’d always lusted after.
But the primary goal of The Owl Bureau, which opened in March, wasn’t really to sell books. It was to have a reason to bring creative people together.“L.A. is a city that’s really hard to have creative collisions in,” Christiansen says. “I wanted to create a space—and some programming within it—that leads to creative collision.”
With the help of Paris-based Studio K.O., he envisaged a kind of “cabinet of curiosities” dedicated to culture and craft. Brought to life by L.A.–based designers Waka Waka and Machinehistories, the curvilinear aesthetic is punctuated by a central door featuring the carved spherical eyes of an owl,watching studiously over the store. The walls—wheeled and modular so that the format of the space can change according to its programming—are a soothing, untreated California oak intended to inspire a dreamy, unpretentious vibe. “The content of the books is luxury and design, and it’s a little bit elitist in some ways, so I wanted the space to feel the opposite,” says Christiansen.
The Owl Bureau will host regular talks, retrospectives, and signings (its kickoff event fêted photographer François Halard); its first artist in residence, ceramist Alex Reed, currently uses the building’s upstairs floor as a studio. A planned 20 percent of profits will go toward creative projects—such as public murals and robotics workshops for kids—in the local community.
In collaboration with Mast Books, Christiansen painstakingly vets the collection of 2,000-plus new and vintage magazines and published works, which include editions from his personal library. “There’s not a single book here I wouldn’t want on my coffee table,” he says. “We’re really here to herald all the amazing masters of photography,design, and architecture who brought beauty into the world—and to do the same thing.”