Rosaline Bernstein

Last year, L.A. designer Rosaline Bersnstein left the safety-net of designing and merchandising for a national, homestore retailer and opened her own interior design studio, christened MODBOX. One of her first projects was creating a retail space for Vespa, Los Angeles in Little Tokyo.

Starting a new venture is always a bit scary and conversely exhilarating. Recently, I caught up with Rosaline to ask her a few questions about the
Vespa project and about designing in general. Here's what she had to say...

RV: You've designed other types of retail spaces before. How was designing the Vespa store different from those experiences?

RB: Most of my previous experience in retail design came from working in-house for large, well-established companies. These companies had pretty rigid molds and stringent parameters for what you could and couldn’t do…which makes sense from a business point of view when you’re a global entity trying to maintain a unified brand, but creatively it’s limiting.

Here in the States,
Vespa is still very much a niche brand. Showrooms are franchised and individually owned, and as long as you respect and understand the brand and the customer, you’re free to unleash your creativity in many different directions.

photos - Rosaline Bernstein

RV: Was it necessary to retro fit the original space?

RB: Just some interior dividing walls. The space was retro fitted by a developer as part of a larger retail development/neighborhood improvement deal. By the time I came on board it was a clean white box, all up to code and ready for action, which is always nice. I would’ve loved to have seen it in the “before” state though…the space used to be a seedy neighborhood bar!

RV: Did you use any green products?

RB: Being green is a key element in the Vespa brand so it was definitely something that was important for the design. Much of the environmental savings for this project came not from what I used but rather what I didn’t use. I chose to leave most of the structural surfaces exposed…the concrete floors, brick walls, and wood beams in the ceiling. They were all beautiful raw surfaces that really fit in with the brand and the neighborhood so there was no need to waste materials to cover them up. The layout maximized and most effectively used the natural lighting that was available. All the millwork was custom designed to have a functional purpose, nothing was just decorative for the sake of decor. I guess the greenest product I used were actual plants, about 36 of them, rowed up in a custom designed low wall of planters that runs the entire length of the store.

RV: You're also a residential designer. How is designing for a retail space different than a residential space?

RB: Residential design is very personal and emotional. There are functional things that have to be taken into consideration of course, but for the most part it’s pretty grey in terms of right and wrong. It’s hard to screw something up really badly. Retail design is much more black and white in a lot of areas and you have to think like a business person first. If you don’t understand the product and customer base, you can end up with a store that looks great but misses the mark and no one will buy the product. If this happens you’ve failed as a designer, and the failure of the business can rest as much on your shoulders as on the owners.

RV: What influences your process?

RB: Everything and anything. I’m an artist at heart, so at the start of a project my head is always swimming with a thousand ideas and possibilities, mostly incoherent and non-related! I have to reign myself in by starting with basics…floor planning, flow of traffic, code clearances, all the boring stuff. Once I have that down, 950 of my1000 ideas are no longer viable and I can really start to focus. With retail design the product and the lifestyle associations provide many easy jumping off points for concepts, then things just tend to flow naturally from there.

RB: Do you have a favorite California designer?

RV: There is certainly no shortage of talent here and I like bits and pieces of many different designers and their work but no one person really appeals to me and my modern aesthetic. Honestly, I actively try not to get too caught up in looking at what other designers are doing because it’s too easy for me to start comparing myself and start questioning my process and my ideas. I do have a favorite California architect though…Eric Owen Moss, who is a prominent Deconstructivist. His office and many of the buildings that brought him notoriety are actually in Culver City, just a few blocks from where I live and work. It’s pretty crazy stuff…organized chaos is the best way to describe it. I have such an intense emotional response to it, which I can’t even fully explain, because I’m a crazy perfectionist and technically those kinds of things should scare me!

RV: What's on your bedside table?

RB: A fun retro-inspired lamp, piles of half read business books and chap stick.

RB: If you could take a trip anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?

RV: That’s a toughie. I want to go just about everywhere and see everything! But if I had to make an immediate choice I’d say Japan. The architectural and design innovations in that country are astounding…so many amazing places and spaces, I’m sure I could take away a lifetime of design inspiration from there. And I could eat sushi everyday!


Rosaline Bernstein, principal and founder of MODBOX design, received her bachelor’s of science in Interior Architecture and Design from California State University Northridge. Before opening her studio, Rosaline spent several years honing her skills and distinctive modern style working for some of LA’s top residential and hospitality firms as well as doing store design and merchandising for high end retailers.


Unknown said…
Awesome! I've got to meet this cool lady some day!!! ;-)

Popular posts from this blog

The Cutest House on the Street

Washington-Smith, Wright & Lautner Homes on the Market in L.A.