Even though their husbands worked together in Uruguay for more than 15 years, Jessie Young and Emiliana Gonzalez never became more than just acquaintances.
But when both of their husbands' jobs in the film industry forced them to relocate from Montevideo to Los Angeles, the two young mothers found themselves in the same predicament — as outsiders in a new city.
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Their story of an unlikely partnership in an unfamiliar place started when a friend offered Gonzalez a job to design the interior of a home belonging to a high-profile actress, and she brought it up to Young. The women had been living in L.A. for less than six months, and teaming up on a project seemed like the perfect cure for boredom. Young thought that it would solve some minor career frustrations, too, since she worked as a conceptual artist who made video art back home.
Gonzalez was more nervous about such a big project in this new realm, simply because she was as an industrial engineer in Uruguay. But Young gave her a push by summing up their first collaboration like this: "It was a way to get to know our city," she said.
That was two years ago. Now, Young and Gonzalez have launched Estudio Persona, a design studio that grew from that initial partnership. Since their first project, they've learned some invaluable skills, like how to navigate their way around vast urban sprawl and which fabricators will execute their renderings the best.
"Everything happens for a reason," Young said.
As it turns out, their respective backgrounds make for a near-perfect synergy between art and design. The collection of graphic furniture they created is a balance between opposites: hard geometric lines meet soft natural materials like buttery leather and wood.
"We really wanted to play with the contrast of shapes and volumes and a lot of it is cylinders with rectangles," Young said.
What's presented in their showroom in L.A.'s Arts District is a thoughtful assortment of what could be a very chic but minimal living room: a large walnut coffee table with matching planters, a barely-there stainless steel and white oak side table, some egg-shaped nesting chairs, and others.
The women moved their business to this up-and-coming area earlier this year after operating out of Young's garage in Silver Lake. It was a good start, but it wasn't the most comfortable place to show clients their latest work.
"It was too personal," Young said.
And, really, it seems as though their potential was far too large to stay in a "garage phase" for long. After finishing their very first designs — a small line of indoor walnut planters in three sizes — Gonzalez and Young caught the attention of established L.A.-based furniture and lighting studio Atelier de Troupe. The two studios collaborated on a bench for the opening of ATD's West Adams space, and Estudio Persona staged the event with their work.
ATD helped them get noticed, and soon, Estudio got picked up by Stahl + Band, a well-curated luxury retail space operating out of Dennis Hopper's previous studio in Venice Beach.
By March of this year, they were invited to present at Architectural Digest Home Design Show in New York City. The two knew what a huge opportunity it was, and they worked tirelessly to make something great — in fact, they didn't receive their finished samples until two weeks before the show.
"It was the first time we were so exposed," Gonzalez remembered. "Hundreds of people walked [by] and interacted with pieces. It was so nice to see someone loving something you did."
The women thought they would have a typical buyer, but the show suggested that people of all ages were intrigued. Plus, they had another surprise, according to Young.
"A lot of people stopped by the show and said that [our collection] was super sexy," Young said, looking a bit embarrassed by the idea. "Maybe that's phallic, I don't know," she noted, laughing while pointing toward the line's most striking piece: the totem. It was an item designed for a client who wanted a "functional sculpture" that worked as a catch-all.
"I don't think we conceive the work in terms of a space, we conceive the work as-is," Young added. Their design process goes piece by piece to ensure that each element can withstand the test of time, rather than working to conceptualize an entire cohesive collection.
While their first stab at creating a larger line was more of a slow accumulation of collaborative projects, the second will focus on honing their practice. "We look at growing from more of a design point of view and not from a marketing strategy," Gonzalez said.
This new collection is inspired by the concept of "floating particles," which will incorporate some new materials like glass. "We've been fantasizing about doing a light or a light fixture," Young said.
The pair don't have a set timeline for this collection, and they hope that the "no rush" creative process they have in mind gives them a good work-life balance. After all, they seem to like their new hometown.
"The first time I came to L.A., I hated it," Gonzalez admitted. "I came twice for a month each time, and I was like, that city is terrible, I hate it, it's ugly... Then we moved here and now I love it. I think it's a good moment in L.A. where it's really emerging and growing."