Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Fernando Gonzalez of Flipping Design



At Tortilla Republic

616 N. Robertson Blvd., West Hollywood 310-657-9888

Once Los Angeles-based interior designer Fernando Gonzalez begins to describe his family, it becomes clear why dining rooms have become the primary focus of his company, Flipping Design.

"My mother's a big cook, and that actually rubbed off on my sister, who is in culinary arts. We both found our passions at a young age, and it's been good to be surrounded with siblings and family members doing the same thing as me, pushing hard to do what they love," he says. "All of us are really close-knit, and I feel truly blessed to have such a loving family."

To Fernando, family is where the heart is, and since nothing brings loved ones together like the dinner table, a home's dining room should never be neglected. Knowing how much sharing meals in a fabulously decorated space means to the young designer, it came as no surprise to me when he selected one of the city's most aesthetically pleasing restaurants, Tortilla Republic, as our meeting place. Its location, in the heart of West Hollywood's Design District, couldn't be more appropriate for our conversation about his artistic background, design and his new company.

With an original establishment on the Hawaiian island of Kaua'i and an upcoming location in Laguna Beach, Tortilla Republic's growing popularity stems from serving Mexican fare that favors homemade, organic and farm-fresh ingredients over lard and processed additives in an environment that is both modern and rustic. Fernando tells me that it's a place that would be appropriate for lunch with a client but is also comfortable enough for a relaxing brunch with friends.

We sit at a table just inside of the restaurant's outdoor patio, and he speaks of his childhood. He was born in Tijuana, Mexico, to a father who was formerly a singer in bands (where his artistry comes from) and a businesswoman mother (where his drive comes from). His parents' missionary work eventually brought them north near San Francisco, then to Oxnard and Riverside. Throughout this time, Fernando demonstrated a keen artistic eye and interest in architecture.

"Whenever my parents needed help doing anything handy or artistic, I was there to help. I would always be changing the furniture around in the living room or changing out the drapes for my mom. I loved books, and if I saw one with a picture of a home or a cool building, I would grab it and open it. I was captivated by the angles, colors and textures. When I was 9 and people asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would say, 'an architect,'" he remembers. "Around junior high, I really started to gravitate towards design shows on HGTV. I had an older sister and two younger brothers, and we had one TV in the living room. We would all run home as fast as we could because whoever got home first would get first dibs on the controller. I became a cross-country runner at the time because I was super excited to get home and watch HGTV. "

Fernando pursued his passion by studying architecture at at Riverside Community College. But once the architecture courses moved into extremely technical territory, he realized that interior design was really the field he wanted to move into.

"I like to use the left side of my brain. I love a challenge, but when it comes to math: no," he laughs. "Most of hte credits I did for architecture transferred over to interior design; it wasn't like I was moving into science."

He eventually made the move to Los Angeles close to seven years ago, but due to the market crash and financial climate of the time, he took a job in retail.

"Like my mother always says, 'If you're going to do something, do it right. Always be the best you can be in whatever you're doing, even if it's not your passion, do it right.' Working for Hugo Boss, I finally decided this was something that could give me the financial means to be comfortable," he recalls. "I worked my way up to general manager, then I decided to put all of my focus and energy into doing what I love."

It was about two or three years ago when the idea for Flipping Design first came to Fernando as he was furnishing his own apartment.

"I didn't want to go the Ikea route, where everything is medium-density fiberboard or particleboard, so I started looking on CraigsList and at estate sales and found some great pieces that were needing help and TLC. I started painting and designing them to my own taste," he tells. "Now that's basically what I'm doing, restoring and refinishing mid-century pieces, and ideally the direction I want to go is using these pieces in my designs. Let's say I'm flipping a restaurant, I would incorporate the pieces that I just refurbished into the design. I think that sets me apart from other interior designers."

Hence, the name 'Flipping' Design for the company he began last August. Fernando's ability to repurpose vintage furniture pieces and integrate them into his designs – as well as his unique focus on dining areas – sets him apart from most designers, as does his precise attention to detail. As we wait to place our order, he notices that the honeycomb pattern of the candleholder on our table is the exact same pattern that he used for the ceiling moldings of a recent dining room project he did in Hollywood.

"I find inspiration anywhere because I'm very observant and always looking at things to think of how things could have been designed differently," he admits. "Like the orange rim of this water glass is inspiring me to do something because it's so drastic, all clear on the bottom with a splash of color at the top."

Since it's the late afternoon, we decide to take advantage of some of Tortilla Republic's Happy Hour deals, some chips and guacamole, a Jalapeño Margarita for Fernando and a White Sangria with chunks of pineapple for me. He also recommends the Jalapeño Croquetas (charred jalapeño, potato puree and goat cheese coated in a panko crust and topped with cilantro crema), the swordfish and rock shrimp ceviche and the Flautas de Pollo.

We both admire how Tortilla Republic's huge glass doors bring the outdoors in, and Fernando remarks, "Bringing the outdoors in is trademark of any city that has fantastic weather like L.A. Cities like Barcelona have such great that the architectural designs are so amazing and inspirational. Acapulco, too, and even here, you find such great architecture. I grew up influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright. I love the craftsman, bungalow houses that he designed."

Since he loves craftsman- and bungalow-style homes, it's no wonder that Fernando loves the L.A. neighborhood of Silver Lake. While he currently lives just off the Sunset Strip, he would like to move to Silver Lake one day.

"I love Silver Lake's diversity. It has a hipster vibe, but it's a mix of a lot of different types of people. It's gentrified, not bougie," he describes. "Los Angeles is eclectic, and that's why I like it, and I love Silver Lake for having all of that. It's a beautiful neighborhood, yet it's rugged, raw and real."

As we sip our cocktails, he says, "I like spicy drinks, so the Jalapeño Margarita is my go-to cocktail here, but my forever drink of choice is a Dirty Martini because I love olives."

Aside from Tortilla Republic, you can also find Fernando at Bossa Nova, Akbar, Bar Stella at Cafe Stella or Malo.

"I definitely like spending time alone time to just get away from life. In the last few months I've gone to the Greystone Mansion a couple of times. I like to go there to just zone out," he says. "Nature calls me, so if I can hear the wind blowing through the trees it's feeding my creativity, boosting my battery."

Having worked at Hugo Boss, he still loves fashion and shopping.

"I can shop anywhere. I can go into H&M, Prada or a flea market and find stuff I like. If I genuinely like something, I'll wear it, whether it's from a thrift shop, flea market or Hugo Boss. Name brands don't mean as much as the cut, the style, if it fits with the season and is on trend," he says. "I do like mixing classic and eclectic pieces. Today I have a black jacket with a T-shirt and sandals."

As for his go-to furniture shops, Fernando likes Mortise & Tenon's pieces and accessories, especially their custom screen work. He also loves to walk through the Pacific Design Center where he has a favorite shop for fabric options.

"Right now, the medium that I love to use is canvas. The linen material gives walls another dimension; it's almost like using wallpaper," he describes. "I just went to the Gamble House in Pasadena, and canvas was used way back when. It was so inspiring to hear. We're using it aesthetically now, but back then, it was all they had."

Aside from using canvas in wall coverings, I ask Fernando if he has some design tips specifically for those on a budget.

"Open up a can of paint. That's what I always tell people. It costs less than $50. When you want an instant change, you can get it with color," he quickly replies. "I just wrote an article on the color blue, and in my research found that the shade of blue can change your mood when you step into a room, so I would encourage people to use more blue! Navy blue is the color of strength and often used in the business world. Hazy blues are tranquil and good in bathrooms. Subtle, soft blues are for a home office because they encourage you to focus. On a beautiful day like today when the sky is blue, you experience happy people, so that color blue gives off a good vibe, the sense of being happy."

Fernando's openness when it comes to learning new things about people, culture and even the color blue is invigorating. His passion and dedication are clear indications that Flipping Design is going to be a success.

"You can always learn something from someone, and my motto is to be constantly learning so I grow as a person. It's good to open yourself to other languages, lifestyles and cultures," he says with a smile. "When you surround yourself with people who love life and enjoy what they're doing, it helps you keep moving forward. When I encounter someone who is doing what they love, it gives me goosebumps."

Spend just a few moments with Fernando Gonzalez, and you'll get goosebumps, too.

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