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Photography by Sam Frost

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Ancient and Modern Collide at Interior Designer's Arts District Home

Designer Paiman Salimpour weaves old and new with her life story

Every week, our House Calls feature takes you into homes with great style, big personality, and ineffable soul. Today we go inside the Los Angeles loft of interior designer and landscape architect Paiman Salimpour, founder of Sormeh Lifestyle. Salimpour’s personal style mixes the raw with the refined for a forward-looking aesthetic that’s both contemporary and classic.

Interior designer Paiman Salimpour contemplates an oil painting she discovered years ago in San Francisco. "I love the layering effect shown in the fabric of her dress," she says. "It's inspired many interiors for me."

When Paiman Salimpour and her husband started searching for a home in the City of Angels, she was looking for a space not everyone would consider perfect. "I wanted something unpretentious with a wild and raw background," she says. She found it in a loft in the city’s Downtown Arts District, an area that TimeOut Los Angeles dubbed a "neighborhood to watch," describing it as "equal parts warehouse wasteland and burgeoning hub for LA’s young, professional, and creative."

In fact, Salimpour’s loft was once a warehouse, and in 1923 it was part of a textile factory. She loved the space for it’s rough hewn wooden beams, weathered concrete floors, and exposed ductwork. "In my opinion, it’s refreshing to embrace the idea of the less-than-perfect. An industrial background where you can see the effects of time and history fuels my imagination," she says. "A background like that gives me something romantic to build on."

A giant collage of inspiration images surrounds Salimpour’s workspace. "For me, it’s a deconstructed photo journal. It’s a form of storytelling that inspires the imagination," she says. "After all, interior design is storytelling on a personal level."

What she has constructed for herself is a narrative of equal parts modernism and classicism. "A home is a sacred place, it’s where you live and raise a family. We [her business partner is her daughter, Sormeh Salimpour] consider ourselves interior designers who are storytellers and screenwriters. For us, it’s more than just putting objects together, it’s assembling an interior that tells the client’s story and staging a backdrop for what’s to come. A home should reflect where people have been and their dreams." (This is just one of several mic-drop statements the designer makes during a conversation. Her design ideas are frequently last-word worthy.)

In terms of the loft, she practices what she preaches. "It tells the story of a nomad and a traveler," says Salimpour, who was born in Iran. "My house is an accumulation of where I’ve travelled and lived, and I’ve been to so many places, I now feel I am one who does not belong to any particular part of the world. I am at home in all of it—not all those who wander are lost."

In concrete terms, the home is a modern backdrop for an eclectic assemblage of accessories, a look Salimpour likens to a "cabinet of curiosities."

It starts in what many of us would call the living room, but in the European tradition, Salimpour dubs it the great room. "To me, a great room is multipurpose area, where you can entertain many people, but it feels cozy enough that you could sit down and read by yourself." In her great room, she’s assembled three mismatched chairs and a sofa, arranged around a circular coffee table piled high with books (many of which really do invite you to sink into an attendant chair and riffle through the pages). She’s mixed a combination of antiques, new items, design and art books, and patterns from different provenances and periods for a singular aesthetic.

They live comfortably together due to subtle similarities in color and line, but the one reliable constant is that each item has a special significance for the designer. "I am a firm believer that every thing in your home must be something that is meaningful to you," Salimpour says. "It doesn’t matter if they are expensive or inexpensive items, or where or how you discovered them, but the majority of the things you own should be soulful. Those things could include drawings by your children or an artwork that’s worth many thousands of dollars."

Left: Left: Salimpour uses modern garments to accent the painting of a woman draped in flowing robes. Using clothing as accessories is one of her practices. Right: The 19th-century tapestry behind a jacket-draped chair was meant to be hung horizontally; but Salimpour likes the way it looks with a vertical orientation. "I love to use things in ways they are not always meant to be used," she says. The textile gives an effortless, undecorated feel as well as character. "If only it could speak, its tales would mesmerize us all," she says
Left: Salimpour has long collected old textiles, and she used some of them to drape her bed for a romantic and nostalgic feeling. Right: An "exposed" closet rack allows her to display her favorite pieces. She writes inside many of the garments, noting the date, location, and occasion where they were worn. "I love to surprise my daughter with these little, personal pieces of my being," she says.

That said, the loft is filled with moments of irreverence as well as meaning. For example, the bust on the console in front of a gilded mirror wears a piled-high wig made of the packing material that encased it during shipping. Another statue wears an elaborate French military hat from the 18th century. In the dining room, a fur coat and a long jacket are draped over chairs, as if their occupants just entered the space and dropped their wraps across the seat back. "My opinion is that if you love something, you should display it. If I have a piece of clothing I love, why should it stay in a closet?" Salimpour says.

When talking about her home, Salimpour mentions the phrase "18th century" often. "I love that era. It was a period in history when men started to travel the world to feed their soul through their eyes. It was one of those times when creativity was at its highest level," she says.

So how does a love for the Age of Enlightenment blend with today’s technological times? A look at Salimpour’s husband’s office reveals her strategy.

In the kitchen, the collage of imagery continues. "Photos include places I've been and moments I've shared with loved ones," she says. "I believe that my life and work are an extension of each other."
Left: A statue sports a French military hat. The designer rarely displays anything as purchased, but instead chooses to customize with embellishments. Right: Goldie the goldfish (a gift during Persian New Year) lives among books, photos, and works on paper.

"We both work in the loft, and his office space is filled with computers and wires," she says. The designer hid the detritus of modern life on his desk behind a collection of antiques that include a clock, books, valises, and statues.

But that’s not to say all the modern is entirely tucked away. The contemporary, industrial elements that drew Salimpour to the space in the first place (concrete floors, exposed ducts, and massive wooden beams) are there and celebrated.

She calls the look "modernizing ancient," and for her it's a personal and professional concept. "I came to this country from a civilization that’s thousands of years old," Salimpour says. "Then I had my daughter, a new person in this new country. Her fresh outlook toward design refreshes me. In her, I see ancient history and modern civilization in one person. And that's how I design: by taking an ancient idea and modernizing it without losing the soul."

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