The call they had been waiting for came through at a bad time: “Kelly Wearstler is coming.” Scaffolding cluttered the sidewalk and the windows were boarded up with plywood. It was a particularly rainy September in Los Angeles, and wind howled into the showroom. Gary Christensen, director of Mehraban Rugs, had been trying for months to get the superstar designer to swing by, and she had chosen to come in the midst of a renovation of the showroom’s facade. There was little time to appreciate the irony. “She’ll be there in 20 minutes.”
When Sammy and Soheil Mehraban decided to overhaul the exterior of their rug showroom, it felt deep. The brothers had been in the same spot on La Cienega for 27 years. It was the place where their third-generation family business—purveying Persian rugs and custom carpets—had flourished. The building was a point of pride, the anchor of a uniquely American success story: The family emigrated from Iran, established the business in a new design community, and purchased a two-story structure in one of the biggest cities in the country. The Mehraban name was displayed prominently on the dusty pink granite exterior.
“[Renovating] was a very big decision,” Soheil Mehraban tells Business of Home. “We had a lot of emotional connection to the old facade, having done business under this roof for years. My tears came when they took down the arched window. Our father loved the old building. I’m also a firm believer in the power of change. Change is necessary. So, we changed.”
People pay attention when a new design showroom opens (or closes mysteriously). Mostly we reserve judgment for the interiors, sizing up an environment like produce at the farmers market. Especially in cities like New York or Chicago, where space is at a premium, it’s not unusual to find a showroom on the second or third floor, making a visit an act of premeditation rather than discovery. But in Los Angeles, the outside matters. Here, some design brands have seen a storefront face-lift lead to a noticeable uptick in business.
Mehraban’s new glass-and-steel facade is in league with the sleek, modernist look of a gallery with expansive windows and natural light. Their recent cosmetic upgrade has made a remarkable impact on the company—and not only in sales. The refresh also cemented a shift in the company’s aesthetic evolution: For a while, Mehraban had been moving in a modern direction, with a focus on California creatives. “Some of the best design in the world is being done here in Los Angeles, and it goes all the way back to Charles and Ray Eames, and their iconic pieces,” says Christensen. “And we really need to own that, so we said, ‘Let’s have everything designed in L.A.—our work is totally different than what anybody else is doing.”
The renovation paid off. And the process wasn’t as painful as it could have been: Wearstler saw past the chaos and placed a major order with Mehraban: rugs for her buzzy new hotel, Proper, launching in Santa Monica. One hitch: They needed to be done in two months. Mehraban hustled to make the deadline, coming up for air in April just as Legends of La Cienega was revving up. San Francisco–based designer Gary Hutton and Dallas–based Chad Dorsey designed Merhaban’s windows on their big debut. “I said to Sammy and Soheil, ‘We're ready to receive the world,” says Christensen. “And there's going to be an expectation that we live up to this facade. We can deliver.”
The $1-million-dollar renovation attracted instant attention. After the team installed artist Liesel Plambeck’s cashmere and silk Year of the Snake rug in the window, calls flooded in. One was from celebrity photographer Cliff Watts. Longtime clients started checking in. Designers sent messages asking about the rugs they saw displayed while driving by. “Everybody is taking our appointments where they weren't necessarily before, and people are taking our calls more,” says Christensen. Mehraban has been so busy, the company has hired one new person a month since finishing the remodel in April.
The exterior has also become a new selfie destination: so many people have been taking pictures, the company created a hashtag and custom barcode that links the website. “I think that it's redefining the sense of who we are,” Christensen says of the update.