Franklin Studios: Design Masters
By Laurie Brookins
Organic yet sophisticated, masculine yet polished—that’s the vibe one gets when viewing a space designed by Frank Medrano and Steve Brabson, the duo behind the LA-based Franklin Studios. “I’d describe our aesthetic as a combination of clean lines, a clear sense of order, bold moves, richness of texture—and then we’re always looking for the moment to surprise,” says Brabson.
Since 2006, the pair has earned kudos for projects both commercial and residential, including the recent refurbishment of a John Lautner home in the Hollywood Hills and the addition of a skylight tower in a 100-year-old Craftsman home in Canyon Heights. “In those cases it was about remaining true to the spirit of the original design, but in many other projects we try to introduce new creative materials— woods infused with metals or a different play on metallics, which we’ll often do when designing lighting or furniture,” says Medrano.
Past commercial projects have included two Santa Monica restaurants—the warm and earthy Abode, with its burnished copper chandeliers and reclaimed barn beams, and Tengu, a stark, modern take on Asian décor—as well as Foxtail, an upscale supper club in West Hollywood. These establishments have since closed, but not before they captured the attention of Light Group partners Andy Masi and Andrew Sasson, owners of Deuce, a lounge space at the newly opened Aria Resort & Casino at CityCenter in Las Vegas “I think the whole premise of CityCenter was to find young, hungry designers, and our names were starting to get out there,” says Medrano.
“Our aesthetic has been described as slightly masculine,” says Brabson, “and Andy and Andrew are very much guy’s guys, so I think they felt they found kindred spirits in design.”
Medrano, 37, and Brabson, 39, discovered early on that they too were kindred spirits, as each had honed their design skills working for Frank Gehry and Michael Maltzan. Together with the firm’s senior interior designer, Melissa Bacoka, they designed Deuce with the desert in mind. “It was about taking the organic forms of the desert and streamlining them into a modern look,” says Brabson. Located off the main casino floor, Deuce mixes earthy woods and metals with the requisite gaming tables—a challenge, the pair admits, though they call the end result “warm and sexy with bold gestures.”
“I think there’s still an air of recklessness or over-the-topness that’s expected in Las Vegas that you wouldn’t see in LA,” says Medrano, “but ultimately everything we do is rooted in elegance and sophistication and the idea of how we might use materials in new and unique ways.”
Upcoming projects range from residential designs in Los Angeles to more work in Las Vegas. “We like the big clubs and big projects, but it’s important to diversify,” says Medrano.
“I think we have a really intuitive approach to design, and people are responding to that,” says Brabson. “It always feels like we don’t have to talk [to each other] a lot to get through the process, and yet the designs we come up with are very compelling and exciting. We’re a good team.”
PHOTOGRAPH BY NOAH ABRAMS