Una Malan, has an eye for high-quality design and impeccable craftsmanship. She moved from London to L.A, in 2007, and served as the West Coast Director at The Rug Company, before launching her own showroom in the La Cienega Design Quarter in 2016. Perfectly tucked away in a quaint courtyard off the busy street, the building, designed by John Elgin Woolf in 1937, has plenty of natural light to illuminate the wide array of home furnishings, lighting, textiles and accessories found within. Malan personally selects each vendor from around the world, and the showroom—intentionally designed to make guests feel at home—features spaces that are quite different from the next. Here, Malan talks about what sets her showroom apart, new offerings she’s excited about, her philanthropic pursuits and more.
When did you first decide to pursue design as a career?
I always say that this is the culmination of my three careers. My first career was as a junior agent at ICM in London representing talent. Then I went to design school at Chelsea Harbor in London and embarked on an interior design career. Then I moved to LA and ended up working for The Rug Company, so I was on the other side doing sales, working with interior designers. Now I represent amazing talent in the interior design world, incorporated with sales. I don’t know that it’s something that dawns on you. It’s something that always sits with you that’s always there, and it just had to take the right amount of time to percolate until I decided that that’s what I wanted to move into.
What were some of the challenges you faced along the way, and how did you overcome them?
Well, firstly getting to the states. I had to make that happen. Then, I suppose when opening the initial space, it was finding the right space, finding something that said what I wanted to project. This was not just a space to house some pieces of furniture and lighting, but something that really represented what I was trying to say—to display things beautifully in a cohesive way that hopefully inspires people. We were really lucky in finding this space. It’s a magical, historic gem for LA.
How would you describe your showroom?
Curated, artisanal, warm and friendly. Hopefully you feel like you’re coming into a home. Maybe one that has slightly too much furniture in it, but it has that warm, welcoming aspect to it. That’s what we try and convey.
What are the Una Malan brand pillars?
At Una Malan, our brand values are quality and great customer service. We always want to make sure that the client feels supported. Integrity is also important and finding incredible artists to bring together that we can be proud of and share with people. There are so many people creating incredible things, and it’s so exciting when we get to really share their work, especially if they’re not known in the community already.
What are some of the criteria you consider when choosing which designers to carry at Una Malan?
The design has to appeal to me and the design has to speak to me and make me feel excited, because I need to be excited when I share it with clients. The quality of the craftsmanship; the uniqueness of the voice; something that we don’t already have; something that hopefully isn’t overdone already in the community; something that the artists themselves are really proud of. We love working with our vendors who are excited about what they’re working on and send us things and ask us what we think. It’s a wonderful cohesion, collaboration and unity. We all have the same goals. We all want to work well together to achieve wonderful things and have other people excited about them too.
In addition to the wide spectrum of product offerings that lend an atelier feel to the showroom, what else sets Una Malan apart from other multi-line showrooms?
I think what sets us apart from other multi-line showrooms is the John Elgin Woolf building that we’re in to begin with. It feels more like a home than a box or generic showroom. We try to really curate the pieces here so that they each have their own voice. Obviously you wouldn’t put quite as many dining chairs in a home or pieces together, but we don’t want to over clutter with too much lighting around, too many pieces interfering, so that they really have their own space to shine and for the clients to be able to see them and imagine them in their projects. We represent about 23 or 24 designers between furniture, lighting, textiles and accessories.
What are some of the newest offerings at Una Malan? And can you highlight some oldies but goodies?
New things that we have here at the showroom are new pieces by Joseph Pagano from the East Coast, who is an incredible lighting designer who actually does amazing furniture too, but his core is lighting. And everything is done in-house. So when he has an idea, he literally goes into his workroom and creates the wood, blows the glass and works on the metal. They do everything there, so they’re not having to wait on third party vendors to create his visions. So it’s always wonderful. I’ll wake up and there’ll be a new email saying, “What do you think of this? I’ve got it ready to go.” And invariably, we’re in love with it. Dmitri and Co. were the very first brand that basically launched the showroom, I would say, and their quality and craftsmanship is exceptional. They are definitely one of our first loves
What are you most excited about for the future of Una Malan?
Continuing to grow, continuing to work with our partners, continuing to feel inspired and continuing to inspire the LA design community, maybe further afield. But just always looking forward to working with StyleRow. We just launched our new website, also, that has a designer login, which hopefully people will find really helpful.
What excites you most about StyleRow?
I am so excited about StyleRow because as the industry changes and evolves and people have less and less time and they just need convenience. So to have everything under one roof, where we’re supported, the designer’s supported, it makes their lives easy, but we don’t feel excluded. They can still communicate with the showroom, they still know who their salesperson is. They can access information really easily, they can put it into their budget or their spreadsheet. Everyone wants their lives to be more streamlined. So I think it was an inevitable move, and I think you guys are doing such a great job that we’re very excited to be involved.
I think StyleRow is going to be incredibly useful, specifically for designers. They have a million and one moving parts, they need to cross reference, they need information at all times of the day, they need to be able to budget, to be able to put mood boards together. And having one place where you can access your showrooms, your salespeople, your product, you can place it into your projects. Anything that makes all of our lives easier, but specifically interior designers, I think they’re going to be so thrilled to have that platform, and, of course, we want to make our clients’ lives as easy as possible. So whatever we can do to help that and be a part of that is wonderful.
You are involved philanthropically. Can you share with us which causes you are currently supporting?
I’m a huge animal advocate and equestrian. So I’m always rescuing far more animals, horses, than my husband would like. In addition, I’m also involved with Stewart House, which is part of the Rape Foundation that supports sexually abused children, which is an incredibly important charity that really changes lives.
If there was one iconic piece of design that would best describe you, what would it be?
I don’t know if there would be an iconic piece of design. I think I’m pretty classic in my style, but fun and playful too. Also, there are different sides to my personality. There are different things that I like to dip into and get excited about. So I don’t know. Anything that’s beautifully made and has beautiful lines gets me giddy.
How would you describe your personal style?
My personal style, I would say, is classic with a twist. I like it to be elegant and chic, but playful too and not too serious.
Are there any hotels that blew you away with their design?
I think it really depends on where it is and what it’s saying to that location. I love the Katikies Hotel in Santorini. I love the San Ysidro Ranch in Santa Barbara, the Hyatt in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I think it depends on the locale—how you’re going to try on that local culture and immerse yourself in it in different hats.
Do you have any favorite coffee table books?
Oh my gosh, I love coffee table books. I don’t even know if I could pick a favorite because I get so excited, I order them in bundles. So whenever the new design books come out or books on architecture or art, I sort of stockpile them all on Amazon.
What’s your favorite hostess gift?
I think a beautifully boxed candle is always a beautiful gift. We have just taken on my friend’s gorgeous line of candles called Iconic, and they’re spectacularly packaged. Once you’ve burnt through them, you can actually use the glass as a drinking glass. So I think just being in the industry that we’re in, it’s all about the presentation.