Discovering the Subtleties of Obscured Beauty in the City"People don’t know about all the bungalows, gardens and hidden spots where people exist here in L.A."
So what's an artisan woodworker doing in industrial downtown Los Angeles? Andrew Riiska hints at the answer: "I like the subtleties of the common hiding the extraordinary." Where he lives and works actually reflects that fascination.
"You'd never guess what's going on inside from looking at the exterior of my loft," Riiska says. "It looks like a giant industrial factory. … But as you walk into this place, the whole ceiling opens up two stories high and you see these giant monitor windows." Across the street is Los Angeles Cold Storage, where fish from all over the world are warehoused before being shipped across the country.
Riiska seeks out that same obscured beauty while Dumpster diving to reclaim wood discarded from centenarian Los Angeles buildings being deconstructed and reinforced with new bones. "When I find the wood, it looks gross on the outside, but when I cut into it there is this beautiful grain, like cracking open a geode stone," he says. "I get all this beautiful old-growth Douglas fir that had been perfectly curing inside for 80 to 100 years."
He came to Los Angeles five years ago to renovate a 100-year-old fishing cabin in the Hollywood Hills. "A river ran by it back then and people would horseback ride up there for the weekend." Now, the stream is underground. "In the basement there's a bridge where they have to keep the waterway clear in case of flooding," Riiska says, adding, "People don't know about all the bungalows, gardens and hidden spots where people exist here in L.A."
Riiska's designs draw inspiration from his neighborhood. "I like to contrast natural material with industrial features," he remarks. The bubble-like protrusions on the bottom of his Dragon Table, for example, were inspired by the similarly shaped nonslip surface lining the edges of Los Angeles' Metro train platforms. "The half-bubbles on the sides of the table are hints of what's underneath," Riiska explains. "It might take someone a whole meal to discover them, but eventually wandering hands find the carvings and soon people are peeking underneath to get a better view."
It wasn't long after moving to Los Angeles that Riiska discovered Little Tokyo, as well as one of his favorite restaurants: Chin-Ma-Ya of Tokyo. Another of Riiska's hidden haunts is a bar called the Varnish. "It used to be a speakeasy," he says, "so there's no sign, and you go through a back alley. The bartenders specialize in mixing drinks according to your mood. You just tell them, 'I feel like whiskey, and I'm in a light happy mood,' and they'll make you, like, a whiskey snow cone."
Whether it involves wood, wasabi or whiskey snow cones, for Riiska it's all about having fun. And his adopted hometown of Los Angeles has provided fun in many unexpected places.
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