Lenny Steinberg’s Architectural Design for the Ages

VIVID East LA Fab Factory
Lenny Steinberg’s VIVID East L.A. Fabrication Factory. | Photo: Arthur Gerstle.

Lenny Steinberg’s eternally hip architectural design practice spans over 50 years. A native Angeleno, who grew up exploring the back lot of Universal Studios while her father worked behind a camera, Steinberg’s work in architecture, furniture and design emphasizes her neo-modernist philosophy of “Space, Time and Energy.” Influenced by her early studies in music and dance plus nearly everything around her, Steinberg has from the start of her career ignored perceived divisions in the arts. For her, disciplinary boundaries are meant to transgress and have led her to create innovative, trendsetting work over several decades. From November 2015 to June, audiences sampled Steinberg's large body of work at a residency/retrospective at The Barn, the former studio and home of renowned architect A. Quincy Jones that is now actively undergoing preservation by the Metabolic Studio, led by artist Lauren Bon.

A graduate of UCLA, Steinberg earned a degree in music but, during her time at the institution, she was drawn across the quad to the art/design building where she spent almost equal time. UCLA didn’t have a school of architecture at the time and female enrollment in architectural studies was nearly non-existent anywhere.

Largely influenced by the Los Angeles landscape and culture, Steinberg’s work is also informed by the progressive modern architects that fled to Southern California in the 1920s and ‘30s, reveling in the freedom of land and a perfect year-round climate. As her biography states, “the sharp cactus and palm trees against lush gardens, a burst of green on the dry scorched hills growing wild oak and yucca and endless curves of the Pacific Coast Highway are all reflected in her furniture and buildings that are pared down to bare minimalist lines and other creations that are glamorous, complex and playful.” Other major influences include the architectural design of Pierre Chareau, the legendary 1930s French Art Deco practitioner considered only second to Le Corbusier in terms of his contributions to furniture and interior design during this period, and the painter Willem de Kooning.

Steinberg and Binder on VIVID
Lenny Steinberg (right) and Sarah Binder (left) on a VIVID table. | Photo: Ronnie Kaufman.

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Her professional design career began in the early 1960s after joining forces with like-minded designer Sarah Binder. Together they created experimental interiors that featured the duo’s unique colored glass and mirror furniture designs. These took inspiration from artists and sculptures of the time, like Frank Stella and Kenneth Noland, had a cheeky nod to classic Bauhaus, and the sparkle and shine of Hollywood’s high Art Deco period. Steinberg and Binder produced bold shaped pieces incorporating industrial materials sourced from the Downtown Los Angeles manufacturing warehouse district. The first of their contemporary custom furniture lines combined “matte edged mirror with custom coated color under glass,” under the company name VIVID. The outcome was an understated glamour infused with an effortless vibe that led to the duo being dubbed “Mirror Queens” in the industry.

LINKS design, launched in 1968, featured sleek furniture incorporating mirror, cork, and plastic laminates such as Formica, which had previously only been used for kitchen, bathroom countertops and cheap dinette sets. They later added a jewelry line made of anodized colored aluminum and polished steel and black chrome fashioned from industrial tubing material.

Barn Interior
Installation view of Lenny Steinberg’s 2016 retrospective exhibition at The Barn in Century City. | Photo: Joshua White, courtesy of the Metabolic Studio.

Steinberg’s notable residential projects include the 1991 remodel of a 1970s classic California post-and-beam home of actor Barbara Bain, that featured custom furniture including her stainless steel “push-me, pull-U” sofa lounge, “split cube” tables and “drop back” chairs. Her third Los Angeles home, a classic California Spanish Colonial updated in 1972 with inspiration from her travels in Morocco and Spain, combined brutal but exotic industrial materials including concrete and stainless steel for built-in furniture and countertops. Consider that the use of such materials was largely unheard of for domestic residences at the time.

Her current home, a stunning re-envisioning of a Venice beach front mid-‘60s post-and-beam duplex into a single family dwelling using the original structure’s footprint, is a gorgeous mash-up of Asian influence, stark minimalism, earthy elements and clever engineering. The highlight of the space is the grand communal living space that was achieved by raising the living room ceiling and features Steinberg’s signature custom furniture pieces. A remodeled rooftop balcony opens up to stunning ocean views.

Looking back at the Steinberg’s oeuvre, a strong feminist design sensibility infused with Japanese minimalism and cutting-edge couture abounds. From the 1970s to present, she has continued designing compelling spaces and inventive but practical furniture for both commercial and private residential places.

Steinberg 2016
Lenny Steinberg in 2016. | Photo: Sian Evans.
Gaze Collection 1960
Gaze collection 1960s: Colored-glass mirror and laminates. | Photo: Lenny Steingberg Collection.
Bain Skylark Interior
Barbara Bain's skylark interior: "push me, pull-U" sofa lounge and "split cube" table; bead-blasted stainless steel. | Photo: Tim Street-Porter.
Steinberg Office Interior
Architectural studio ephemera included Lenny Steinberg’s 2016 retrospective exhibition at The Barn in Century City. | Photo: Joshua White, courtesy of the Metabolic Studio.
6 Degrees of Disintegration
"6 Degrees of Disintegration" is a set of six 'pony' dining chairs morphed from stainless steel to rust, offered as a single piece. | Photo: Sian Evans.
Steinberg House Entrance in Venice
Entrance to Steinberg House in Venice. | Photo: Lenny Steinberg Collection.

Learn more about Lenny Steinberg’s work by visiting her website.


Lenny Steinberg’s retrospective was organized and presented as one of Metabolic Studio's Special Projects in Archiving, which began in 2007 and includes the purchase and renovation of the Quincy Jones House and Studio, and other selected projects.


Top image: Architectural studio ephemera included in Lenny Steinberg’s 2016 retrospective exhibition at The Barn. | Photo: Joshua White, courtesy of the Metabolic Studio.


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