January 1, 2015

Back Story: Trina Turk

Clothing designer Trina Turk reflects on her love of California's culture, landscape, and architecture.

A love of vintage clothing and an interest in architecture tours led designer Trina Turk to get involved in historic preservation.

photo by: Trunk Archive/Justin Coit

Bright colors and bold patterns are hallmarks of designer Trina Turk’s eponymous clothing and home decor lines, reflecting her love of California’s culture, landscape, and architecture. When she’s not in the studio or overseeing her 11 retail stores, Turk and her husband, photographer Jonathan Skow, advocate for historic places. Preservation spoke with Turk about finding inspiration in old buildings.

How did you and your husband first become interested in preservation?

We met in college, at the University of Washington in Seattle. There were a lot of interesting buildings on campus, so I think that, combined with our love of thrift shopping and vintage clothing, led to an interest in the interiors and the architecture in which this clothing would have been worn. We started going on architecture tours when we moved to Los Angeles in the mid-ˇ80s. We learned about the hotbed of midcentury architecture by all the greats, right in L.A.

You both have been involved in restoring historic houses and buildings. Can you tell us about them?

Our house in Los Angeles is a 1948 J.R. Davidson house. We have restored it and lived there since 2002. Anything we do, we think about what makes sense for the era of the house.

Our house in Palm Springs is called the Ship of the Desert. It’s a Streamline Moderne house designed by Erle Webster and Adrian Wilson in 1936. We bought it in the late ╦ç90s, and it was in pretty rough shape. We started trunk archive/justin coit a restoration, and then we had a fire. It was devastating, but in the end, it allowed us to completely rebuild the house in the original floor plan. It looks more like it did in the 1930s now than when we purchased it.

We also helped the Palm Springs Art Museum purchase an E. Stewart Williams– designed building that was just restored and turned into an architecture museum, which is exciting.

Why did you choose to locate some of your stores in historic buildings?

The Palm Springs store was our first. We opened it in 2002. I had always loved that particular space. I [initially] had no idea it was an Albert Frey building. I think what I responded to was just good architecture. I knew it felt great when you were in there. It was the same thing [in the Los Angeles store]: a response to the space. It’s a 1940s building with an abundance of natural light. And in New York, our building is from the 1880s. It has a skylight and a functioning fireplace. Again, it’s about the feeling.

How does California’s historic architecture inspire you in your work?

In L.A., especially, I think that in the '20s and '30s, Hollywood influenced a lot of what was happening. You drive through neighborhoods, and there’s a French chateau next to a Streamline Moderne house. That freedom to take inspiration from any era is something that, I think, is part of being a creative person. I think the parallel between midcentury architecture and what we create at the company is our clothing is generally fairly simple in silhouette. It’s more about the textiles. And in midcentury architecture, the shapes are fairly simple. It’s the materials that are speaking. Our clothing has a similar aesthetic.

ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: Read the full Q&A with designer Trina Turk.

Lauren Walser is the Los Angeles-based field editor of Preservation magazine. She enjoys writing and thinking about art, architecture, and public space, and hopes to one day restore her very own Arts and Crafts-style bungalow.

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