Arcana Bookstore: Lovers of Art, Architecture & Design

Lovers of art, architecture, and design—and really just a fabulous bookstore—know one local shop as sure as their own shadow.

Arcana: Books on the Arts, a lodestar for Los Angeles’ creative community and an exquisitely curated emporium populated with aesthetes and iconoclasts like Diane Keaton, which touted Arcana as a favorite in Parade.

In combing through the store’s vast selection of current and out-of-print art books, from modern and contemporary art to photography, design, architecture, and film, the place is one big expression of that intangible Keaton effect—top to bottom cool.

The engine of Arcana is founder Lee Kaplan, who established the store in 1984 and runs it with his wife and co-owner, Whitney. For years, Kaplan’s local book business that could was located on the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, then he picked up stakes and moved the store to its current home in the historic Helms Bakery Building in Culver City.

Substantially larger than the original Arcana at 4,500 square feet, this is a space that breathes. Unlike your average Barnes & Noble, there is no homogeneous tone, the sense that one will find nothing particularly interesting or inspiring beyond the books. No cloistering, no clutter, no tripping over people in the aisles. Arcana, rather, is like its inventory and clientele—design-forward.

Working in collaboration with Venice-based design/build studio Landlord, L.A. architectural practice Johnston Marklee designed Arcana’s current space, which it appointed with the store’s signature tall black-coated metal shelves to create what architect Mark Lee calls a “forest of books.”

These stunning pieces give the space an industrial edge that blends seamlessly with a clean-lined sense of function. Credit this arrangement to an expansiveness that one is likely to associate with one of the city’s modernist masterpieces than a retail concept.

Arcana not only echoes the tenets of contemporary design, it is an extension of contemporary design itself.

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