Southern California

Will and Lori Ford feature homegrown, sophisticated style at their flagship pier avenue shop and cafe 

Written by Constance Dunn | Photography Courtesy of Paul Jonason

hen I stop by the tidy Craftsman bungalow that’s home base for Gum Tree, Will Ford is parked outside, pulling fresh ingredients for the day’s cafe menu from his car. Inside, his partner and wife Lori is settling back into the boutique. (Just a day earlier, the two had returned home from a big trade show in NYC) Their daughter Lily will soon be stopping by the cafe after school with a friend for a snack, and Will, their youngest, can be found be toddling throughout the place, too.

Sitting in the fireplace cafe on a blustery day, the home, built in 1911, is a scene in down-home sweetness. There are glossy wood floors and beam ceilings, and lots of sunny, full-pane windows. But it’s also a place of modernity, from roasted beet salads and charcuterie plates to made-from-scratch Aussie meat pies—the last a nod to Will’s heritage.

He was raised in Australia, hence the top-selling Avocado Toast (an item popular in Australia for about the last 20 years) and Vegemite Breakfast Sandwich (“We threw it in for a laugh and it did really well,” he says.)

The story of Gum Tree is really the story of Will and Lori Ford, with great by-products for the South Bay shopper. In addition to their flagship shop and cafe, the pair have a children’s store steps away (Gum Tree Kids on 323 Pier Avenue). Their latest is Gum Tree Manhattan Beach, born from a downturn the Ford’s turned into a big positive. “We had a flood at our kids’ store about two years ago,” explains Will, “so we did a pop-up shop for a month in Manhattan Beach at the mall.”

The two discovered that the bulk of their Manhattan Beach customers had never heard of Gum Tree’s Hermosa location, but loved their stuff. After securing the right location, the Ford’s opened a permanent shop at 324 Manhattan Beach Boulevard in November, and with it, more local success. “Without that disaster happening we would never [have] had the opportunity to move to Manhattan Beach,” he says.

At the original Gum Tree location, the cafe is the domain of Will, a culinary who was operating his NYC restaurant Eight Mile Creek when he met Lori, who was a Manhattan Beach native working as a designer in the Big City. It’s her unique aesthetic that distinguishes the home and gift store, and has much to do with its success for the past eight years. “It’s very personal,” says Lori when asked about how she selects items. “I try to stick to my vision and buy what I like, and it really all comes together in a cohesive way when it arrives.” There’s a charming rotation of coastal aesthetic decor, from rugs and pillows to frames and coffee-table books. It’s diverse but sophisticated, and Ford keenly stages items in such a way as to give vision to how a customer might fit them in their own life.

Goods are seasonal and change with the weather, down to the personal accessories. You might find leather purses and wool hats in the winter, then come back in warmer months to bright brimmed hats and flowy caftans. There’s a good amount of jewelry across aesthetics, from delicate gold rings and bracelets to more trend-conscious pieces, like stone and bead encrusted statement necklaces. “We have bracelets for $20 or $300, and everything in between,” remarks Lori. “You can really find a gift for everyone.”






Retail Revolution

Malibu Lumber Yard offers sustainable comfort and a summertime marketplace

Written by Constance Dunn | Photography by Paul Jonason

Chances are it’s been a while since you’ve been to the mall.

Indeed, the traditional indoor shopping mall of yore has almost been completely eclipsed in retail circles, overtaken by its modern-day predecessor—the “lifestyle center.” Described by the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) as an outdoor concept featuring “upscale   national-chain specialty stores with dining and entertainment,” lifestyle centers have now become the standard in climate-friendly Southern California. One that stands out for both its eco-minded, elegant design and its place as an incubator for new retail experiences is Malibu Lumber Yard.


Built on the site of what was formerly a hardware store and lumber yard, a longstanding Malibu fixture described by landscape architect Eric Lennox, who was lead designer on the new project, as “a generational, community treasure,” Malibu Lumber Yard was unveiled in 2009 as a tony 30,000-square-foot lifestyle center populated primarily by high-end clothing retailers, including Intermix, Maxfield and Vilebrequin among them. It’s also a marvel of ecological sustainability, from the bevy of reclaimed wood used in its construction to its water-wise selection of plants, which utilize 100 percent reclaimed water for their irrigation.

A stroll along the center’s main deck reveals a Malibu-chic design, from the inviting horseshoe silhouette and plethora of loungers and umbrella-covered sitting areas to tropical plants galore—including lofty Kentia King palms, an overgrown aloe vera plant and batches of exotic succulents in planters. There’s even freestanding circular aquariums filled with colorful Pacific Ocean fish and plant life, a particularly mood-making feature in the evening when interchanging colors cycle through the tanks. “We used the pattern on the deck and the curved wood on the second floor to indirectly attract attention, focus and ‘draw’ people in and give the retailers exposure,” Lennox explains. “Because of the retailers that were being attracted, we wanted to create a resort-like, comfortable feeling in a commercial setting. You can shop, sit and have ice cream, or just come to hang out—very, very comfortably.”


Speaking of shopping, traditional brick and mortar retail has seen better days, particularly in the age of online shopping and the rise of the millennial consumer. According to an Accenture study on the current generation’s consumer behavior: “They have come to expect a seamless shopping experience and won’t hang around if they don’t find it. For retailers, the message is clear: Give them what they want, when they want it or risk losing them.”

This seamlessness has increasingly translated to retailers offering a marketplace experience, where consumers can shop among many brands, products and services at a single site. A thoughtful beta test of this concept can be found at Malibu Lumber Yard this summer in the pop-up shop of Ali & Jay. The dress retailer with a girls-havingfun-in-LA brand personality has opened up a modern-day bazaar in tandem with its sister brand Bailey44.

Though dresses are the core product offering of both labels, they’ve keenly filled the space with a rotating group of brandsimpatico vendors, from t-shirts and sunglasses to candy, bikinis and beach towels. On weekends, the Brentwood outpost of Blo Blow Dry Bar offers braids and beach waves, and there’s makeup and on-the-go skin services by Blushington. There are also flowers and bouquets from Costa Mesa florist Studio La Fleurs, and a steady stream of blogger events and hashtag promotions to encourage customers to publicize the festivities.

In short, the pop-up is offering a comprehensive, centralized and rather glamorous experience that’s unmatchable online. This, plus the chance for visiting consumers to transform themselves head-to-foot into a comely Malibu vision who’s more than ready for their share of Instagram shots and Snapchat sessions. “On the weekends, it’s a one-stop shop. People love it,” says Ali & Jay salesgirl Kelli Lippman.

“It’s been really fantastic,” adds Melanie Bender, Vice President of Marketing for The Bailey Group (parent company of Ali & Jay and Bailey44). “Being able to be in Malibu during summer—it was such a right brand moment for us. What we look to do with the concept is not just create a boutique with fabulous product, but also bring something to the community that we thought would really resonate with the shopper here.”

Accidental Retailers

Meet the brothers behind two of Hermosa’s trendy his-and-hers boutiques

Written by Michelle Lyn | Photography by Paul Jonason

Conceived by siblings with a creative background, Beach & Beverly co-owner Brian Cooley says, “In short, we’re two brothers who accidentally started a retail storefront out of our office space on Pier Avenue in Hermosa Beach.”

Florida natives, brothers Colin and Brian Cooley, started out in the corporate world as an attorney and municipal bonds trader, respectively. After their father, a veteran salesman, passed away, they changed gears and dove head first into the music industry, doing PR for musicians and music events in Atlanta.

Years later, and life couldn’t be more different. In 2011, the general store Wicked+ in Hermosa Beach marked their first foray into retail, providing unique items geared towards men like shaving accessories, grooming products and coffee. A few years later, seeing a need for a boutique that catered to the wants and needs of today’s women, they opened Beach & Beverly just two doors down.

Located on Pier Avenue, Beach & Beverly features clothing brands like Amour Vert, Cleobella, Gorjana, LNA and Rory Beca. To accommodate the lifestyle of their Beach & Beverly clientele, the Cooleys also curate a selection of accessories, edibles, bath and home sundries as well as an inspiring collection of books and magazines. According to Brian, the Beach & Beverly customer is “confident, daring, flirty, fun, fuss-free and fashionable,” among other SoCal traits revolving around sun and sand.

By hosting fun events with stylists in the shop, the Cooleys seem to have their finger on the pulse of what the South Bay woman wants, while drawing on their former life experiences to know just how to promote it.

Beach & Beverly
135 Pier Avenue
Hermosa Beach, CA 90245
310.379.9630 |

For Something Different

Thoughtful small gifts, handcrafted jewelry and cheerful home decor steal the show at Riviera Village gift boutique M’Pressions

Written by Constance Dunn | Photography Jonason

A stone Buddha statue sits at the entrance of M’Pressions, serving as unofficial doorman to this longstanding gift boutique that stocks everything from luxurious candles and exotic jewelry to Eastern-inspired home decor and quirky coffee table books.

Earthen water features trickle softly and aromatic incense coats the air, creating a calming atmosphere in which to browse the pleasant bazaar, stocked with feel-good gifts like mantra-imprinted pillows and purses, and quirky one-offs, such as bold, beaded statement rings and patterned socks printed with irreverent sayings (“I don’t care” is stitched onto one pair).

Consider it one of the top spots in the South Bay to hunt down an original, just-for-him-or-her present, stock up on delightful hostess gifts, and enjoy as a pleasant destination in its own right, due to the clever mix of always revolving merchandise brought in by friendly owners Wayne and Naoko Page, who opened their doors to the community over 15 years ago.

TIP:  A trip to M’Pressions makes a nice finale to lunch or dinner in the courtyard at vegetarian restaurant The Green Temple, directly adjacent to the store.

1700 S Catalina Avenue #1o4, Redondo Beach CA 90277
310-540-6115 |

Sustainable South Bay Style

Fashion and gifts—eco-minded and of-the-moment— abound at Grace & Greene

Written by Constance Dunn | Photography by Paul Jonason

At a corner in Riviera Village, just steps from the ocean, there’s a boutique stocked with clothes and accessories—distinctly South Bay in flavor with serious eco-conscious cred behind it. Men’s t-shirts are soft, sensible and sourced from red algae and wood pulp, ingredients that render them naturally anti-microbial and odor-resistant. There are flowing jewel-toned tunic tops that have been “upcycled” from vintage silk Indian saris, and color-drenched bikinis sourced from plastic bottles and fishnets.

Grace & Greene favors relaxed yet body framing silhouettes, fine fabrics and beach-friendly color schemes like soft whites, muted blues and grays. “It has to be comfortable. That’s one of our requirements,” says buyer Sarah Oliver. “The other is that it has to be fully sustainable. It can’t be halfway there. There’s a lot of labels that do 50-percent eco, and we’ve cut those out.”

In case one equates eco-friendly with lacking in style, a spin around the place reveals plenty of chic, along with a bevy of singular gifts, from elegant pendants fashioned from sea glass and crocheted, surfer-girl hats to a display of darling all-organic cotton onesies and socks for baby.

Grace & Greene
1612 S. Catalina Avenue
Redondo Beach, CA 90277

Inspiring Beauty: Soolip

Soolip founder Wanda Wen sparks conversation with her newest pursuit.

Written by Jenn Thornton

L.A. tastemaker Wanda Wen is a case study in following your bliss. Armed with a background in fashion, an eye for artistry and a mind for business, she opened her classily curated West Hollywood paper-arts boutique, Soolip, in the midst of the Digital Revolution—a gutsy move that proved visionary, with a boldface following and spinoffs, from A Soolip Wedding to the Wen-penned The Art of Gift Wrapping. Now, in her first foray to attain luxury brand status for Soolip, Wen turns her exquisite touch on developing a new line of scented candles to bring a little more allure to the home.

untitled-14-2How did your early inspirations translate to Soolip?

The beauty and intelligence of nature has always inspired me, paper too. Ever since I was young, I loved exchanging and embellishing Valentine’s cards and family photo albums. It was always in my blood.

As a businesswoman and an aesthete, how can paper inspire the way home and office space is utilized?

Today, we live in a world fraught with email, E-vites and E-cards, Facebook messaging and digital technology. While there’s no doubt about the great benefits of electronic messaging, nothing captures a moment better than putting pen to paper. The handwritten note is making a comeback in the business world as the single-most effective way to engage a client, as it indicates investment.

Did Soolip’s other ventures spin off organically from the boutique?

Yes. Soolip Weddings came out of what I felt was a need in the wedding
industry to curate a collection of the best of Los Angeles, along with a certain aesthetic level, and an inspired way of doing business. From this luxury showcase grew client interest in my styling [for] actual weddings and adding the
Soolip touch.

What are you working on now?

A new line of candles—my first step into the lifestyle world, outside of paper. I’ve formulated the scents, concept and the packaging, and the line will be available on our website,, by this fall, as well as at select retailers.

Why candles?

I’m attracted to scent and how it transports people, and am naturally responsive to sensory and tactile elements, as all humans are. That’s the reason why people gravitate toward paper, because it is tactile and touches our senses. It’s also a way to package the Soolip brand into something that is accessible to many.

There’s a romantic, time-honored quality to everything you touch. How do you keep it all modern?

For me, it’s about staying true to my aesthetic with always a nod to nature. I’m a modern woman living in a modern time, so the burning of a candle, writing a letter, taking time for oneself—to me that’s the new luxury. Soolip is a luxury brand, but not what many may still be hanging onto, where it’s about flash and bigger is better. The new luxury I refer to is about time-honored experiences and quality. That’s my vision.

How do you balance art and commerce so beautifully and successfully? 

I grew up within a family of entrepreneurs, which taught me about work ethic. And I knew that business would take me where I needed to go. Being passionate about what I do has always been most important to me. Now that Soolip is 20 years old, I’m ready to leverage the value of the brand.

What do you hope Soolip’s legacy will be?

I want to see Soolip as a premier luxury brand, moving the luxury consumer to
see luxury in a way—time-honored and mindful. I see it as aspirational and touching many facets of design. The gift that I want to leave is to inspire others to see beauty in the simple and the unexpected, connect people back to nature and to themselves, and to foster the celebration of those who work with their hands and hearts.