Designer Spotlight

The Couple Behind Hammer and Spear Imbues Interiors with Downtown L.A. Cool

Kristan Cunningham and Scott Jarrell of Hammer and Spear
Married couple Kristan Cunningham and Scott Jarrell left successful television careers to launch the Los Angeles design firm and interiors shop Hammer and Spear (portrait by Jonathan Ventura). Top: Cunningham and Jarrell’s Arts District loft embodies Hammer and Spear’s masculine, moody style. Photo by Jessica Sample

We’re a bit like Benjamin Button,” jokes Kristan Cunningham. She and her husband, Scott Jarrell, spent their 20s planting lavender and roses behind the white picket fence of their suburban Los Angeles home. Now in their 40s, they’re living in an edgy Arts District loft, spending nights out at hip-hop shows and days running the cooler-than-cool showroom and design firm Hammer and Spear.

Their careers have followed a similarly unconventional path. Cunningham hosted HGTV’s “Design on a Dime” and later served as a design correspondent for Rachael Ray. Jarrell worked for 10 years in promotions at 20th Century Fox before joining his wife in design TV as a recording engineer. Then, having built successful television careers, they quit.

In 2012, they moved into a $1,500-a-month loft in a then-empty industrial strip of downtown L.A. and poured their savings into a new passion project, Hammer and Spear. Opening a store had been their retirement plan, but, Jarrell says, “we realized that we could never really take the next step if we didn’t remove ourselves from the TV world to establish our own point of view.”

Kelly Wearstler, Jonathan Adler, Nate Berkus,” Cunningham adds, “they all had a look that they were known for before they were on camera. But I started so young in TV that I didn’t have an opportunity to publicly establish my own style.”

dining room by Hammer and Spear
“We spend a lot of time dating our clients, because the work is deeply personal,” Jarrell says. Hammer and Spear designed the Topanga Canyon, California, house of Toms founder Blake Mycoskie and his wife, Heather, who wanted a home that was individual and imperfect. Photo by Jessica Sample

Timing was on their side. After years of abandonment and neglect, the Arts District was experiencing a renaissance, with artists, musicians and designers moving in, looking for cheap rent and a creative community. Hammer and Spear became their clubhouse. The couple, with their impeccable eye for vintage treasures and emerging talent, have long offered items that range from hand-whittled 19th-century African midwife stools to avant-garde blackened-steel nesting tables by J.M. Szymanski. Their particular mix of antique, vintage and contemporary, combined with Cunningham’s muscular, industrial aesthetic, enabled them to create a relaxed, eclectic space where local artists, writers and other creatives started taking meetings among the buttery leather sofas.

“That’s when we realized that there are all these amazing artists and makers and all of the great designers of tomorrow right here around us,” Jarrell says. “Once we put everyone under one roof, they all started working together.”

Clients looking to bring the store’s masculine, moody vibe into their own home soon followed. “I knew that we had the ability to make that leap from HGTV to high-end design clients,” Jarrell says, “but I didn’t know if the public would make the jump of imagination.”

Rebranding helped. Rather than rely on the reputations they built in their television days, they opted for a fresh start. The “hammer” part of their moniker comes from Jarrell’s nickname for Cunningham. “I called her ‘the Hammer’ because she was a DIY expert and a total ballbuster on set,” he explains. Adds Cunningham, “The ‘spear’ came from Scott’s family crest, whose tagline is ‘brave with spear.’ ”

Hammer and Spear Interiors
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Hammer and Spear Interiors
Hammer and Spear showroom

At the original Hammer and Spear store, located in L.A.’s Arts District, Cunningham and Jarrell mix vintage and new furniture, along with art, objets and accessories. “Our goal is to be as contextual as possible,” Cunningham says. Photo by Emily Shur

A Neri & Hu platform bed is on display in their Arts District location, which Cunningham calls a “whole home concept.” Photo by Emily Shur

Hammer and Spear store

Cunningham and Jarrell opened Hammer and Spear West, their second location, in the La Cienega Design Quarter in 2018. Photo by Jonathan Ventura

entryway by Hammer and Spear

The entryway of Heather and Blake Mycoskie’s Topanga Canyon home features flooring made with wood from the Coney Island boardwalk, where Heather’s grandparents met, and a vintage Louis Vuitton trunk. Photo by Jessica Sample

nursery by Hammer and Spear

Hammer and Spear collaborated with PSS Design Cult on this ark-like shelving unit for the nursery of the Mycoskies’ son. Photo by Jessica Sample

Hammer and Spear teepee

Hammer and Spear designed custom furniture for the teepee in which the Mycoskies were married. Photo by Jessica Sample

sitting area by Hammer and Spear

In Cunningham and Jarrell’s former loft, they paired leather chairs with an antique fruitwood wine-tasting table, which was a splurge when they purchased it for $600 in their early 20s. Photo by Maiko Naito

They created an intimate seating area with a trio of leather sofas and textural elements. Photo Maiko Naito

For filmmaker and entrepreneur Gregory Caruso, the duo designed this mixed-use creative space . Here, they paired well-worn leather armchairs with a sleek side table and a hide rug. Photo by Laura Hull

The hammer came to represent the building aspect of the business  — as in renovation and remodeling — and the spear to symbolize the hunt: for the perfect vintage pieces, for emerging artists, for solutions to client problems.

living room by Hammer and Spear
The den in Blake and Heather Mycoskie’s house features a hand-painted ceiling by L.A. artist Mark James. Photo by Jessica Sample

“The store was an unfiltered vessel for us to work and play within,” Cunningham says. Today, the space, with its industrial steel columns and exposed ductwork, is warmed by pieces like Moroccan rugs and vintage leather armchairs. The aesthetic resonated immediately with customers. It’s easy to see why: Sunlight streams through factory windows onto polished concrete floors, and the room is filled with a seemingly effortless mix of sculptural pieces, including a white tile Nima Abili table inspired by the classic video game Tetris, a galvanized steel-and-sheepskin Klein Agency rocker and abstract ceramic vessels by Galia Linn, plus soulful vintage items. Cunningham says people regularly walk into the store and say, “I want to live here.”

They include Heather Mycoskie, the wife of Toms founder Blake Mycoskie, who was so charmed by the Hammer and Spear store that she hired the firm to renovate their Topanga Canyon home. Cunningham and Jarrell created layered, collected interiors that reflect the couple’s love of travel and preference for decor that feels authentic and unpolished. Of the Mycoskies’ relationship with Cunningham and Jarrell, Blake told Architectural Digest, “It was really important for them to understand that we’re not fancy people, that we really like stuff that does have imperfections, that doesn’t look overdesigned.” So, Hammer and Spear created spaces that felt personal to the couple, like an entryway clad with wood from the Coney Island boardwalk where Heather’s grandparents met, and custom furniture for the teepee they had made for their wedding, which is located in the backyard along with a statue of Buddha they acquired on their honeymoon in Bali. For the living room ceiling, Hammer and Spear commissioned a painting with a Native American motif from L.A.-based artist Mark James Yamamoto, and they collaborated with PSS Design Cult to create an ark-like shelving unit in the nursery.

Blake Myscoskie living room by Hammer and Spear
Hammer and Spear created a collected look in the Myscoskies’s living room with layered area rugs, a leather Chesterfield sofa and a vintage Philip and Kelvin LaVerne coffee table. Photo by Jessica Sample

 

Hammer and Spear
Cunningham and Jarrell opened their first Hammer and Spear location, in L.A.’s Arts District, after deciding that they didn’t want to wait until retirement to realize their dream of running a shop. The space features a brutalist Adrian Pearsall fireplace. Photo by Emily Shur

Cunningham and Jarrell, who met when they were college students at different schools, are both West Virginia natives, but Jarrell credits their time in California with giving them the ability to work in a wide range of eras and aesthetics.

“One of the greatest things about living here is that there’s this amazing mix of architectural styles. We’ve owned a ranch house in the Valley, a [place by noted mid-century California architects] Buff and Hensman in Pasadena, a castle on the Venice canals and a loft downtown,” Jarrell says. “As we redid those places and moved, we’d take our favorite pieces to the next place. Editing and mixing all those different styles really became our style.” For example, when they lived in a 1925 home near L.A.’s Griffith Park, they outfitted the living room with traditional-leaning furniture like a 10-foot-long black leather chesterfield, while in the dining room they paired a 1930s dining table with a set of 1970s chairs by Mariana for Pace Collection — then they transitioned those pieces to their current, more industrial-themed Arts District loft (which they’re about to vacate for a nearby loft). One item that has been a mainstay in every one of their residences is an antique fruitwood wine-tasting table, which was a splurge when they purchased it for $600 in their early 20s. They have used it in the kitchen, entryway — even for on-camera meetings when Cunningham hosted “Design on a Dime.”  “It is the heartbeat of every house that we’ve lived in,” she says.

They’re also deeply inspired by travel. One of Cunningham’s earliest design memories is of Dorothy Draper’s bold mid-20th-century decor for the Greenbrier resort, in West Virginia.

living area by Hammer and Spear
Hammer and Spear designed this mixed-use creative area for filmmaker and entrepreneur Gregory Caruso, imbuing it with their signature moody, masculine vibe. Photo Laura Hull

“I remember seeing blood-red carpets with Tiffany blue walls and thinking, ‘What kind of confidence do you need to have to do this?’ ” she says. “On top of that, Draper was the first to really design around an entire lifestyle, from creating the dishware to the branding to the bellhops’ uniforms.”

That full visual experience really stuck with her. “At the end of the day, as designers and retailers, we’re storytellers,” she says.

Cunningham and Jarrell plan to expand the narrative this year as they purchase and renovate investment properties in vacation destinations like Palm Springs, where they’ll be curating everything from the towels to the scents to the record collections to create full Hammer and Spear experiences. The pair are also expanding their reach through upcoming collaborations with Christopher Farr rugs and Tabarka tiles. And they opened a second brick-and-mortar space early last year. Located in the La Cienega Design Quarter, it is known as Hammer and Spear West.

But regardless of where the business takes them, their first love will always be storytelling. “These structures that we call homes, they hold our memories. It’s where Christmas morning and prom pictures and Thanksgiving dinners happen,” Cunningham says. “And that’s just so important and powerful.”

Hammer and Spear’s Quick Picks

“We’d love to see this desk and chair in a clean white space, paired with linear, straightforward furniture. The organic, sculptural set could easily qualify as the sole piece of ‘art’ in a room.”

“We’ve been trying to use this bed in every recent project, but the twin size has thwarted us! The detail work is exceptional, and the leather has a gorgeous patina.”

“We’re always looking for the right blend of graphic lines and a well-earned patina. This boro piece hits all the right marks, and the scale makes it the perfect piece to build a vignette around or to top a staircase.”

“This is such a quiet, impactful way to bring texture and dimension to a space where neutrality is the goal. Just gorgeous!”

“We have this piece in our La Cienega showroom, and it makes us happy every time we see it. Galia is a master of scale and detail work that reveals itself over time.”

“We used one of Jérôme’s incredible mobile chandeliers in the master bedroom of a recent project, and it is truly the jewel of the space. I can’t imagine anything more serene to wake up to each morning.”

“Bugatti — what else could we possibly need to say! We continue to be in awe of and draw inspiration from this true master of ornamentation. If we ever win the lottery…”

“We love Charles Dudouyt and the way he masterfully combined playful, graphic elements into serious pieces. We’ve sourced several of his pieces on 1stdibs for projects, and each one has brought the heft and presence we were looking for. These stools are by far the most quirky and fun pieces of his work that we’ve come across.”

“We have this incredible table by the crazy talented Jake Szymanski in our La Cienaga location, and it has been a star on the showroom floor. It’s like a giant Etch-a-Sketch and requires zero accessorizing. But be warned: You’ll want to play with it for hours.”

“This Matteo Thun set is the perfect way to get some Memphis in your life. All the must-have attributes are there. It has a hefty scale, and geometric forms make up a perfectly playful set, but the lack of strong color makes it easy to incorporate into a more serious space.”

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