YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Next up on his plate: an artist's life in a loft

There really is a Chang behind P.F. Chang's. He's Philip Chiang, and his L.A. home is a bohemian surprise.

February 22, 2007|Valli Herman | Times Staff Writer

LEANING his long and lanky frame outside his door, Philip Chiang welcomes a visitor to his downtown loft, built with a spot-on view of the 4th Street bridge and Boyle Heights beyond. The third-floor unit has east-facing windows that capture intense morning light, but on any given day, they also frame dozens of car crashes, foot chases and crime scenes -- all staged by the film crews that flock to the street's gritty glamour.

It's quite a difference from his previous Hancock Park digs, but then his change of address is about reinvention. After decades as a leading restaurateur, chef, consultant, graphic artist and expert scrounger, he has fully embraced the life of a fine-art painter at his warehouse district loft.

It is the latest creative incarnation for Chiang, 59, who hails from restaurant royalty. He is the son of Cecelia Chiang, founder of the Chinese restaurant Mandarin in Beverly Hills. (She is said to have been to Chinese food in America what Julia Child was to French cuisine here.) He succeeded his mother at the Mandarin and then created the template for hip Asian eateries with Mandarette on Beverly Boulevard and Lucky Duck on La Brea Avenue.

Chiang also lends his expertise and shortened surname to P.F. Chang's China Bistro, the 154-unit chain he co-founded with Paul Fleming (he's the P.F.). When Chiang's not painting, he remains the restaurant's "culinary ambassador."

This fabled son of food fame says acquaintances assume he's living in a mansion or commanding his own Chiang chain, but then they come to understand him.

"I'm pretty funky. I'm very bohemian," he says. He travels frequently enough for P.F. Chang's that a lock-it-and-leave-it loft has great appeal. And for now, he's had enough of running restaurants.

His building shares space with other artistic and commercial enterprises. His loft formerly housed an architectural firm. Just inside the door is Chiang's lightly paint-flecked studio, the painting area strategically ordered like the prepped ingredients of a chef's mise en place. The rectangular room features a large easel, custom built-ins for supplies, and a floor and table protected by taped-down plastic sheets.

THOUGH his career transition to serious painter might indicate he's abandoned restaurants, Chiang's loft proves otherwise. Restaurants remain an important part of his identity and a key element of his decor. You just don't notice at first.

Neatness is part of the aesthetic and helps blend his swap-meet finds into a balanced whole. "I can do the whole very designer-y thing," Chiang says, listing names of famous furniture sculptors. "But it's like, 'Ah, forget it.' This is much more fun because you can mix and match."

A short inventory: a Hopi kachina doll, deer antlers, a wooden woman's-torso lamp, tidy towers of CDs, an awful lighthouse-scene upholstered chair, commercial kitchen appliances.

The clues to his past life add up in an accumulation of odd objects.

Those white bleached, billowing curtains that conceal a long closet? They're un-ironed tablecloths, acquired at swap meets and hung from a specialized clip and rail system suggested by his ex-wife, interior designer Jackie Terrell.

The main room's centerpiece is a heavy-duty rolling picnic table with padded benches of sorts. If it reminds you of the former Hillmont steakhouse (now Cobras & Matadors) in Los Feliz, that's because it came from there.

The red rug under his ultra-low-slung table used to soften the steps of visitors to the Mandarin. The table used to host family dinners in his old Hancock Park condo, a historic but darkish place not conducive to painting.

Many collections are of interesting tableware -- antique sake cups, smooth wooden bowls, dense iron teapots, Japanese lacquer trays.

In the kitchen hangs a Mexican art calendar from a favorite Santa Fe restaurant, Cafe Pasqual's. The pair of stainless-steel worktables, the deep double sink (one side for washing brushes; the other for dishes) and the range that's so high-powered it burns his rice came from a Los Angeles supplier of used restaurant equipment.

It's the pots and pans that surprise. No fancy brand names here, save for two Le Creuset casserole pans. The sturdy stainless-steel set came from a Camarillo outlet store. Saved a bundle.

"I used to be hands-on in the kitchen, and I enjoyed that part of it a lot," Chiang says. He doesn't entertain much these days, but he still scours swap meets near and far.

Hanging above his bed, like a great mother figure inhabiting his dreams, is a stiff, linen ceremonial cheongsam dress that he bought at a Shanghai flea market.

Los Angeles Times Articles