When a high-profile designer sends a bottle of booze with details scrawled on a paper bag in lieu of a typical runway-invite, or better yet, declines showing at all in order to produce a horror flick promoting the wares, you know she's got something special flowing through her veins. Well, considering Sophie Buhai — one-half of the Vena Cava dynamic design duo — has a shrink for a mom, a comedy-writer dad, and a color-blind, Abstract Expressionist grandfather, it's no wonder "orthodox" simply isn't in her vocabulary.
Naturally, when the dainty babe invited us to her backyard-atrium of an abode, we found the same intrigue at every corner. Lately, the self-proclaimed homebody has been bicoastal, working on the new Viva Vena! line, and Buhai's impeccably eclectic Silver Lake home is the ideal space for creativity. Take a trip through her groovy rooms and get the scoop on where she discovers new decor, why she's ditched jewelry since moving out West, and another late-breaking news flash! Um, what's taking you so long? Get clickin'!
Photographed by Luke Wooden
What makes your Silver Lake pad home to you?
"I'm a huge homebody, so my house is kind of like my personal walk-in shrine. Mostly everything in the space was either found at a weird estate sale, or given to me by a friend. The couch set in the living room was my parents' wedding furniture back in the day. It's Italian, from the '70s, and very disco-meets-Santa Fe. The art on the walls was made by friends. I try very hard to be a minimalist, but if you open up a drawer, you'll realize I'm just pretending!"
Sophie peeks out of the glass doors of her all-white bedroom, wearing a vintage Betsy Johnson top, Viva Vena! pants, Robert Clergerie loafers, a vintage necklace, and Hermès watch.
Your home is basically one long, awesome rectangle — tell us the story behind your oddly shaped abode!
"One of my favorite things about the city is that it's filled with unusual architecture. The house I live in is sort of like a glass cabin — it was once a shed or arbor that ran off of an old concrete sports court from the '30s. In the '90s, my landlord was going through a divorce and needed a place to live. He turned his back shed into a house with the help of an old Hollywood set decorator who lived next door. It's not a large space, but the theatrics are there. The choice to line the whole fourth wall with glass doors is very dramatic. I love the original concrete floors that were stained and then polished. I'm up on a hill, so there are tons of creatures that come out at night — it's really the perfect city cabin."
The narrow living room basks in the sun from an entire wall of glass and skylights above.
You mentioned most of the decor in your home was either passed down by your parents, or picked up in Palm Springs or Ventura. Any spots you'd care to share?
"The secret spots are secrets! But I will say this: The best way to find good stuff is to get out of L.A. and go to places that have large senior-citizen populations. If there are golf courses, there are treasures."
What are your top five shopping destinations in town?
"National Council of Jewish Women Thrift Shop
, Mohawk General Store
, and New High (M)art
Sophie sits pretty on her hand-me-down couch donning a Vena Cava dress, Dannijo for Vena Cava necklace, and vintage Gucci bracelet.
Your grandfather painted the canvas next to your Crosley, can you tell us more about the piece?
"My grandfather is a color-blind abstract expressionist painter. He's a real outsider artist and has over 200 paintings in his garage that no one has ever seen. He's 92-years-old and chooses his color palate based on what's on sale at the store. He's the greatest."
What's the most beloved record you own?
"My dad's copy of Blood on the Tracks from 1975."
Your mom is a psychologist and your dad's a comedy writer. How do you think your parents shaped how you approach life and your career?
"Both of my parents work for themselves, so I think there's a spirit of independence they set for me growing up. My dad is a really funny guy who's always telling stories, and I think that increases your imagination as a child. My mom's a shrink, but she's the chicest woman I've ever met — she definitely was a muse to me growing up. They're old hippies-slash-hipsters who love life. I hope it's rubbed off on me!"
Vena Cava has collaborated with many diverse brands in the past, is there anything new up your sleeves you care to spill?
"Yes! We're thrilled that we will be launching our secondary line Viva Vena!
in February. The collection is like the little sister to Vena Cava — it's affordable, whimsical, and fun. If Vena Cava were an opera, Viva Vena! would be an indie band. We're pretty excited about it."
Mini-vignettes are found in every nook of the backyard den, and this dining-room mirror is a direct reflection of so many V.C. prints!
If you weren't doing what you are now, what profession do you think you would have landed in?
"I could have ended up in my family's business, bowling alleys. That would've been a trip!"
Sophie's inspiration studio shares four walls with the kitchen, where she brews the best green tea we've ever had!
If you had to describe your style in five words or less, what would you say?
"That's very hard. Things I'm attracted to are constantly changing, and that's the beauty of fashion. I grew up with three great aunts who were early modernists and wore crazy jewelry and minimal shapes. They were very inspiring. Generally, I love classic French style, the style of my mother in the '90s, the combination of black and navy — things that are understated and easy."
What are your top three sneaky beauty secrets?
"Using coconut oil on my face and body, taking fish oil vitamins, and applying Maybelline Great Lash Mascara
The designer poses between her work and play space in a Vena Cava dress, United Bamboo heels, and vintage ring from her grandma.
Congrats on Viva Vena! — can you tell us the big news on how you'll officially introduce the line to world?
"We just made a fashion film starring Lizzy Caplan
for the debut of Viva Vena! It's directed by our talented friend Matthew Frost and will be out in early February. We're really into making little movies instead of doing shows — it's great to have a new way to articulate your world."
What does it take for a graphic to make it to your inspiration board?
"The board is kind of a mixture of old photos of family and friends, art from our 'zine Zina Cava, or just random stuff found while doing research. I have no rhyme or reason. I like to think of the bulletin board as a precursor to Tumblr — it's the same idea, but physical. It's nice to see everything all at once."
What are the top three items up there?
"The invitation to one of our shows that was a bottle of booze in a paper bag with the information handwritten on the bag — that's still one of the best invites we ever made. Also, the picture of my mom after giving birth to me, wearing red espadrilles. And, lastly, the Nerd Chic pin from the original release of Revenge of the Nerds."
You've been known to use travel for inspiration and have freshly landed from Sayulita, Mexico. What was it like?
"My boyfriend and I rented a car and just drove around the coast to hidden beaches and little towns. I never get tired of Mexico. Sayulita is great because it's not super built up, and there are great tacos and hippies that make amazing juices. The best things are the smaller towns along the coast and the quiet dirt roads through the jungle. Oaxaca and Santa Fe are on my list for the next inspiration trips!"
Do you still do any actual sewing with the machine in your studio?
"This is my personal office-slash-studio. We have a real office in Atwater, so I use this space to play around with things unrelated to work. Lately, I've been making collages and, to be honest, I haven't touched that machine in a year! It's nice to play around at home with projects that are unrelated to fashion — but the machine always lurks over me, wanting to be used. I'm sort of cheating on it."
That flight suit is pretty far-out, what's its history?
"It's a Vena Cava sample based on a vintage flight suit I found at Squaresville
. That's one of my favorite places to shop; I've been going there since I was a mod in the '90s!"
Sophie, soaking up some inspiration, in a Vena Cava jumpsuit, APC sandals, and vintage cuff.
Which glossies do you read to get your juices flowing?
"I love old magazines — Eros, Avant Garde, and old Interviews. As for current magazines, I read The New Yorker, Apartamento, Gather Journal, The Paris Review, Us Weekly, and The Gentlewoman."
Bookshelves are like windows to the soul, what do you think your many stacks have to say about yours?
"Oh dear, I have no idea. I guess I'll let you decide!"
What are your top five favorite books of all time?
"Hollywood Babylon, The Razor's Edge, Be Here Now, Decorating at Home for Men
, and Anna Karenina
Is there a story behind the modern-day dream catcher above your bed?
"I made it one afternoon during a 'crafter-noon' with some friends. I needed something above my bed, but I didn't want to spend any money. So, I went to the hardware store and got some cardboard and metal pieces. It makes me feel like I'm a big baby in my crib."
What's the key to maintaining such a close friendship and business partnership with Lisa Mayock for so long?
"It's important to make time to do fun things like going out for three-hour dinners and vintage shopping."
How would you say your particular styles differ?
"I'm more of a minimalist and my color palette is very subdued. Lisa likes bright colors and has a more-is-more attitude! It's a nice balance for working together."
You told us back in April about some big ideas for shoes, jewelry, home, and menswear. Has there been any movement on these fronts?
"It's all going to happen in time. We have our hands full with Viva Vena! right now, but those things are coming!"
You also mentioned that you'd like to open a store with a succulent garden, juice bar, and bourbon-tasting station. Are there any plans for this in L.A. anytime soon?
"The ideal place for our store would be a glass tree house in Griffith Park — but that may be difficult! A store has always been our dream, and we've always wanted to do one in L.A. We're both natives and there's a lot of open space, physically and creatively."
You were saying that you have tons of jewelry, but haven't really been wearing a lot of it lately. Is there a reason for that?
"Since I moved to L.A., my style has changed a lot. It's such an easy environment — I dress a lot more simply and with less fuss. Jewelry just feels sort of uncomfortable."
A jewelry tray, found in her "closet" behind the work space, serves more as decor these days!
You've been back in L.A. for a year, but you're basically bicoastal. What do you miss most about the East and cherish most about the West?
"I miss my friends in New York, the pizza, and the all-night conversations. But, I love California — the vegetation, the produce, the weather, and the light. It's a beautiful place to live."
How do you see the divergence of style in both places, and where do you think your brand fits in between both?
"L.A. is less about trends and more about personal style. Since people are more isolated, they end up dressing more for themselves than other people — I think that makes for questionable fashion sometimes, but also amazing original style. New York is more about following trends, armor for the city — it's more severe and rigid, yet trained. I think we fit somewhere in between an eccentric recluse living in the Hollywood Hills and elegant woman in black — if that makes sense!"
The brunette stands in the backyard entry to her Silver Lake home in a Vena Cava top, vintage Vena Cava skirt, vintage basket, and Spanish espadrilles.
What are your favorite places to eat in Los Angeles?
"I love L.A. for old resturaunts. New York is great for everything new and of the moment, but classic Hollywood is what L.A. does well. I love Musso and Frank Grill
, Canters Deli
, the Fountain Coffee Room
at the Beverly Hills Hotel, and The Pantry Cafe
What do you think is the best kept secret in L.A.?
"The Weisman Art Foundation
has an amazing collection and you can tour the house for free. I love house tours, and this one is very special and very unusual."
How do you like to relax and unwind?
"I take hikes in Griffith Park, visit the Ojai hot springs, and Korean Baths."
What's your number-one piece of advice for someone coveting your career someday?
"Work hard, develop your own perspective and stick with it, take a business class, break the rules, and write a nice thank you note."
Between where Sophie stands and the "front door," sits a cement courtyard with a long wooden table, hammock, and cozy outdoor living room (all perfect for her many dinner parties).