Jason Scott, the 43-year-old entrepreneur who owns J. Michael Scott Interiors on the west side of La Cienega Boulevard, half a block south of Melrose Avenue, surprised me during our recent interview. In telling me his story, he mentioned nouns, terms and phrases I would never have thought to string together in an article: Barbie – pepper trees – oil fields – working class – Baldwin Hills – husband – baby – candles.
These words tell you much about the past, present and future of the WeHo retailer, who grew up in Brea (north Orange County) and earned his professional credentials at FIDM (Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising) in downtown L.A.
“When I was a kid my younger sister wanted to play Barbies, so I played Barbies,” Scott said. Before his sister knew it, the plastic princess with an unattainable waistline had a newly decorated dream home. His GI Joes and He-Man didn’t suffer either; they got new man caves. All the dolls “would always have cool places to live.”
And so did his childhood friends with the “bachelor forts” Scott created in the oil fields behind his parents’ home.
“There was a row of trees,” Scott said (pepper trees it turns out). And, as Scott demonstrated during our interview, gesticulating a round canopy of branches in the air, such trees were “almost like a weeping willow.”
“Once you go inside, it’s this big open space – kind of like an igloo,” he said.
Scott saw potential, cleared out and swept out underneath those trees, then found stray furniture in the neighborhood to put under them. “They would just be these amazing little forts,” he said.
That industriousness – perhaps a result of his working class roots (his parents couldn’t afford to pay for his college education, and they taught him “the value of a dollar” by charging him rent when he worked jobs as a teenager) – lives on.
“I wanted be able to give [my clients] affordable design,” Scott said. He said his hourly rate is much less than what other decorators charge. And – because he has his store –he can turn around custom furniture and accessories quickly. “Pretty much in three weeks,” he said. “So I’m fast. I’m really efficient.”
You might be wondering what his style is? “Modern eclectic. Or transitional eclectic,” Scott said. “I like mixing things together. The old with new, modern with Chinese. Just unexpected stuff.”
He feels one of his strengths is “making contemporary [design] feel very warm and inviting.” In his store I noticed lots of greys, browns, metallic silvers and golds – as well as a pair of hot pink shag-like pillows and a bowl of giant wooden dice.
J. Michael Scott Interiors is in WeHo, but he and his family live in Baldwin Hills, the historically African-American neighborhood near the intersection of Rodeo Road and La Cienega Boulevard. He told me Ike and Tina Turner used to live there. “It’s very 50s. You drive down the street and everybody waves at you. So not L.A. at all,” Scott said. “The mailman knows you.”
It’s interesting because of the gentrification going on, with longtime neighborhood residents feeling pushed out and so many LGBTQ couples (with kids) moving in. And many oil fields still pump in the area, a throwback to Scott’s childhood years.
In 2014, Scott married Erick Prudlow, a handsome IT professional with dark brown hair and a tightly trimmed beard working for a major TV network. During this interview, Prudlow held their six-week-old adopted son against his chest – when the baby wasn’t in his portable basinette sequestered underneath a counter in a corner of the store.
I asked why Scott chose to have his store in WeHo. His mentor at the small business center in downtown L.A. told him “it’s all about location.”
That meant several things. Sure WeHo “has the PDC, the design area,” Scott said, but it’s a lot more than that.
“There’s still that stigma where you have to stop and think,” Scott said, referring to homophobia. He likes being in a part of the city where he can say the word “husband” when talking to clients.
Scott admitted, “WeHo’s rules and restrictions are a lot more intense [for small businesses], but it’s good. Things tend to look nicer.” And the police have been responsive when he’s needed them.
He and Prudlow would live in WeHo if they could. “I was sad that we had to leave [but] we couldn’t afford [to buy a home] by any means.”
Still, WeHo has its perks. “It’s nice that when I get off work, Erick and I can take a walk and hold hands. Or we can walk with the baby and the stroller and feel like we’re a family.”
J. Michael Scott Interiors
509 N. La Cienega Blvd.
West Hollywood 90048