How an L.A. Writer Created the Kind of Workplace You Thought Only Existed on T.V.
Writer-producer Mara Brock Akil’s gorgeous contemporary office in Los Angeles is a creative hub for work and play, and the ideal backdrop for an intimate dinner prepared by another West Adams neighborhood star, chef Keith Corbin.
Mara Brock Akil likes to say that her office in historic West Adams reminds her of a Phyllis Hyman song. Assured, feminine, and suede-smooth—it’s easy to see the parallels between the classic R&B singer’s sultry voice and lyrics and Brock Akil’s modern, mood-lit writer’s den. Built around a small courtyard, with ample garden space and lounge areas, and designed in collaboration with Night Palm interior design studio founder Tiffany Howell, it’s a fresh take on Hollywood glamour. And thanks to two fully stocked kitchens, it’s the ultimate spot to host what Brock Akil likes to call her “Muse Dinners,” gatherings of creative minds and open hearts around a table filled with nourishing food.
“For most of my career, I’d eat out of Styrofoam and plastic containers for lunch, like everybody else,” says Brock Akil, who created the television shows Girlfriends, Being Mary Jane, and The Game. “I can’t do that anymore. Food has to be on a plate now. I’m treating myself like a human being. And human beings are capable of creating great bodies of work. My office comes from a core belief. I’m supposed to be doing my best work in this space. So, I started by asking, ‘What is inspiring to me?’”
The first answer to that inspiration question is easy: location. Brock Akil grew up visiting with her grandmother’s friends around Los Angeles’ West Adams neighborhood, and has positive, happy memories of the community.
“This street was so familiar to me,” she says. “I was born in Compton and my grandparents settled in Baldwin Vista, so this feels like coming home. I like being one of the first creatives here on the block. I know it’s changing and there are politics around the developers coming in. But I’m here. I’m claiming this space.”
Believe it or not, it was the olive tree in the tiny courtyard that first captured her attention, not the address. When she was looking at photos of potential locations for her production company, Story27, and an adjacent writers’ colony for emerging voices that she supervises, this space jumped out of the stack before she was even aware of its whereabouts.
“When I found out it was in this neighborhood, I cried,” she says. “I’m clear about my personal mission, my heart’s desire, and then to land back home where I spent my childhood? It was clear to me that this was my home.”
Once the decision was made to move in, Brock Akil enlisted the help of Howell after seeing the work the designer did for their mutual friend, actor Laura Harrier, on Instagram.
When the two women finally connected in person, it felt like another moment of kismet. Howell knew exactly how to help Brock Akil harness that feminine power to create a workspace unlike anything either of them had seen before. Howell’s design strategy, rooted in a palette of caramel, cream, cognac, and terracotta, added warmth and femininity to the angular, somewhat industrial-feeling bones of the building.
“Tiffany is brilliant with color,” says Brock Akil, who notes that Howell helped her incorporate her signature color, blush pink, in the contemporary design. “The color is a part of my story going back to my grandmother. I was in her house one day and I went to the bathroom and looked at the counter, and that was the color. I’m drawn to it because it feels like love. She always made good food for us and showed us love. She took great care of herself and us. I’m attracted to it because it’s part of my story. The cognac and the clay colors, the cinnamon and the blush. I can sit at my desk and look at the beautiful wallpaper, and notice the light on my desk, and just kind of bask in all of it.”
The walls are covered in this very shade, which Howell custom-blended with Portola paint. The furniture, which is mostly vintage, channels 1970s Hollywood by way of Italy. It’s Howell’s favorite design era, heavy on curvilinear forms and sexy, low sofas, which she returns to again and again.
“Like that bar that broke the Internet,” Howell says of a pink, lacquered Willy Rizzo bar that anchors the writers’ colony common room, which has been a show-stopper on Howell’s Instagram page since she first posted it. “That’s from ma+39 in Los Angeles. They know to pick up the hotline and call me when something like this comes in.”
For the Sunset Muse Dinner, the chef was none other than Keith Corbin of the acclaimed West Adams restaurant Alta Adams, which The Hollywood Reporter recently called “Black Hollywood’s top restaurant.” The late ’60s goatskin-wrapped table was set with Heath Ceramics plates; copper flatware from Hawkins, New York; pale rose linen napkins; and a lush centerpiece of white flowers from Lily Lodge, Brock Akil’s favorite florist.
“To see how happy Mara was that night, and all of the guests come in who were so blown away, that made me really happy. When I see my projects come to life in such a joyful and beautiful way, that’s my greatest reward,” says Howell.
“When people walk in here, like our dinner guests did, their eyes light up,” Brock Akil agrees. “They’re noticeably lighter, happier. I can see the pride in my employees, too, and I notice it in their work.”
When Brock Akil, Howell, and the intimate group of friends they’d gathered sat down at the table for a vegetarian soul food meal prepared by Corbin, work was the farthest thing from anyone’s mind.
“The perfect dinner party is a blend of complimentary flavors and people and conversation,” says Brock Akil. “Everything just works. And deep, beautiful memories are made.”