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ACS 2003: Finalist, Rafinity

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Rafinity

Hip, happening, and in-your-face — to match the jewelry!

Location: 1408-A Third St. Promenade, Santa Monica, CA  |  telephone: (310) 458-3515
Owners: Ann Whatu and Raffi Kouyoumjian   |  designer: Ann Whatu 
Project cost: “Not telling – but we tripled our overhead!”
Design advice: “If you’re using a designer, use a restaurant or lounge designer — every jewelry store doesn’t have to look like a jewelry store. Make it your own, like you are doing your living room. Have fun, and you will be infinitely happy there.”

There can’t be many people who turn down the chance for a store location in Beverly Hills, but jewelery designers Ann Whatu and Raffi Kouyoumjian did – and 13 years later they’re still overjoyed with their decision.

Never a pair to be pigeon-holed, the ex-love-birds (who are now amicably divorced) waited three years for their current Santa Monica location, then acquired the adjacent building and expanded — with a passion.

The building which houses Rafinity was once a brothel, built alongside an alley down which visitors could surreptitiously sneak before being admitted into the inner sanctum of West Coast courtesans.

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Nowadays, the sensual indulgences going on in this space are not so illicit … but just as satisfying. Ann designed the whole store herself, protesting, “You think I would let anyone else design my store? No way!” The walls are painted a vivid crimson and hung with gilded mirrors and Italian silk drapes in teal and copper. The showcases are custom-made of copper, and the floor is inlaid with colored glass and what Ann calls “my own personal ‘yellow brick road’.” Overhead is an extravagant chandelier, and in the corner sits a king’s chair with arms carved in the shape of lions. Music is an important element of the store, and Ann aims to make customers feel as though they’re “chillin’ in some fabulously hip lounge.”

Ann and Raffi have more than their fair share of celebrity devotees, but everyone is welcome at Rafinity. Especially those who “get it,” adds Ann. “We like making people feel part of the ‘A’ list.” The couple still staff the place themselves, and with others who share their outlook. Their slogan, “Rock the jewels” fits their image entirely.

Debbie Yonick bestows full marks on Rafinity, dubbing it “total eye candy. This salon is hip, edgy, and screaming with character, definitely inspiring and very sexy.” RoxAnna falls short of full marks, but is still sweet on the store. “This is very cool!” she says. “Great finishes and a fun attitude — on-trend for a young, hip audience.” Fred agrees. “This store is definitely cool,” adding wryly, “for the Hollywood snobs who patronize it.” Brett and Penny are both unsure about the in-your-face vibe, with Penny describing Rafinity as “very artistic, but a little ‘much’ for me.”

STORE IMAGES

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This story is from the August 2003 edition of INSTORE

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