January 29, 2021

Cain Calderón-Leon: The Age of Modernism

AMBASSADOR DIGITAL MAGAZINE Editor-In-Chief Musa Jackson has an in-depth Q. & A. with the award winning L.A. interior designer, luxury developer and entrepreneur Cain Calderón-Leon. We will go on his amazing journey of being raised by a single mom to starting Cain Interiors & Construction becoming one of the most successful Black developers in Los Angeles designing & building luxury multi-million dollar residential and commercial spaces.


He is also co-founder of Rhubarb, an award winning advertising agency that specializes in campaigns for movies and television. His eponymous design company is helping us enter the age of California modernism.

  • Client

    Musa Jackson

MUSA Where are you from?
CAIN From California, born and reared. We were kind of a gypsy family so we moved around Southern California where my mother could get jobs. I was born in Torrance, California and moved to Los Angeles and then to Upland. A suburb north of Los Angeles.
MUSA Did you go to different schools?
CAIN Yeah, I went to several different schools. Two different High Schools. A private and then public High School. Graduated from Upland High School. Went to U .C.Irvine. Studied pre-med there. Somewhere along the line I lost my passion for medicine. It just didn’t allow me the creativity that was bubbling inside of me.

His eponymous design company is helping us enter the age of California modernism

"The difference between me and most of the other developers is that I do the design, the build, and the interior design."

-Cain Calderón-Leon

MUSA So did you always want to be a furniture designer?
CAIN No it actually started with my grandmother. My grandma was an individual who saw potential in things. So she would take us to the second hand store and she would show us how to look for quality. And also how to repurpose things. That was my first entree into seeing beauty in things that were not necessarily beautiful at the time. And then my mother was always a very creative individual. She also imbued in me that you don’t have to have a lot of money to make things beautiful. You just need to have creativity and vision.
MUSA So who were your influencers or heroes growing up?
CAIN No heroes per se. My influencer was my mother. She was a single parent. She raised my brother and I singlehandedly. Trust me I do not know how she did that. Having twins presently and the challenges with all the ins and outs of parenting. I simply do not know how she did that by herself, carrying a job and trying to fulfill her desires. My hat goes off to her.
MUSA As a successful interior designer and furniture designer. Did you always have an eye on the bigger picture; building homes?
CAIN No. It’s quite an interesting story. I was in college. And I remember the very moment when it dawned on me as I was tending to an artery of a stroke model that this is not for me. I was in a very sterile lab with no windows. I thought I can’t do this for the rest of my life. And I thought what can I do? I’ve always had the ability to see in 3D and visualize things. I worked all through out school so I had the ability to get student loans. So I borrowed that money put it as a down payment for a house. I purchased the house and then remodeled the house to the best of my ability. My next door neighbor came over and thought it looked great and asked if I could do that to her house. I said I could try. So I remodeled her kitchen and her bathroom. Then she sold her house based on the kitchen and bathroom that I remodeled. And it kind of took off. It was word of mouth. The next person called, then the next and before I knew it I had a business.

Cain Calderón-Leon for Ambassador Magazine, 2021. Photographer: @Reeseshermanphotography | Creative Director: @andrewcirving | Lighting Designer: @thegentlemens_happyhour

I didn’t understand exactly the the ins and outs. So I went back to school to learn contracting and architecture. I took a few courses and became fairly adroit at the ins and outs of architecture. Then I got my contractors license. That’s how it started. I did small projects remodeling but I didn’t just remodel I also decorated it at the same time. And that was how I became successful because most contractors were only contractors. I had that ability to see what it would look like fully completed. It was my ace in the hole and it propelled me from one project to the next. The first seven years of my working I never had to advertise. And after all these projects I had these pieces of furniture I also had designed. Lots of bespoke furniture. People would call and ask if I could make a bench or a chair. So I started to design furniture. Which gave me the idea to open Cain Modern, a furniture store selling mid century furniture along with pieces I designed.

This is an excellent moment in time. We are the masters of our own future...

We have an opportunity to demand the best piece on the plate, not just the chitterlings

MUSA As a person of color do you see a need for diversity in the architectural space?
CAIN Well definitively. We represent about zero point one percent of the industry. Which is abysmal. The fact that we are such creatives and we are not represented is an abomination. It’s a two edge sword whenever we do something. It has to be better and it has to be under budget. And we’re told to make chitterlings taste good. And somehow we do that and we are given lower budgets and we are not given the same opportunities as other individuals. And that’s been my experience until recently. Until I took the responsibility of my future out of the hands of other individuals. I was always given less to do more with. This is an excellent moment in time. We are the masters of our own future. We have an opportunity to demand the best piece on the plate not just the chitterlings. That’s where I am at this point. I had a partner and I’m no longer with that partner. I’m on my own now developing structures and houses. Luxury spec houses on my own. I was doing all the work to begin with getting less of the credit and definitely less of the compensation. So now it’s time for us to shine if you will.

Cain Calderón-Leon for Ambassador Magazine, 2021. Photographer: @Reeseshermanphotography | Creative Director: @andrewcirving | Lighting Designer: @thegentlemens_happyhour

MUSA So you’ve created some of the most<br /> luxurious high end homes in California including one with a 60 thousand dollar bathtub. How much influence does your client have on the design process?
CAIN I no longer work for clients. I have a few clients here and there that I choose to work with. I work on my own so I have all of the control. When I design spec houses I’m the designer, the architect, the builder, and I’m the interior designer. So I make all the choices from the hardware, the knobs, the doors, the pool, the type of finishes. We have to wear many different hats by the nature of the industry. The difference between me and most of the other developers is that I do the design, the build, and the interior design. They don’t do all that. I like the control and I like to know I have the final say of the final product.
MUSA What’s the challenging part of being a husband and a Dad to your beautiful twins while balancing that life with a successful business?
CAIN This is going to sound horrible but the most difficult part was actually pre- pandemic. Pre- pandemic was very challenging. I had a lot of things to do and a lot of hats to wear. And I wasn’t getting the type of time I wanted with my kids. The pandemic made us all stop for a moment and breathe, and reevaluate things. To look at ourselves, to look at what we are doing. It gave me a different perspective. The kids are going to be small for only a short period of time. Enjoy them as much as you possibly can now. It just recalibrated what I knew was important. I didn’t have children until I was older because I wanted to be able to clothe, educate and feed them. And it was important for me to have as much time with them. I didn’t want to have children until I had a certain level of success that would allow me to have more time with them. But I do know the more success you have the less time you get. It has been very fortuitous, and do know with all the problems this pandemic brought it has also allowed us to reset. If you can take anything good away from the pandemic that would be it.
MUSA You are also the co-founder of Rhubarb, an award winning advertising agency the specializes in campaigns for movies and television. How did that come about? And what are some of the campaigns?
CAIN It came about through a friend of mine Andrew Irving. He has a brilliant mind. And is a brilliant advertiser. One of my abilities is to not only see talent but what that talent can be. And his talents were not being tapped in as much as it could of been. I persuaded him to form his own company and I would be a partner with him. And so we started about 3 or 4 years ago and it’s been amazing. He’s flourished, the business has flourished. We do lots of campaigns for Netflix and Amazon. We did “Narcos”, “The Crown”, “Utopia”. “The Boy Who Could Harness The Wind” for which we won several prestigious awards.

MUSA What’s the future for Cain Interiors & Construction?
CAIN We are growing and doing more spec homes. Changing the design of California modernism. Trying to push the boundaries of what home life can be as opposed to what we’ve been told it is. So I’m bringing that to more Black communities. I very much want us to win. So I changed my business model just a slight bit. And now I’m going to areas that have been traditionally undervalued. Just because of the color of the skin of the people who live there. I’m working towards bringing value to those areas.That’s been the switch for the last couple years. That’s what we are doing. The idea behind that is we are lacking in legacy wealth. Passing down wealth to our kids. I want to create more value in the homes in my area or the areas I’m choosing, particularly Black areas and create more wealth.
MUSA What advice would you give a young interior designer or architect just starting out?
CAIN It sounds like a cliche but you have a voice and that voice needs to be heard. Be your authentic self. Come into any environment being who you are. And let the environment coalesce around you. Don’t change yourself to be what the environment wants you to be. Be yourself, be you. You have a voice. your voice is important, your voice is crucial. And it propels not just you, it propels the whole community. And so be true to that. No matter what it may cost you. Being true to that ultimately it will be to your benefit.

Los Angeles Team

Promo photo - Cain Calderón-Leon
Photographer - @Reeseshermanphotography
Creative Director - @andrewcirving
Lighting Designer - @thegentlemens_happyhour


Cain's Wardrobe

Tan Suit: @Prada
Sweater: @BrunelloCucinelli
Shoes : #GreatsBrooklynshoes
Blazer: Ermenegildo Zegna cashmere
Pants: @Theory
Sweater: @RalphLauren
Shoes; Del Loro
Cain’s wardrobe
Silver suit - @TedBaker
Sweater - Vintage cashmere
Shoes - @MaisonMargiela
Photographer - @Reeseshermanphotography



Walt Disney Concert Hall was designed by Frank Gehry
The Broad Museum was designed by architectural firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro in collaboration with Gensler
The Theme Building at LAX was designed by James Langenheim


NYC Team

Founder & Editor In Chief
Musa Jackson
@iammusajackson Creative Director
Paul Morejon