Peppermint-blue bottles and candy-striped cats; plum and bubblegum balls; frosted “chipped ice” crystal and black-licorice-streaked bowls. This isn’t Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. It’s Laura Friedman’s PlanetGlass, which deals in midcentury modernist art glass ranging from the more affordable $100 pieces to rare museum-quality items worth up to $10,000. There’s no actual storefront; Friedman showcases her collection on PlanetGlass.net, through which buyers can make private appointments. In this way, she’s able to keep her overhead low and prices down. The bulk of her collection — burnt-orange decanters, milky glass vases, translucent, tango-dancing figurines — is displayed on 24 shelves in her home office. And weighty glass pieces crowd the ledges and tabletops throughout the rest of her minimalist modern home in the Glendale hills. That is, until a buyer comes calling. Nearly all the art glass in Friedman’s house is for sale.
While other places in L.A. carry midcentury glass — Retro Gallery on La Brea has more than 8,000 pieces that are often used as props for movies — Friedman is highly focused, a private dealer specializing in high-end, handblown vintage glass from the island of Murano, off the coast of Venice. She does carry Scandinavian and North American pieces as well as contemporary studio glass, but a link on her Web site to the Italian collection calls up so many pages of inventory it could very well crash your computer. It’s clear where Friedman’s passion lies.
A slim, intense, self-described “Jewish intellectual” from the East Coast, Friedman herself is as nuanced and complex as some of her glass items. She spent several years playing professional pool in the early ’90s before becoming a high-powered film executive. While vice president of development at a Paramount Pictures production company, she fell in love with an opalescent vase at a garage sale and her interest swelled quickly — the nascent collection soon took over nearly all the surface spaces of her Paramount office. So she did what any quiet-bookish-intellectual-turned-professional-pool-hustler-turned-big-shot-Hollywood-producer would do: She unleashed her discerning eye and business savvy onto the Internet and launched PlanetGlass.netin 2001.
“I started with American glass from the turn of the century. But it was too froufrou. Then I got into Venetian glass, and it was modern, complex, revolutionary; you could tell it was avant-garde at the time.”
With one foot still in the entertainment business (she continues to manage a small number of writers and directors), Friedman approached her new business with characteristic passion and perfectionism, scouring flea markets and thrift stores, running ads in collectors’ magazines and flying around the country to buy individual pieces — and, in some cases, entire collections. Today she’s considered an expert on 20th-century glass, and she’s working on a book about the topic.
As Friedman crisscrosses the country doing antique shows and buying art glass, she’s also looking to fill out the “wish lists” of select clients. There’s a sad if poetic irony to the service she provides. Sixty percent of Friedman’s client base is in Europe, and calls regularly come in from New Zealand, Japan and Brazil. “The Europeans — especially the Italians — are the most aggressive buyers,” she says. “There’s very little of this stuff from that period left [in their country]. The Italian factories exported most of it to the U.S. to make money after World War II.”
But Friedman doesn’t get quite as philosophical: “I’m just out there buying great glass,” she says. “It’s the perfect accouterment to modern architecture. There’s a lot of interest in the lines, the light. And what’s more about light than glass?”