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Sunset Rising 

With a handful of splashy new shops, Sunset Boulevard is becoming a red-hot furniture spot

Wednesday, Aug 9 2006
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Walk into any of the new home-furnishing stores on Sunset in Echo Park and Silver Lake, and you’re more likely to hear talk of Danish modern and Design Center than deco and dinette sets. Credit the downtown loft boom, or the spike of interest in modern design and hand craftsmanship: An eclectic new sensibility has blossomed, making the area a destination for decorators and homeowners who aren’t just strolling into Now/Again or Den of Antiquity after brunch at Millie’s. Suddenly, it feels almost like a furniture district, and chances are that more and more businesses will continue to hop onboard. The following list is by no means complete, but it does include the newest shops in the area, plus a few reliable faves and a couple of tucked-away addresses where some of the best finds are hiding.

The Living Room

When Steve Melendrez was still a managing partner of Civilization in Culver City, he began to notice the number of Eastside addresses on the store’s invoices. Already a resident of Silver Lake for 13 years, he knew that his hood was “ready” for a high-end shop. Five months ago, he opened his doors in a former city councilman’s office. Readers of home-design mags will recognize names like Jonathan Adler (rugs and pillows), John Robshaw (bedding) and Vietri (dishware). Locals may recognize the names of their friends; Melendrez makes a point of carrying the work of L.A. craftspeople and designers. As I walk into the 4,000-square-foot space, my eye is immediately drawn to a spectacular terrazzo table, inlaid with precious stones and antique tile, by local artist Ulli Bogue. Melendrez points out pieces by other Angelenos: glass-bead chandeliers by Meredith Baxter, mixed-media art by Mark Hobley, and a cement bench made by a guy who just walked in off the street. Upholstered furniture from the L.A.-based Cisco Brothers and other companies is chic and, most importantly, comfortable; stacks of coffee-table books invite you to cozy up and take advantage. Melendrez is happy to report that his invoices now show Westside addresses. “One of my proudest moments,” he recalls, “was selling a sofa and a couple lamps to a lady in Malibu.”3531 Sunset Blvd.; (323) 665-5070, www.livingroomhome.com.

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Formerly 2nd Thrift Store

When Edgar Romero and his father moved their business of five years to a new space in January, they didn’t bother to give it a name. Regardless, the place has something of a reputation as a source for modern designer pieces. Don’t let the haphazard (and possibly hazardous) piles put you off; that red-vinyl couch standing on its side is a Knoll original, and there are eight matching Eames chair shells hiding under a coffee table. 3323 Sunset Blvd.; (323) 665-7172.

Casa Victoria

Trend-conscious yet moderately priced, this spot has been open since 2003, when the block now anchored by Dusty’s restaurant was “a little rough around the edges.” Casa Victoria’s owners are in step with the current Hollywood Regency vogue, displaying dozens of chandeliers, glass coffee tables, and slim upholstered pieces splashed with graphic prints — and they don’t seem to mind that many of their customers are actually stocking up their own shops in pricier neighborhoods. New items come in every Wednesday and Saturday, keeping the floor fresh with anything from lime-green dining chairs to a fabulous pinwheel mirror from the ’60s that now hangs on my living-room wall. 3212 Sunset Blvd.; (323) 644-5590.

Plethoric

Screenwriter and novelist Ty O’Neill opened Plethoric with the idea that he’d be able to work on his writing during downtime in the shop. That was two and a half years ago, and now, with the quick gentrification of the block and the explosive popularity of Scandinavian midcentury furniture, which he imports directly from Denmark and Sweden, there isn’t any downtime. Although his biggest checks come from TV and film studios (he just sold a piece to the set designer of Ocean’s 13), O’Neill’s main customer is his own peer group, and he prices things accordingly. “A $5,000 sofa isn’t really their tax bracket,” he says, noting that a couch he prices at $1,550 would be $3,500 somewhere else. O’Neill also features work by local artists and carries vintage audio pieces whenever he can find them. Showing me an RCA Victor cabinet radio and record player — American, with Danish styling — he points out that you can tune your iTrip into it. “You can play your whole CD collection through a solid-walnut radio!” he exclaims. Clearly, he’s still trying to get the best of both worlds.3208½ Sunset Blvd.; (323) 660-1056, www.plethoric.com.

Eastside Mercantile

In this former TV-repair shop with a tractor on the roof, the focus is on industrial oddities: steel tables, metal files and “city attorney kind of stuff,” says the store’s owner, Jason Michaud. There’s also a collection of working neon signs from the ’30s through the ’50s, including a Howard Johnson’s pie man, a recent, rare acquisition. The idea behind Eastside Mercantile is that it’s a community store (i.e., reasonably priced). So while you’ll find the occasional Danish dining set, you’re better off looking for an old school desk, scratches intact. Believes Michaud, “It’s an antique, it should look like one.” 2943 Sunset Blvd.; (323) 662-4740.

Sueño

After running her business for 31 years in Telluride, Colorado, Mary Haggerty decided it was time to trade in the snow for the sun. A world traveler who specializes in antique textiles, Haggerty moved to Silver Lake less than a year ago, and opened Sueño, a few blocks from her home, with her boyfriend, Eric Liekeset. In this cavernous former shoe store, you’ll find midcentury-modern and contemporary pieces mixed with organic motifs and textures: Coconut-shell pillows decorate sleek velvet couches, bamboo-and-resin tables sit beside a pair of refurbished ’50s chairs, and lampshades by Ken Shoma are crafted from the cocoons of silkworms. Haggerty admits she’s “gone kind of crazy on the coral theme” of late, and chunks of decorative red coral in Lucite are displayed alongside metal candelabra by Two’s Company, painted to look like the real thing. Haggerty’s own line of carpets are woven in Oaxaca on traditional looms, but the subtle geometric patterns and all-natural dyes are totally now. Gorgeous tribal pieces — a red-feather headdress from Cameroon and silky hand-knotted goat-hair Tulus, worn by Turkish nomads — adorn the walls. Hard as it is to believe looking around the showroom, Haggerty sold off most of her inventory before moving here. “So,” she says, “it’s time to go travel again.”2811 Sunset Blvd.; (213) 483-7300, www.suenostudio.com.

Pepe’s Thrift Shop

After the rent for his space next to Plethoric quadrupled last year, Pepe Mora relocated a couple of blocks east. In business for 12 years, he stocks every style, so long as it’s “older than ’70s.” Mora expertly refinishes and re-upholsters any piece that needs it. Recent projects include stripping down a wooden Japanese dining set from the ’50s that had been painted white, and re-upholstering a ’60s chaise in ultrasuede.

2504 Sunset Blvd.; (213) 483-1049.

Kohlman Quinn

Kris K. Quinn thinks people spend far too much money on furniture, and she tries to keep the focus of her small, 3-year-old Echo Park shop on good deals. An interior designer who’s shopping all the time — at thrift stores, garage sales, estate sales, and probably in the trash on good nights — she hunts for whimsical, intriguing pieces that add personality without breaking the bank. Incidentally, one of her favorite items on a recent visit was a large plaster piggy bank that sat atop a black-lacquer sideboard. Quinn likes a look that doesn’t have a theme, and she has no problem putting “old junk” next to good pieces. Other recent finds include a rectangular gold ’70s disco mirror (“Can’t you just smell the polyester?” she asks.) and a pair of cute wooden chairs that she re-upholstered in a vintage gingham-and-fruit print she describes as “Mary Tyler Moore–Rhoda crazy.” Quinn also makes custom curtains, and has found a steady flow of clients among the new downtown loft dwellers who’d rather not have their neighbors peeking at their piggy banks.

2203 Sunset Blvd.; (213) 413-9900, www.kohlmanquinn.com.

Pangea Home Collection

With two other outposts in L.A., Pangea is aimed squarely at the massive ethnic-furniture market that ABC Carpet in New York virtually created. Here you’ll find artfully distressed Chinese cabinets, multicolored Moroccan lanterns and mosaic patio furniture, Indian teak tables and silk pillows, and jumbo ceramic vases from Mexico — all at “grand opening” discounts of 50 to 75 percent. 2170 Sunset Blvd.; (213) 483-1888, www.pangeahomecollection.com.

Reach the writer at steffien@earthlink.net

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