Steve Melendrez grew up selling cheap furniture in Orange County. Six days a week, 10 hours a day, he hawked bottom-of-the barrel hunks of cotton, polyester and wood, which were surely bound for pizza stains and, eventually, the landfill.
In the usual sense, Melendrez had already grown up when he took his first fateful furniture gig: He was old enough to drink and to drive, and he enjoyed both pastimes, sometimes together. It was only after being busted for two DUIs did the self-proclaimed punk-rock party animal hunker down with a full-time job, selling sofas. Working weekends helped to temper his wayward habits, and Melendrez — armed with a new discipline and a budding entrepreneurial instinct — turned out to be a natural salesman.
It was the beginning of a long road in the furniture industry that, after a pit stop as partner and general manager of the now-defunct Civilization in Culver City, seems to have come to a comfortable destination in the Living Room, Melendrez’s 2-year-old furniture boutique in Silver Lake. Instead of pitching deals to Dave and Buster’s regulars, he caters to the new-money crowd in Silver Lake and a growing Industry clientele looking to rent classic pieces for studio sets.
The store, with its polished cement floors and balance of high-end modern and classical pieces, is a far cry from the carpeted sales floor where he got his start.
“Night and day,” says Melendrez, whose store’s exterior walls recently played canvas to the French stencil artist Blek le Rat.
A chalkboard behind Melendrez’s desk at the Living Room offers some expected Frank Lloyd Wright credo about how form and function should be “one, joined in a spiritual union.”
But, Melendrez says, his own personal taste, which he admits is more learned than instinctive, is guided less by canonical wisdom than by the view from inside his store, which looks out at Sunset Boulevard.
“You see the bohemians, you know, the hippies with the long hair, the greasers with all their tattoos, the big Mexicanos brothers,” he says. “We live in a great time of design, fashion and style. That same [vibe] crosses into home design and culture.”
Melendrez brims with a simple pride as he gestures to a custom-designed bedroom set inside the Living Room, then turns giddy when a tattooed designer friend drops off a load of foraged Boeing machine-parts molds destined for a healthy price tag and some quirky, adaptive re-use.