Alexis Hadjopulos is an unrepentant, unreformed shopaholic. He started his vintage furniture business thusly: “I bought one thing, put it online, sold it, then I bought two things. Then with that money, I bought four things. Then I started selling at flea markets, but that gets old. I’d have to wake up at 4 in the morning and sit in the sun.”
The business is called TINI, which stands for “This Is Not IKEA.” When Hadjopulos, who is 31, moved to Los Angeles, his home was like a page out of an IKEA catalog. He’d visit friends, and their places looked exactly like the pages of an IKEA catalog. Swapping everything out for unique vintage seemed to be the answer. “But my father had just cut me off. I needed to find a way to keep shopping and not spend my own money. I would go to garage sales and see cool things. What if I just buy one and sell it online?”
Just as IKEA presents a novel way to shop for home goods (a big box of a store with cheap bookcases and dressers unassembled in smaller boxes), so does TINI. Customers browse the photo gallery on thisisnotikea.com, discover something they like, set up an appointment to see it and, if all goes as planned, buy it. Often it doesn’t go as planned. People come in for a table and leave with a wooden laughing-Buddha statuette. If Hadjopulos had a dollar for every time that happened, the total would be a lot. But he can’t tell you precisely what it was, because, for a long time, he didn’t keep track.
“When I came into this, Alexis didn’t know how much he was spending and how much he was making,” his business partner, Tom Whitman, likes to say. Hadjopulos recommends making a list beforehand, because the experience of seeing the stuff in person can get overwhelming.
To keep overhead low, he stores merchandise in his own small house on the Miracle Mile. He has an entire room devoted only to nightstands. “If it hasn’t been sold, it’s for sale,” he says, surveying the place ruefully: the upended chairs stacked one on top of the other, the Coca-Cola signs, the galaxy of old globes. “When people walk in, it’s either ‘Wow’ or ‘Oh, my God.’”
“In a couple of months that living room will look completely different,” says Whitman, as he enters through the front door. “Do you want to explain about the globes?”
“Oh, I started buying globes because I got a lot of requests for globes,” says Hadjopulos. “I was, like, ‘Really? Globes?’ Now I think they’re amazing.”
Hadjopulos and Whitman scour a hundred garage and estate sales a week for kitchen tables, desks, chairs, barstools, paintings, ottomans, sofas, love seats and more. On waking up to shop, even though he got no sleep the night before, Hadjopulos says: “It kills me! But I do it. What if this was the day I find the best stuff?
“When I was a little kid living in Spain, my dad and I would go to flea markets,” he continues. “I would ask him to leave me there. I was 9. I didn’t need my dad rushing me. I needed time to look at a thing and understand it.” He picks up a candlestick and examines it intently. “I need to be buying all the time. I buy. I shop. I have a problem. As long as I buy it and I own it for a minute, I’m okay. I don’t need to possess it. As long as I hand over the money and get the thing, I’m happy.”
For a while everything he bought was Moroccan. Then he got turned on to the beauty of industrial metal tables. “What happened to our Moroccan trunks?” said his Moroccan buyers. Then he developed an appreciation for Asian Modern. “What happened to our industrial metal tables?” said his industrial aficionados. Consequently, Hadjopulos’ house looks like a Noah’s ark of furniture, a little bit of everything from everywhere.
“So I close this area here if I get tired of seeing it,” he says, pulling a folding screen across the living room. “When we started the business, Tom said, ‘My house is not gonna look like this.’” Whitman describes his own style as “modern, minimalist aesthetic accented with unique vintage pieces.” Whitman’s house has been featured in The New York Times. Hadjopulos’ house, or certain parts of it — the dining room, the nightstand room, the bar — is featured on TINI’s Web site. Hadjopulos has also been featured, if only accidentally. When he takes pictures of mirrors, he usually ends up in the photo, reflected in the glass. He is slim, with short, dark hair, and almost always wears a tight-fitting T-shirt (he owns more than 500). Today, his shirt says: “Join the army. Travel to exotic cities, meet exciting unusual people, and kill them.”
Eventually, predictably, they ran out of room at Hadjopulos’ place. So the furniture is dispersed throughout the city in several garages rented from friends. There is a map shared jointly in Whitman’s and Hadjopulos’ heads corresponding to the precise location of the electric fans, the hampers, the chrome floor lamps and the Danish credenzas. The guys take turns driving customers to various garages if they happen to fall in love with the “small vintage industrial four-drawer thingy” listed on the Web site, or the 23 wax pears, or the “black-and-white cow-hyde rug (perfect shape),” or the gold retro ice bucket, or any number of Lucite and plastic whatchamacallits.
“Something happened to design,” Hadjopulos opines. “In the ’50s and ’60s, design was at its peak. We kinda went backward a little bit. That’s why we copy.”
“Hadjopulos is like the creative director,” says Whitman. He puts his hand on Hadjopulos’ shoulder. “We’re not gonna put Indonesian on the Web site anymore, right? We’re gonna focus, right?”
Asked if the business hasn’t removed Hadjopulos’ shopaholic tendencies, Whitman shakes his head and silently mouths, “No.”
Still, sometimes a piece comes in that is so great, they are tempted not to sell it — the big vintage sign that spells out “E-A-T,” for example. It is ostensibly up for grabs at $365, but the guys are squabbling privately over which of them gets to keep it.
Now a woman inspects some clocks, a mannequin torso lamp, a phrenology head, a half-dozen glasses, the globes, then notices some posters on the wall. “Those are not for sale,” Hadjopulos says quickly.
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“They’re not?” says Whitman.
“I have more,” says Hadjopulos in a pleading way. “I have 15 of them.”
In a few weeks, they sign a lease on a retail space. Hadjopulos’ home is empty. The garages, abandoned. The furniture has moved to the new location. “There is nothing in my living room. Absolutely nothing,” he says, sounding sad. Then he brightens. “I took home a chair the other day, though. Maybe we will run out of room in the new place and we’ll have to store stuff in my house again. That’s how it starts.”
TINI: 515 S. Fairfax Ave., L.A. (310) 999-5951 or thisisnotikea.com.