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ANTIQUES : Seems Like Old Times : 10 of the Best and Busiest Antiques Dealers in Southern California

November 08, 1987|SAM BURCHELL | Sam Burchell is a former senior editor of Architectural Digest.

Different as their shops and their collections may be from one another, these 10merchant antiquarians do agree on at least one point: Los Angeles is fast becoming a world center of the antique trade. Though London, Paris and New York have the cachet of tradition, Los Angeles has other enviable qualities: style, vitality and youthful flair. New York and London dealers regularly patrol the shops of Melrose Place and La Cienega Boulevard and are often seen in Laguna Beach and San Juan Capistrano as well. And these dealers, it may be noted, do not come here for the climate or for the waters.


IT LOOKS EXACTLY the way a California antique shop should--a random series of adobe cottages centered around a patio with the requisite plashing fountain and flowering plants. As a bonus, the Mission San Juan Capistrano is across the street. The cottages are informal and relaxed and welcoming.

So, too, is their owner, G. R. Durenberger. Known as Gep throughout the trade, he regards himself as more of a merchant than an antiquarian and believes that he has one of the last old-fashioned antique shops in the area.

"I don't carry silver or porcelain or prints or objets ," he explains. "What I do carry are home furnishings--to be sure, from the French and English 18th- and 19th centuries--since I think that antiques are to be used on a daily basis. That's why we display them here in a series of rooms, almost in a house setting, with something of the same casualness and even shabby gentility that I have always so much admired in country houses on my trips to England."

Durenberger started his business in 1967 after having studied for six years with the legendary Laguna Beach antique dealer Carl Yeakel, who died last month. Durenberger has developed a family-oriented clientele; he serves the grandchildren of many of his old customers, and several pieces have passed through his shop three or four times. For the most part, his clients are a solid and conservative group from Pasadena, Hancock Park, Emerald Bay and Rancho Santa Fe. On a Saturday, he says, his patio is filled with fathers and mothers and their children--all on shopping expeditions.

What sort of pieces are they looking for? "I think there's a definite return to formality," he says. "People want solid mahogany pieces, like this 18th-Century English dining-room table, and not the stripped pine of other days. They want to entertain formally, and they want to be surrounded by things that have been around for generations."

G.R. Durenberger /31431 Camino Capistrano / San Juan Capistrano, Calif. 92675 / (714) 493-1283


AT THE MOMENT, Los Angeles is a less sophisticated antique market than New York or London, but the action is rapidly moving in this direction. Quatrain--founded in 1977 by Ted Wilkerson, Craig Wright and Don and Alice Willfong--is one of the reasons the focus is changing. Quatrain has an enviable, and constantly shifting, collection of high-style (and mostly museum-quality) antiques, most of them rare items from 18th-Century Europe.

Homeowner clients, as well as decorators and other dealers, come from all parts of the country to shop at Quatrain. Prices are generally more reasonable than at shops in other world centers. "When we first opened," Wilkerson says, "75% of our sales were to people from out of state--and largely from the East. That's certainly not the case today. Our best customers now come from California and from the Los Angeles area in particular.

"There is no doubt that the finest-quality pieces are to be found today in Los Angeles, and West Coast prices today are probably the fairest in this country.

"I don't feel that there's one overwhelming trend today," Wilkerson says. "People buy in all areas, and you can see that we deal with many antiques outside of the 18th Century. I think people are looking for the unusual and the interesting. This is particularly true in Los Angeles. So we have Greek and Roman busts, as well as Chinese and East Indian artifacts and these handsome brass candlesticks from India.

"Look at this amazing aquarium, for example--a Portuguese 19th-Century piece in blue and white faience with dolphins for feet. I've never seen anything like it in all my travels to Europe. It's the kind of unusual piece that our clients expect us to have on hand for them."

Quatrain / 700 N. La Cienega Blvd. / Los Angeles, Calif. 90069 /(213) 652-0243


ALICE BRAUNFELD'S SHOP seems to exist in a time warp. Forget the sun-drenched streets outside: The year is 1938, and you are in a small New York antique shop under the shadow of the 3rd Avenue El, in the neighborhood of 57th Street.

The vision is not a surprising one, since Alice Braunfeld started in the antique business with her husband, Murray, in just such a New York location. Murray, who died seven years ago, and Alice have been legends in the antique world for decades, particularly among those with an interest in American items.

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