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Right at Home : With Its Sophisticated Crowd and a Decor That Resembles Grandma's Parlor, the Living Room Is Part Cosmopolitan, Part Cozy Coffeehouse.

December 16, 1990|ANITA M. CAL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Most of the stylishly dressed young men and women who filled the intimate room were deep in conversation, oblivious to others around them.

They lounged comfortably in cranberry-colored easy chairs, talking in hushed tones as cigarette smoke swirled around their heads.

Gilt chandeliers cast subdued light over the late-night sophisticates as they calmly sipped dark-brown espresso or cappuccino from daintily crafted coffee cups. Everyone appeared to feel at home.

An urbane dinner party in the style of Nick and Nora Charles?

No, it's The Living Room, one of Los Angeles' hottest new coffeehouses.

On any given day or night, coffeehouse connoisseurs can be found at the restaurant at 1st Street and La Brea Avenue.

It's not so much the strong, tasty liquid that keeps them coming back, but the coffeehouse's distinct cosmopolitan atmosphere.

"This is the most happening place in Los Angeles," said Chris Rutledge, 23, a co-manager. Robert Krass, who is co-owner of The Living Room with actress Ilona Margolis, said he tried to design the coffeehouse to be a place where patrons feel comfortable.

Krass, 28, said that when he returned to the United States after studying art at L'Ecole Des Beaux Arts in Switzerland, he missed the coffeehouses that serve as gathering places throughout Europe. Disappointed with more popular contemporary coffeehouses, he decided to bring in something new by recapturing something old.

"When I designed it, I was thinking about Europe," Krass said. "There, cafes tend to be like home. Here, everything was sterile. The walls were white and the lines black.

"In these places you feel like art. I don't want people to come here and feel like art. I want them to come, relax and have a cup of coffee."

The name of the coffeehouse is apt. The overstuffed chairs and coffee tables look like they could have been taken from grandmother's parlor. The golden yellow walls are covered with ornately framed abstract art and mirrors.

Toward the back of the room, a burgundy-colored carpet runs up a flight of stairs, leading to an open balcony from which one might expect to see Loretta Young descending.

It's this detail that makes The Living Room special, Krass said.

"There is nothing like it in Los Angeles," he said. "The other coffeehouses seem to have spent less money and time in the decor. I've spent time making it special."

Patrons of The Living Room say they like its laid-back atmosphere.

"The people here don't care what you look like or what you drive," said Melissa Everett, 21, who said other popular coffeehouses tend to be hoity-toity.

"It's comfortable but chic," said Rodney Ebrahimian, 21, who lives in Beverly Hills and is a senior at UCLA.

Like most patrons of The Living Room, Ebrahimian said he frequents many of the popular coffeehouses in Los Angeles. But he said The Living Room has something special that can't be duplicated.

"It's like getting a designer outfit and trying to change it and sell it. It won't be as good as the original," he said.

Coffeehouse patrons are mostly young (20 to about 35) and hip. Clothes range from torn jeans with designer sweaters or blazers to assorted all-black, no-name outfits. Lace also appears to be in.

Regular Dean Barrington, 28, said that if he had to describe the coffeehouse clientele to someone else, he'd tell them "it seems to be a lot of actor wanna-bes."

Indeed two patrons on a recent Thursday arrived at the coffeehouse, bought some coffee and curled up on one of the sofas to go over lines from a script, oblivious to the grinding of coffee beans in the background.

But one woman who has passed the wanna-be stage was also there. Actress Daryl Hannah said it was her first time at the coffeehouse. She sat on a sofa and read the newspaper while she enjoyed her coffee.

Another woman sat in a corner with some coffee and a book, while three other women chatted at a table near the middle of the room.

Most patrons at the coffeehouse concede that The Living Room is trendy, if not somewhat pretentious. But Krass contends that anything considered in fashion will inevitably be tagged as trendy.

"There's nothing I can do about it because it attracts young celebrities," he said. "It's not a term I like." But "it seems to be the rule in Los Angeles that you're trendy or you die."

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