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STYLE: Leaders of the Pack : Southern California Trendsetters: Portraits From the Creative Edge : Interior Motives: Richard Green

March 13, 1994|BARBARA THORNBURG

When it comes to contemporary furnishings in Southern California, one store showcases them best: Civilization, a 17,000-square-foot warehouse on Venice Boulevard in Los Angeles, where owner and president Richard Green handpicks styles that strike a chord. Take the cozy sofas slipcovered in as many as 15 vintage fabrics at once. "People come back for six months, looking for just the right combination of colors and patterns," Green says. "They make an emotional connection with a piece--one that expresses their own desires."

Green, 34 and a native New Yorker, knows whereof he speaks: He comes from a family of furniture merchants. His father was managing partner of the Contemporary Lifestyles furniture stores. His two older brothers run Designers Furniture Mart in Glendale and Buena Park and West Coast Interiors in La Habra. He and his brothers teamed up in 1986 to open Cityscapes in Pasadena, where nearly all the furniture comes from the East Coast, Canada, Spain or Italy. Now this latest venture, begun in 1990, focuses on moderately priced items that are handcrafted closer to home.

"Ninety percent of our furnishings are made by California artists and artisans," says Green, who buys from about 40 artists, either natives or European emigres who have brought Old World skills with them. One Russian craftsman creates mosaic tables. A French ironmonger makes wrought-iron tables and lamps. Two South African women paint screens and furniture. "It used to be that buying European had a certain snob appeal, but today California artists are doing amazing stuff," he says. "We have great woodworkers, carvers, painters and mosaicists to select from."

Because it features an array of looks--from recycled to country--Civilization is an important resource for set designers and prop stylists. Twenty percent of its business comes from rentals to feature films, TV shows, music videos, even soaps such as "General Hospital" and commercials for Coca-Cola and Budweiser. In turn, the exposure generates calls from around the world. Someone in Japan wanted all the furniture in the beach house in "Sleeping with the Enemy"; an Ohio woman wanted everything in the pool room on MTV's "The Real World."

Green encourages retail patrons to purchase things right off the floor because one-of-a-kind pieces are never around very long. "We're in a constant state of fluidity," he says. "We're constantly changing and moving on."

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