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BY DESIGN : So Very Chic, Yet So Very Cheap


Love to own that slip-covered damask sofa from Shabby Chic but can't quite swallow the $4,000 price tag? What about that fabulous Donghia club chair?

Those in the know say there's no reason to tap into the kids' college funds to redecorate the living room. Los Angeles is a bargain furniture shoppers' paradise, say interior designers who often work with clients on a budget.

In addition to chains such as Ikea, Z. Gallery and Pottery Barn--all of which mass-produce chic-yet-affordable sofas, pine and metal tables and decorative home accessories--there are hundreds of small specialty stores in L.A. selling fashionable things for the home, from designer originals to remarkable reproductions on classic furniture styles, at a fraction of the original retail cost.

"La Brea is the hot spot for great new furniture stores," says designer David Dalton, whose rooms appear often in Better Homes & Gardens and who can be seen regularly dispensing helpful design hints to viewers of Willard Scott's "Home & Garden Almanac" on cable's HGTV.

"Some of my favorite stores are places like Nick Metropolis, Virtue and American Rag's Maison et Cafe, because they all mix great thrift-store finds with good antiques and unusual home accessories at really reasonable prices."

A quick trip through Virtue, for example, turns up a broad selection of small tables--everything from country pine to 18th-Century antiques--selling in the $200 to $400 range and vintage table lamps from as low as $60.

One of the store's more unusual--albeit pricier--items is a pair of 1940s garden statues once owned by Fred Astaire and now selling for $1,000 apiece. "That's a bargain," says owner Andrew Virtue, adding that such items without history generally sell for four times as much.

Because clients have different tastes, Dalton says he shops a wide range of stores looking for smart furniture buys. Some regular haunts in Los Angeles include Blueprint (contemporary Italian designs) and Furniture Salad (vintage and cottage furniture), both on Beverly Boulevard; Uniquities on Robertson Boulevard (for estate furniture and accessories), and Bedfellows in Studio City (for hardwood dressers, tables and beds as well as table lamps).

All are terrific sources offering savings up to 70% and more for furniture shoppers on a budget, Dalton says.

He even has a solution for those hard-to-find items. He recommends purchasing used sofas, chairs and tables from yard sales and thrift stores and having them restyled and reupholstered. "If the size and shape are basically what you're after, it's easy to take an existing sofa or chair and have it restyled to fit your tastes and your needs."

Dalton says most custom upholsterers found in the yellow pages charge $65 to $150 per linear foot to reupholster a sofa. The price often includes minor design alterations, including new legs, rolled arms or even adding a camel back to an otherwise basic shape. The savings, he says, can be as much as 60% off a similar style bought new.

Another best-kept secret is Designer Bloopers, an interior designers consignment shop in Culver City carrying one-of-a-kind pieces that were, for various reasons, rejected by clients.

"The whole gist of the store is that when designers order things for customers and for some reason it doesn't work out--either because it was the wrong color, the wrong size or the delivery was too late--the designer brings it here on consignment to get rid of it," store manager Dodee Carroll says. "We also sell a lot of showroom samples and model-home stuff, so the customer gets a top-quality piece way below wholesale."

Carroll says 70% off retail is not uncommon at Designer Bloopers, where some current buys include a down-filled tapestry sofa and chair selling for $1,899 for the pair, a black lacquer dining table with mother of pearl inlay for $439 and six matching chairs for $499.

"L.A. is full of quality furniture at inexpensive prices," and the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood is one place to find them, president Andrew Wolf says. Shoppers can find bargains at the center's furniture sales for 50% to 70% off retail, he says.

Wolf says the next sale, which will be held Aug. 12-13 in the lobby of the PDC, offers showrooms in the mammoth furniture building the chance to clear out old inventories. "Last year customers were able to buy $600 dining chairs for as little as $100 each," says Wolf, adding that the event attracts everyone from Hollywood celebrities to truck drivers. Admission is $1.

Judy Svendsen, owner of Raven Interiors of Pasadena, thinks swap meets are great places to find good pieces without breaking the bank.

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