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Yes, You Can Still Buy the Real McCoy

September 11, 1997

In its furniture, the 1950s era was characterized by a "high" style of mainstream modernism and a more popular "low" style, variously dubbed "contemporary," "Populuxe" or "Googie."

High-style modernism featured the work of such American designers as Charles and Ray Eames, George Nelson, Harry Bertoia and Eero Saarinen, plus Denmark's Arne Jacobsen, Grete Jalk and Hans Wegner, and Finland's Alvar Aalto and Finn Juhl--to mention only a few of the more prominent names.

Several of Eames' creations have become classics, including the famous 1957 molded-plywood padded armchair and ottoman, the 1950 molded plastic and metal rod armchair and the 1958 chair with padded seat and cast aluminum base. All of these, plus the furniture of several other influential U.S. designers, were manufactured by Herman Miller Inc. or Knoll International. In recent years, Herman Miller and Knoll have revived a number of these pieces to meet the demand for the period style.

In addition, contemporary designers, many of them Italian, have created furniture inspired by the 1950s, but with a 1990s gloss. Among these are Ettore Sottsass, Piero Lissoni, Carlo Colombo, Umberto Riva, Franco Ragen, Christophe Pillet and Jasper Morrison.

In the popular style, going along with pedal pushers, extravagantly tail-finned Chevys and Caddies, and "Googie" coffee shops like Ship's and Tiny Naylors, were luridly colored free-form sofas, the La-Z-Boy-style adjustable recliner and floor lamps sprouting metal shades at every angle. In the open-plan suburban house, space-shaping "area" furniture replaced conventional walls, and kitchens featured Formica tables with chromed metal legs. This was the era of Sputnik and the Space Age, and often ordinary household appliances, such as vacuum cleaners, resembled the early Earth-orbiting satellites.

Several local stores carry a variety of 1950s furniture, or their '90s derivations. However, Linda Gershon, owner of Skank World on Beverly Boulevard, warns that prospective buyers should be wary that cheap modern reproductions aren't palmed off as originals. "The quality of these knockoffs isn't anywhere near as good as the genuine 1950s pieces," she says.

The following are some of the stores where you might look for quality items:

* Skank World, 7205 Beverly Blvd. (213) 939-7858.

* Retro Gallery, 524 N. La Brea Ave. (213) 936-5261.

* Recollections, 140 S. Orlando Ave. (213) 852-7123.

* Recollections II, 8377 Melrose Ave. (213) 655-6221.

* Modern Living, 8125 Melrose Ave. (213) 655-3898.

* Boo Radley's Antiques, 6913 Melrose Ave. (213) 939-6909.

* Diva Collection, 8801 Beverly Blvd. (310) 278-3191.

* Fat Chance, 162 N. La Brea Ave. (213) 930-1960.

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