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Where Old is New

Vintage home furnishing stores are discovering artsy and eclectic Silver Lake.

January 06, 2000|SUSAN CARPENTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The dogs along Silver Lake Boulevard still drag their owners toward Penny Lane. The vintage home furnishings store, newly opened in a space formerly occupied by a pet supply shop, has been visited more often by confused dogs than paying customers at this point. The shop, which opened this week, still smells of fresh paint--colored celery green to compliment the blond wood, Heywood-Wakefield furnishings on sale.

The store is the newest addition to a vintage furnishings scene that is emerging in the Silver Lake area. Like the neighborhood itself, the stores dotting Sunset and Silver Lake boulevards and Rowena Avenue are artsy and eclectic. Spaces once occupied by gas stations, insurance firms and other nondescript businesses now offer everything from turn-of-the-century antiques and modern collectibles to '70s kitsch.

"I like the sense of community in Silver Lake," explained owner Penny Lane, 53, who until four years ago ran the Cadillac Jack furniture store on La Brea Avenue and later on Melrose Avenue. "It's more like a hidden community. It's just sort of lying in wait and has all sorts of surprises in store for people."

"All the stores that have opened up here are like a hodgepodge, a lot of different things," said Barry Walker, who, with partner Aaron Chepenik, opened their East Side Mercantile store on Sunset Boulevard in October. They offer pieces from the 1940s and earlier, with both original and revival items from the Mission, Empire, Deco and Monterey periods, but their inventory even includes a table saw from the 1800s and a '50s-era bomb shell.

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With ever-changing offerings, the resale shops appeal to the individuality of the neighborhood's residents and their desire to express themselves.

"I think that people in the area, whether they're new . . . or have been here for some time, have a sense of aesthetic and style," said Scott Nadeau, owner of Ten 10, the mid-century modern furniture store he opened on Silver Lake Boulevard three years ago. "A lot of people in the entertainment business have moved in and are sensitive on those levels, so they want their environment to be that way."

Nadeau's space is the size of a small garage. With some clever arranging, he manages to display three couches, a desk, tables and chairs--original pieces designed by Charles Eames, George Nelson and Knoll.

Most of the 15 shops--half of which opened in the last six months--are small and so jammed with furniture that it's not unusual to see merchandise displayed outside on the sidewalk. Passersby can't help but notice. Now they are beginning to browse the circuit of stores, drawn by the unusual mix of furniture and other home furnishings, which cost about 20% to 50% less than on the West side of town.

Patrick Brown, a 45-year-old garden designer, has lived in the area about 20 years and collects vintage pieces for his 1920s bungalow on the edge of Silver Lake. He regularly shops at Vintage, a store that opened in March and specializes in '50s furniture. Brown said that he found a Heywood-Wakefield end table there for $135 that was similar to the Heywood-Wakefield coffee table he purchased at a store on Beverly Boulevard for $650.

While shoppers may be just discovering Silver Lake, some dealers from the established furniture shops along Beverly Boulevard and La Brea Avenue have long been shopping the area.

"I've been selling to Westside decorators for years," said Larry Blagg, who opened Blagg's, his minimalist 20th century design shop on Rowena, 10 years ago. "This has always been sort of a secret shopping area for a lot of people. Now more people are finding out about it like there's this new place, and it's actually been here quite a while."

When Blagg opened his business, he was the only furniture store in the area. Now Rowena, between Hyperion Avenue and Glendale Boulevard, is home to six diverse, resale shops. The 1600 and 1700 blocks of Silver Lake Boulevard have four stores, offering more collectible--and pricier--pieces. Sunset Boulevard now has five furniture stores from Parkman to Vermont avenues.

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As Silver Lake's urban retail pockets evolve, the area may become a shopping destination, much like Melrose in the '80s. Still, not everyone wants to travel there.

"Most of the Westsiders don't want to go that far," said Jeffrey Perry, owner of Futurama on La Brea. "It's hard to get them to go east of La Brea. I'm kind of the cutoff point," said Perry, who has bought pieces from various Silver Lake stores and resold them in his shop.

"They come in here and buy my stuff at retail and move it over there to the Westside and at least double their money," said Laura Lear, a former actress and owner of Form, a furniture store on Rowena Avenue that sells everything from Deco items to Kartell plastics. Lear, who sold furniture to other dealers around town before opening her own store in June, said she doesn't mind.

"As long as I'm on the food chain making money," she said.

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