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Design Notes

Putting Pieces Together

Made-to-order furniture is the custom at the Cotton Box, which also features a fabric emporium


Personal taste. It's so, well, personal. How else can you explain the appeal of a French chaise longue upholstered in Austin Powers' lime-green velour? Or a distressed-finished armoire with modern chrome hardware?

People's expanding need to decorate to reflect their personalities has created a spurt in stores that specialize in custom furniture, which is a part of the $24-billion residential furniture industry in the U.S., according to the American Furniture Manufacturers Assn. in High Point, N.C.

New homeowners needing to fill rooms, newlyweds looking for future heirlooms and shoppers straining to match the style and stains of existing pieces find that made-to-order fits their needs.

The Cotton Box Home on Melrose is an example of showrooms that give people the power to piece together the parts they see on the floor--a cushion from one sofa, the arms from another--and have it in their home in a few weeks.

Gavin Brodin opened the Cotton Box a year ago as a fabric store in the shadow of heavyweights Diamond Foam & Fabric Co. and the Silk Trading Co. Soon he found that many of his customers inquired about custom furniture as well, so last month he doubled his space to 12,000 square feet and stocked it with examples of traditional and contemporary European-inspired furniture that can be made in his downtown factory in two to six weeks.

The Cotton Box (a name that Brodin just liked the sound of but that doesn't reflect the fabric selection) is separated into two side-by-side stores: one for furniture and one for fabrics. (Brodin made a name for himself in south London by opening a chain of fine fabric stores.) The furniture gallery sells sofas, chairs, tables, cabinets, beds and armoires--for clothes, electronics or collectibles--that are made of solid wood with European hardware.

The Cotton Box follows the tradition of showrooms offering room vignettes to help people visualize how everything could look--in style and scale--in a room, and to present complementary pieces and accessories. But these setups are just suggestions, says Brodin, who adds, "We can make anything in every style and stain."

One vignette has a 7-foot Notting Hill-style sofa with a solid alder frame, filled with white goose down and wrapped in camel-colored ultra suede ($2,695). Boxing in the sofa is a three-piece espresso-colored modular bookcase ($2,395). Also part of the set are two oversized butter-soft black leather club chairs with modern tufting ($1,795 each), a dark-grained coffee table ($995) and a 5-by-8-foot swirl-patterned silk rug ($2,100). Completing the scene are a silver modern Deco lamp (at $450, it's "the most expensive table lamp in the store," says Brodin) as well as candles, imported ceramic vases and frames.

The fabric store houses more than 1,500 rolls, from classic silks, linens and cottons to bolder woven animal prints and velvets from the 1960s and '70s. A Ratti paisley cotton from India sells for $69 a yard while a Lismore red chenille is $23 a yard. Customers can work with staff interior designers to create wall and window treatments, bed linens, pillows and upholstered furniture.

Set directors and party planners such as Donielle Baca of Paulette Wolf Events & Entertainment Inc. use the Cotton Box as an inspiration point. Baca, who was looking for ideas for a large corporate event, was caressing a roll of khaki-colored silk with pearl beading. "Unique ideas have to come from somewhere and a fabric store is a good place to start," she says.

The Cotton Box Home, 7020 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles, (323) 931-9920;


Janet Eastman can be reached at

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