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The Eye by Barbara King

Careening through the design scene

May 08, 2003|Barbara King

'DESIGN IS NOTHING BUT A MAD social world!"

The blithely theatrical manner in which Thomas Lavin exclaimed and flung his arms through the cool evening air made me wonder whether he was quoting Noel Coward or paraphrasing Oscar Wilde, who so famously informed us "a snob is never wrong."

"Parties, always parties," Lavin went on, just in case his point had been lost in the clamor of voices and jazzy music filling his West Hollywood showroom last Thursday. I can believe him, if the past weekend was any measure: lunches, dinners, cocktail receptions and gala previews one after the other.

For many long, deranging minutes I waited for a space to open in the parking lot packed with cars and a spillover throng at Thomas Lavin, his eponymous high-end showroom. Lavin, the man, is as much known for his abundantly catered, abundantly attended soirees as he is for the hot young L.A. designers he represents. A horde of those designers and their clients and the clients' relatives and the relatives' neighbors and the neighbors' French visitors milled about the two huge rooms that glowed and glittered, quite literally, with the latest in home furnishings. Jewels are very much in, at least here: There were more on the furniture and accessories than on the hyper-designed bodies filling the shop.

It seemed that everyone who spotted Kevin Kolanowski's $1,000-plus light fixtures dripping with semi-precious stones was moved to caress them -- yes, caress them -- and mutter fragmented yearnings like "One day ... " and "If only ...." I too couldn't help touching the strands of amethyst hanging in front of me, even though I did feel plain reckless putting my plate of hors d'oeuvres down on Gary Hutton's gold triangular occasional table with the top that sparkled like tiny rubies.

Lavin was playing host to Michael S. Smith, designer of interiors for Steven Spielberg and Kate Capshaw, Michelle Pfeiffer and David E. Kelley, Rupert Murdoch and his wife Wendi, in honor of a new 60-piece line of furniture he designed for his 4-year-old traditional-eclectic collection. It seemed as good an excuse as any to be madly social. But few were looking at Smith's work, however appealing it might be.

"It's not about the furniture, honey, it's about the people," said interior designer John Turck. "If I want furniture, I'll come in the daytime."

Old World charm in a hangar

The news release began all too truthfully: "The Eighth Annual Los Angeles Antiques Show offers days of delight for a city that loves -- and lives -- to shop." I wandered along the rows of booths that had so cleverly concealed any hint that this was Santa Monica Airport's massive Barker Hangar. For this event, the largest antique fair on the West Coast, dealers came from all over the country, but I was most attracted to our very own Southern Californians -- and not just out of loyalty. It's simply where my eye fell most agreeably.

I was drawn as if in a trance to the Europa booth and its magnificent examples of 17th century and early 18th century antiques from Italy and Spain. Patrick Aumont -- son of the actor Jean Pierre Aumont and the actress Marisa Pavan, Pier Angeli's twin sister -- is the owner of this Santa Barbara store. His pieces struck me as just the right thing for the Spanish Revival or Italian Palladian houses of Southern California, and Aumont supported the assessment: "The volumes of those houses are so large, you need bold pieces, pieces of real consequence -- both in size and spirit. Anything else looks meaningless."

A Roman holiday in Santa Monica

I wasn't about to miss the exhibition over at the Boffi's year-old showroom in Santa Monica, open to the public through Saturday. Not just because I love the kitchens and baths of this premier Italian company, and not just because I love Vespas, which I have since Audrey Hepburn careened along the streets of Rome in "Roman Holiday." One day....

I had to get clear about what in heaven's name these saucy vehicles had in common with stoves and tubs and refrigerators. Why, in other words, Boffi was showing them in its Piero Lissoni-designed California flagship store.

I knew the answer as soon as I walked into the sleek, 10,000-square-foot minimalist space. Down the black epoxyed floor gleaming like a mirror, and against a backdrop of brushed stainless countertops and cherry and maple cabinets, was a heartrendingly beautiful row of six vintage Vespas. I saw, in a fell swoop, Italian design at its avant-garde best. (Let's face it: Italians design just about everything, except for their governments, better than anybody else.) I could happily have moved right into this black and white loft with its glass and steel interior, especially if all the Vespas stayed.

No matter that this was as much promotional for the two companies as it was instructive for the viewer: This was an inspired partnership. It all matched up so very, very well in that exquisitely orchestrated way that's either micro-arranged or divinely serendipitous.

This was as European as it gets in L.A.

Barbara King, editor of the Home section, can be reached at barbara.king@latimes.com.

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