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Open late for dinner

Hip shop owners around town are discovering that if they want to sell that 18th century table, they first have to set it and invite a stylish crowd.

November 06, 2003|Alexandria Abramian-Mott | Special to The Times

In typical Friday night dinner party fashion, Nathan Turner's guests are running late. Three of them are still navigating their way from the airport, and two more have called to confirm the address. But the host isn't the slightest bit fazed. Everything else is running right on schedule. Carrots and parsnips have been soaking in water since 10 a.m., a Port wine reduction has been simmering away since lunch, and the table was set sometime midafternoon, complete with kale, artichoke and gourd centerpiece.

The West Hollywood antiques seller has been able to do everything during work hours because the venue is his very own eponymous shop on Almont Street, next door to the Swedish antiques store Lief and a couple of doors away from the showroom of the forever-in-demand designer Waldo Fernandez.

So, what happened to the days when shop owners could throw a cocktail party from 6 to 8 with a few bottles of decent wine and a cheese platter? They're not exactly over, but a worldly breed of multi-tasking furniture dealers has raised in-store entertaining to a sophisticated new level, refining the whole concept by borrowing from, and expanding on, a more European approach.

"Where I grew up, there was always a piece of cheese and red wine on the table in antiques stores," says Frederic Lazare, who is from Cahors in southwest France and is owner of the French antiques store Bourgeois Boheme on La Brea Avenue.

From cozy antiques shops to state-of-the-art kitchen showrooms, Los Angeles home stores have become the latest places for private dinner parties, given by owners who are as well versed in Biedermeier as they are in beurre blanc. The concept is Business 101: to keep clients in your environment as long as possible. And what better way than with a home-cooked meal served in the most luxuriant of settings, where you're surrounded by centuries of fine furnishings?

The Los Angeles design world is as much a connections-driven machine as Hollywood, and getting A-list designers to frequent your shop requires some clever moves. From the point of view of future returns, $600 spent at Bristol Farms is a modest outlay if a designer asks you to be on the lookout for hand-painted majolica tiles on your next buying trip to Italy or Regency chairs with lion's paw feet in England.

As guests arrive, Turner fills champagne glasses resting on an 18th century Italian painted table and moves among conversation clusters, making introductions when needed even though everyone, if not already friends, is only one or two degrees of separation from one another in the fashionable design arena. Industry stars Kathryn Ireland, Joe Nye, Kim Alexandriuk and Molly Isaksen are regulars at his soirees. Tonight, a carefully tailored mix of interior decorators, architects, furniture shop owners, magazine editors and even a Hollywood celebrity mingle about the 3,000-square-foot sisal-floored space, where mostly Italian antiques are cast in a golden votive-candle glow.

Aside from price tags dangling from chairs and armoires, English iron urns and Genovese crystal chandeliers, there's little to distinguish the shop from a classically appointed home. Including the presence of the Burberry-collared lab Daisy, who hovers around the tiny kitchen where her owner installed a gas range, full-size refrigerator and appliances from home.

"It's small, but I can crank stuff out in it," says Turner, plating the first course, a roasted beet, fennel and orange salad.

Guests sit boy-boy-girl at an 18th century Spanish rectory table with an $18,000 price tag tied to one of its legs. The conversation -- jumping about in English, Spanish and Italian -- shifts from showcase houses to L.A. architecture to real estate values to ruminations on "Legally Blonde," directed by a guest, Robert Luketic. While Mary McDonald, one of L.A.'s most glamorous decorators, talks with Turner about canning tomatoes in her kitchen, Veranda magazine editor-at-large Miguel Flores-Vianna takes it upon himself to keep wine glasses filled. All the while, Turner brings out course after course: beef tenderloin, berry trifle with custard, blue cheese drizzled with honey.

"There wouldn't be time to make this kind of meal at home after a day at work," Turner says. "That's the nice thing about doing it here. Between clients, I'll prep the parsley, take a call, then slice the potatoes. I get to incorporate it into my workday."

From the start, when Lazare founded Bourgeois Boheme last year, he and his partners, with Dale Skorcz and Tim Norr, always offered wine to local design luminaries like Thomas Beeton who came into the shop. Before long, the partners -- who sell a mix of antiques with contemporary French pieces and artwork -- began hosting intimate dinners in the back of the shop, on a 19th century marble-topped bistro table that seats up to 10. Using pressed linen napkins and an exclusive line of French glass tableware carried at the shop, they now give parties twice a month.

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