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Timelessly now

A furniture designer and a raku ceramist are contemporary with an Old World sense of craft.

November 20, 2003|Jake Klein | Special to The Times

Glenn LAWSON and Grant Fenning have a penchant for midcentury pieces, especially furniture created in the 1950s and '60s by lesser-known California designers.

But beginning Saturday with a show open to the public, the owners of the Beverly Boulevard furnishings store Lawson-Fenning will feature the work of two exceptional contemporary artisans from New York: Tyler Hays -- whose company, BDDW, produces impeccably crafted tables, chairs, beds, rugs and lighting -- and raku ceramist-sculptor Joseph Conforti.

What draws them to the two men is exactly what draws them to vintage furniture. "It's the incredible quality of the work, the way everything is made to stand the test of time," Lawson says. "Every piece is singular. You never get the same thing twice with Tyler or Joseph."

Hays' furnishings are designed minimally but with an almost baroque attention to detail and finishing. So, too, is the spirit in which ceramist Conforti creates his raku wall pieces. Using the ancient Japanese high-fire technique, he creates ceramic wall art often composed of up to 6,000 individually fired cubes in the intense colors for which raku is known.

Hays began his career working as a handyman to support himself as a painter and a sculptor, eventually becoming an architect. "But I'm more of a studio artist," he says. "I had a hard time with the lack of freedom in architecture." Hays' furnishings, made almost entirely of American hardwoods, have become some of the most hotly coveted on the market.

Hays, who has been compared to the highly collectible master craftsman George Nakashima, creates furnishings that are "not about perfection," he says. "They are, however, about extreme craftsmanship. I design the pieces so that they will last hundreds of years. We mark and sign each one."

Conforti, who left a successful career as a marketing executive to pursue ceramics, got his first break when a friend gave one of his raku platters to an executive at Donna Karan. "Donna saw the piece, and one thing led to another. I ended up designing all of the ceramics in the initial 1997 launch of Donna Karan Home."

After successfully creating his own line of functional raku pieces (sold through stores such as Barneys and Gump's), Conforti turned his eye toward art. "I was so blown away by the intense colors and textures of raku, and people would tell me that they were using my functional pieces as art objects," he says. "I wanted to find a way of getting that same quality on the wall."

Conforti developed a double-firing method to create dimensional wall tiles that consist of thousands of individually sized, glazed and fired cubes, pegs and credit-card-sized slabs that fit together as parts to a whole. Lawson-Fenning will feature five new wall pieces created specifically for the show.

Opened just two months ago, the store's mission is to showcase furnishings and objects that "straddle the line between art and design," says Lawson.

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Lawson-Fenning, 7257 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles; (323) 934-0048.

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