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L.A.'s dream team

Adam Blackman and David Cruz have contrasting personalities and differing tastes. But their shared eye for the fabulous keeps them on the cutting edge of interior design.

November 20, 2003|Alexandria Abramian-Mott | Special to The Times

Adam Blackman and David Cruz, owners of the antiques and design store Blackman Cruz, are not design snobs, far from it, but they nevertheless want it understood: They don't sell Eames chairs. Don't ask about the steel industrial furniture craze they ignited in L.A. back in the early '90s, either. They're over it. And as long as they're clearing things up, they're not an item. Blackman is straight. Cruz isn't.

But when it comes to business, they agree they're a match made in heaven, turning a shared eye for the fabulous into one of the city's most influential showrooms for statement-making furniture, art and objects. Utter the words Blackman Cruz and even the grandest titans of interior design start grasping for superlatives.

Monday, the partners will celebrate their 10th anniversary in business with a huge in-store bash. They've inaugurated the occasion with a run of 3,000 full-color, photo-filled brochures (with a portrait by the celebrity and fashion photographer Matthew Rolston) that perfectly captures the jauntiness and refinement of their aesthetic approach. Of those, only 500 will contain invitations to the party. "We've invited our best clients -- along with people we love who have never bought a darned thing," says Blackman.

Inside their La Cienega Boulevard shop is a world where a mint-condition midcentury Italian love seat mingles with a 130-year-old doctor's scale, where the quirky and quintessentially elegant keep intimate company, and where the everyday is transformed into the exquisite.

"Adam and David redefine L.A. style each morning at 10 a.m.," says Judith Lance, senior associate for Studio Sofield in Los Angeles, the design firm known for the streamlined spin it gives to interiors, from houses to Gucci boutiques.

Blackman sees it in slightly simpler terms. "There's enough competition for beautiful things in the world," he says. "I want what's different. I want things that excite me." It's an excitement shared by clients who are more like Blackman Cruz groupies, eager to get dibs on that 14-foot clock from a Chicago office building that they had to cut the ceiling to fit into the store, that French foosball game table from the 1930s, or those marble bathtubs that Blackman is always on the lookout for at antiques shows.

The fact that the 19th century Venetian bar mirror has a $15,000 price tag does little to deter the anticipation. They still come, usually in droves. In contrast to the museum hush of most antiques shops, this is one of the few that actually bustles. Regulars include everyone from Hollywood Regency reviver Kelly Wearstler to modernist architects Leo Marmol and Ron Radziner. Brad Pitt frequents the shop. So does Joe Pytka, director of commercials and owner of the restaurant Bastide, who comes in about every other month, scribbles a list of must-haves in silence and has his people deal with the details. Philip Johnson, a window dresser for Barneys New York in Beverly Hills, uses the store as a prop house, like the time when he borrowed two life-size mechanical ostriches for an off-kilter Vera Wang display.

"Blackman Cruz teaches designers to see what we've been trained to miss," says interior decorator Jay Holman, who consistently relies on the store for the unexpected. "I bought an 18th century Italian mirror there. The gilding was coming off and the frame was coming off. But it was extraordinary. It was the sort of thing most 'fine' antiques stores would have restored and sold for a lot more. I stuck it in the living room of an old Spanish house and the room needed nothing else."

Personality-wise, Blackman and Cruz are a classic case of opposites attracting. Blackman, 41, exhibits a wildly energetic enthusiasm, his thoughts spilling forth in a rapid-fire manner. Cruz, 51, is courtly, reserved and measures his words. Blackman is romantically unattached at the moment. Cruz is in a long-term relationship. Blackman has a degree in business. Cruz studied art.

On most days at the 3,800-square-foot showroom, you'll find Blackman, the New Jersey-raised front-of-the-house half of the team, chatting with clients about things like that beautifully battered 10-foot-long English leather sofa he found in San Francisco. Take a peek in the back room, behind the aluminum architectural panel, however, and you'll likely see Cruz at his desk, talking on the phone with all the mystery of a worshipped university professor who's hard to catch in the halls. "It's impossible to get him away from his desk," says Blackman. "Adam loves to talk," counters Cruz.

"They're like Astaire and Rogers," says Holman. "Adam has the showmanship; David is the aesthete. It's about the two of them together."

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