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What's a nickel really worth?

June 03, 2004|Janet Eastman; Abra Deering Norton; Chris Erskine

Forget spare change under the cushion. Johnny Swing uses it as the cushion. In fact, coins are pretty much the whole couch and chair.

For the 7 1/2-foot-long nickel couch that is part of his Obsessive Furniture line, the Vermont-based artist constructs a stainless-steel frame with dips and curves to support the seat, lower back, shoulder blades and arms. Then he withdraws 6,400 nickels from the bank and welds them onto the frame. He polishes the coins, or simply leaves the blue and gray hues that develop during the welding. The couch, which is surprisingly comfortable, sells for $25,000.

Swing started with pennies because he liked the idea of making art out of something that had little value. But when the Treasury Department switched to zinc instead of copper -- and the zinc exploded under Swing's welding torch -- he turned to nickels, dimes, quarters and half dollars.

The Gallery of Functional Art in Santa Monica has his quarter chair ($6,800), half-dollar butterfly chair ($9,000) and a chair made of 96 baby-food jars ($3,400). For more information, call the gallery at (310) 829-6990 or visit

Janet Eastman


"Anna G." is so famous in Europe that a German town put up a statue in her likeness. Now, the beguiling Anna has arrived in L.A. The Alessandro Mendini designed corkscrew, resembling a female in a '20s bob, is available ($63-$83) at the newly opened Alessi Flagship store in West Hollywood.

Alessi, the Italian purveyor of cookware and tabletop and kitchen accessories, has built up a cult following in the U.S. for its clever designs by a dazzling array of international luminaries, Frank Gehry and Ettore Sottsass among them.

The store sells such iconic products as the Juicy Salif lemon squeezer ($74) by designer Philippe Starck and the bestselling stainless steel Bird Kettle ($129) by Michael Graves. The classic Carlo Alessi Bombe coffee and tea service will cost you $918, but you can buy more humble housewares for less than $20. A playful Starck fly swatter with a now-you-see-it, now-you-don't face, comes in a choice of primary colors for only $14.

Alessi is holding a fundraiser today (6:30 to 9:30 p.m.), with 10% of the sales profits benefiting the Decorative Arts Council of LACMA. RSVP, (310) 276-7096.

Alessi Flagship, 301 N. Robertson Blvd. (310) 276-7096.

-- Abra Deering Norton


Founded in 1986 after James Tufenkian visited Nepal, Tufenkian Carpets has built a reputation for being one of the finest producers of hand-woven Tibetan and Armenian carpets. Last year, Tufenkian opened a flagship store in West Hollywood.

The specially designed rack system in the vast space makes it unusually easy to flip through -- or, in this case, slide through -- the stacks of tabrizes and oushaks. The rendering system is a computer program developed exclusively for Tufenkian so that customers can spec out their own versions of a rug.

Besides those traditional carpets, Tufenkian offers a stunning selection of contemporary designs that artfully merge modernism with an ancient craft.

Next week, Tufenkian's Los Angeles showroom will hold its once-a-year sample sale, with discounts on traditional and modern rugs, including several from designers Barbara Barry, Kevin Walz (below), Vicente Wolf and Tufenkian himself. Sizes will range from 3 feet by 5 feet to 10 feet by 14 feet, with some odd-sized, larger samples also available.

Tufenkian Carpets is at 8466 Melrose Ave., in West Hollywood. The sale begins Tuesday and runs through June 12. Tuesday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday from noon to 4 p.m. (323) 653-5405.

-- Chris Erskine

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