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L.A. exhibits a spree decor

For the first time, three big shows will align in a marathon of design. But will it have legs?

March 23, 2006|David A. Keeps | Times Staff Writer

FOR a city obsessed with designer trends, this is a banner week.

Three design expositions -- the Pacific Design Center's 30th annual orgy of product introductions known as WestWeek, the office furniture fair NeoCon West and, kicking off tonight, the modernist expo for the masses, CA Boom -- have coalesced into an unprecedented, uninterrupted celebration of modern nesting. During the next eight days, international stars including Frank Gehry, Rem Koolhaas and Karim Rashid are scheduled to dispense design wisdom, and top interior decorators and magazine editors from across the country will hobnob in showrooms and at cocktail hours.

Historically, the three shows have been relatively minor dates on the industry calendar. This year, however, the Merchandise Mart of Chicago, which produces NeoCon West, partnered with WestWeek to create the four-day L.A. Design Week. CA Boom, previously held in May, shifted its assemblage of architecture, furniture, decorative arts and garden designers to the weekend preceding Design Week. Held almost simultaneously, these shows raise the question of whether Los Angeles' disparate design scene can congeal into a bona fide event of some stature and boost the city's standing as an international design center on par with New York, Milan or Paris.

"Design is a growth industry around the world, and California is becoming stronger as a leader," says David Mocarski, chairman of environmental design at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, which this weekend hosts an academic symposium called "Radical Craft." This confluence of events, Mocarski says, "indicates a high awareness and passion for creating trendsetting work, whether it's young designers and students showing edgy, conceptual one-off projects, or high-volume manufactured products."

CA Boom founder Charles Trotter says at least 50 designs will premiere this year at his show, open to pros and the public through this weekend at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. The exposition's Fab Prefab Zone consists of nine firms, seven of them local -- the first time, Trotter says, the public will be able to compare so many prefab designs in one place and talk to the people who build them.

As soon as CA Boom winds down, L.A. Design Week starts up, opening Monday with NeoCon West, a trade show for manufacturers of "contract furnishings" used in commercial spaces. One highlight will be "Fine Living: 2026," a live-work installation by Los Angeles architect Patrick Tighe with 1,300 square feet of green design and Jetsons-style technology. The space includes a raised floor with translucent resin lighted from below with programmable colored LEDs, a suspended steel fire orb and a wall of 30-inch Apple monitors that can be used as computer screens or turned into a digital slide show.

WestWeek, the interior design world's version of a fashion salon show, begins drawing top-tier decorators and clients to the Pacific Design Center on Wednesday. Holly Hunt, who is based in Chicago and has showrooms at the center as well as in New York, Miami and Washington, D.C., says more than half of the lines she represents are designed and made in California, "where there is still an understanding of artisanship and quality, a wonderful hand touch."

Andrew Wagner, a senior editor at Dwell, says Design Week helps substantiate L.A. as a creative as well as a commercial design center. "The one thing that's been missing is the idea of community," says Wagner, who will speak at Design Within Reach on Thursday as part of the Design Week program for the Santa Monica Design District, a collection of showrooms and stores. "It's really important for Los Angeles to lay claim to its work, the way Apple products now all say 'Designed in California' on them."

The Eames Office in Santa Monica, in conjunction with the Eames Foundation and manufacturer Herman Miller, will debut the 50th anniversary edition of Ray and Charles Eames' classic swiveling 670 lounge chair.

The chair will go to retail showrooms next month, but a numbered edition in palisander wood and leather will be given as a gift to people making donations of at least $6,500 to the Eames Foundation.

Wagner believes that California could easily reclaim the importance it held as a modern furniture center in the post-World War II Eames era.

"It's really important to have CA Boom and Design Week," he says. "There's a major Stockholm furniture fair, and the population of all of Sweden is less than a third of the population of California. Every design scene needs a central meeting point, and with so much happening in Portland, Seattle, Las Vegas and Austin, Texas, there isn't any reason why it shouldn't be Los Angeles."

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