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So cool, so classic, so L.A.

A 1923 San Marino house fuses cultures and embraces contemporary design. The mix symbolizes one family's journey to a place that finally feels like home.

July 19, 2007|Janet Eastman | Times Staff Writer

IF ever there were a home that told the quintessential L.A. success story, this is it. Not because the 1923 house on a shady San Marino street is classic Spanish Revival, with a russet tile roof and white stucco walls. Or that the interior is a visual surprise, open and contemporary, with flourishes of petrified wood and other natural materials. Or even that an imaginative sharp-angled pavilion shading the backyard pool somehow blends seamlessly with the main house.

It's because of the story that lives inside, the story of Cisco Pinedo -- born in a rural village in Jalisco, Mexico, raised in urban South Los Angeles and now leader of a multimillion-dollar home furnishings company, one of the few major furniture manufacturers that hasn't fled Southern California in search of less expensive factories and labor overseas. Pinedo's roots are now in L.A., and if anyone asks why, he can simply point to his house, which symbolizes just how far he has traveled to be here.

"I fell in love with this area because of the greenery," says Pinedo, 44, who saw San Marino first as a teenager, working with his dad on gardening jobs at the Huntington Library and the surrounding estates. "Back then I was thinking that one day, if it were possible, this would be a great place to live. It was very far away from where I was, but some way life made that happen."

Hanging on the wall of the master bedroom is a framed wooden cross carved by Pinedo's grandfather. Pinedo keeps it there as a touchstone to the remote village where he was born, Villa Guerrero, a two-hour drive from Guadalajara. He lived with his parents, three brothers and two sisters in a one-room stone dwelling with a wood-and-clay flat roof. "There wasn't a lot of money and people used natural resources," he says.

The son of a contract farm worker who spent months at a time in the United States and a seamstress mother, Pinedo remembers studying the rectangular structure, tracing his hands over the stones and thinking about the laborer who arranged them, piece by piece. Someday, he thought, he'd like to build houses.

"By nature, even before the Spaniards arrived in Mexico, we were a culture with a sensibility toward craftsmanship," he says. "There has always been plenty of wood, stone, earth, labor and imagination in Mexico to make beautiful buildings."

Throughout his house are hand-made folk art pieces he's collected from Mexico and elsewhere that he mixes with modern furniture he has designed just for his home. Towering over the living room is a 6-foot-tall Buddha from Myanmar. "It's a powerful symbol made from a simple piece of wood," Pinedo says.

When Pinedo was 13, the family moved to South Los Angeles. "My dad was a guest worker for 30 years, going from farm to farm, but he wanted to settle here so his family could live better."

As the eldest sibling, Pinedo worked after school to earn money, translated for his Spanish-speaking parents and looked out for the younger children. "Cisco was the father figure," says his sister Rosie Pinedo Perez. "He's the one we worried about as far as getting permission to do something. Because of the language barrier, my parents would believe whatever we told them. A ‘D' on a report card? We'd tell them, ‘That's really good!' But we couldn't fool Cisco."

In junior high, Pinedo got an after-school job at a reupholstery shop. He'd pull the stuffing out of old couches and chairs, then watch the skilled workers remake them into showpieces. By deconstructing them, he saw how they were made. The antiques had crafted pieces of wood nailed together; they were covered in wool and cotton and finished with natural oils instead of stains.

The newer ones were assembled fast and cheaply with plastic and staples. He liked the traditional way better. "Hand-crafted furniture is something to hold on to," he says. "You don't see it tossed out onto the street."

AN 18th century French settee in the San Marino home's living room seems out of place amid the otherwise sleek decor. But it reminds Pinedo of the lessons he learned when he had to go to work full time instead of finishing high school because his father had been seriously injured.

Pinedo labored for years for other upholstery companies. Then, in 1985, he married his high school sweetheart Alba, and bought a house in South Los Angeles that was 600 square feet, the same size as the stone house in Mexico. "It was abandoned, with no doors or glass in the windows and trash was piled up outside, but we could afford it," Pinedo says. "We put in all the elements that made it our home."

They started a family there and in 1990, their business.

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