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Salvaged in style

As the do-it-yourself revolution takes to the streets, one L.A. home mixes found furniture with fine art. Risky? Sure, but the reward is a look you won't find at the mall.

June 07, 2007|Craig Nakano | Times Staff Writer

CARRIE CARR knows a good piece of trash when she sees it. Take the kitchen cabinet that she salvaged from an apartment building under renovation and turned into a glass-fronted display case. Or the living room piece -- "my gangsta coffee table," she says -- that she found abandoned in a Chicago alley and repainted in a glossy, Regency-esque black. Or the humble shelf she scooped up off a street corner and now uses as a stage for her collection of McCoy pottery.

"Remember that chair we found on Cloverfield?" Carr asks husband Adam in a wistful voice, as though remembering a childhood pet or a first kiss.

One might wonder what would compel a smart, stylish, perfectly sensible woman to pull over her Lexus 330 and examine debris along streets and alleyways, then haul that debris back to her lovely tree-lined street in L.A.'s Beverly Grove neighborhood. But walk through Carr's house, and the answer is clear. All those discards -- carefully refurbished and thoughtfully placed -- have been given a second life amid flea market finds, new purchases and fine art.

Those armchairs in the living room? They're Baker, found at a church garage sale and reupholstered in a tasteful stripe. The drapes? They're $4-a-yard linen punched up with a fine Greek key trim from Kneedler-Fauchere. One of Carr's latest projects is a dresser she rehabilitated for her first child, Caroline, born 11 weeks ago.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday June 08, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 33 words Type of Material: Correction
Salvaged decor: In Wednesday's Home section, an article on the home of Carrie and Adam Carr included a photo caption identifying the couple's Spanish water dog as Paulo. The dog's name is Pablo.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday June 14, 2007 Home Edition Home Part F Page 7 Features Desk 0 inches; 31 words Type of Material: Correction
Salvaged decor: A June 7 article on the home of Carrie and Adam Carr included a photo caption identifying the couple's Spanish water dog as Paulo. The dog's name is Pablo.

"A lot of people are like, 'Oh, wow, you got that for your daughter's room -- and it's from the trash,' " Carr says, smiling. "The grandparents weren't too pleased."

Indeed, as much as the do-it-yourself movement has become a revolution, Carr's quest to turn castoffs into keepers still raises eyebrows, not the least of which are her husband's.

Exhibit A: One decrepit wingback chair found on 2nd Street. When Carr stumbled upon it, the padding was shot and its upholstery was filthy. The mere reminder of the discovery spurs Adam to shake his head.

"I said, 'No way are you bringing that into the house. I think it has rats in it,' " he remembers. "I didn't even want that thing in my garage."

So the wingback was not allowed in the garage. It was allowed in the master bedroom. And Adam couldn't be more pleased. "I have to trust that she can see things that I can't," he says, motioning toward the chair, which now sports refinished legs, a new seat cushion and fabric from Michael Levine. "I just have to go with it."


DECORATING with secondhand pieces and budget buys, of course, is a matter of necessity for some. For others it's more about the hunt -- the ability to spot potential, to craft a look that friends won't see in stores, to instill memories and histories in the everyday objects of home. When refurbishing pieces can cost as much as buying new, the process has to be a reward unto itself.

"It's a creative thing," says Carr, a commercial talent agent. "It's making something so much better than it was." Or to use one of her analogies: "I get much more satisfaction making a great meal than going out."

In many ways her house is a microcosm of the amateur decorator craze, the legions of DIYers who share the same passion, if not always the same keen eye. Forgot the old L.A. axiom, "You are what you drive." These days, you are where you live. No wonder one of the latest shelter magazine cliches is to equate any shopper of good taste with museum experts vetting art or artifacts. Yes, apparently you are the "curator" of your home.

Overwrought comparisons aside, consumers really do have more ways to express their individuality. The Internet has brought a world of choices. There's EBay, Craigslist, 1stdibs. Plus flea markets are fashionable again.

Though the mallification of America would seem to result in a homogenized marketplace, the reality is that even chain stores are pushing hard to give shoppers more options. IKEA introduces more than 100 new products every year -- "a frequent infusion of fabrics, textiles and colors to encourage people to update their look at home," says Yumiko Whitaker, a Burbank-based spokeswoman for the furnishings giant. The company even has bought its own forests in Europe to fuel the production of new designs.

The rise of redecorating as American pastime has led to new retailers such as West Elm, the budget-minded contemporary furnishings chain whose quick turnover of styles is patterned after the fashion industry. Decorative accessories and color schemes evolve with remarkable speed, especially for an industry that once assumed consumers made purchases to last a lifetime.

"We dramatically change the palette every three to four months," says Alex Bates, the company's creative director and senior vice president of product development. New inventory lands every season, she says, and displays are changed every month -- all to sate consumers' desire for a fresh look.

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