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Quirk ethic

The man behind the store This Is Not IKEA blends designer labels with garage sale finds, vintage with modern. The result: a look all his own.

March 05, 2011|Lizzie Garrett Mettler

Since moving into his sleek contemporary home in the Hollywood Hills a few years ago, Alexis Hadjopulos hasn't entertained much. Hardly anyone has seen the place. But all that may change. A TV crew has been filming Hadjopulos at the house and at his L.A. store, the vintage home decor emporium This Is Not IKEA, better known as TINI.

"It's crazy," Hadjopulos says of the reality show in development. "I wake up in the morning, and then they tell me to get back into my bed to film me waking up again."

The show is being shopped to Bravo, HGTV, the Style Network, E! and Lifetime, Hadjopulos says, but as co-owner and creative director of TINI, he already has built a fan base with the kind of quirky sensibility and lack of pretense defining a new breed of L.A. tastemaker: the populist connoisseur. There will be no what-are-you-doing-here look from the sales clerk at TINI. Indeed, the unassuming atmosphere cultivated by Hadjopulos and his staff -- more garage sale than gallery -- is precisely why the store enjoys a cult following by design aficionados and neophytes alike. While the former might look to score an original Hans Wegner Elbow chair, the latter couldn't care less about the intricacies of Danish Modern.

"Alexis is not going to try to impress you with his catalog of obscure designers," says Tom Whitman, co-owner of TINI and ThisIsNotIkea.com. "His talent is his natural eye. He knows how to have fun with design. He isn't tied down by the rules."

For Hadjopulos, it's all about the art of the deal -- something he learned very early.

At 13, Hadjopulos found himself staring into a storefront window of Dolce & Gabbana on Via Condotti in Rome. A pair of brown patent leather loafers drew him in like a magnet. Price: $600.

The teenager begged his father to buy them, but the elder Hadjopulos said he would pay for the shoes only if his son could get them for half off. High-end fashion houses in Italy aren't exactly swap meets, so one might think father's demand would have killed son's hopes. But hours later, after several trips back into the store and much charming and pleading with the sales staff, Hadjopulos had the shoes. Price: $300.

"Let this be a lesson," said his father, an architect. "Everything is negotiable. Everything."

Today, Hadjopulos implements what he learned 20 years ago on a regular basis. He negotiates at flea markets and garage sales, not only for store inventory and his interior design business but also for his own home decor. Then there is the house itself.

"The seller was upset for how little he let me have it for, but I think I could have pushed even harder," Hadjopulos said.

The modern two-bedroom house was built in 2008. It has three levels, including a first-floor suite that Hadjopulos rents to a friend. Floor-to-ceiling windows overlook the Hollywood Freeway as it winds through the Cahuenga Pass. Many people don't understand the appeal of having a view of the 101, Hadjopulos says, but to him it's an urban river that provides a calming white noise and sense of movement.

"At night you just see the lights, and it's like looking at a piece of art," he says. "I love it."

Before he landed in this home, Hadjopulos lived on Sycamore Avenue in the Miracle Mile neighborhood and turned to Craigslist when he needed money.

"My dad cut me off, so I started selling my things," Hadjopulos says, adding that he "had no choice" but to leverage his eye for design to make a living.

His store at 515 S. Fairfax Ave. is packed, its stacks of furniture like 10-foot-tall Jenga piles. But his home is pared down, clean and edited. The architecture is decidedly contemporary, but the space bursts with the signature TINI style: eclectic vintage arranged to slightly haphazard effect.

In one corner, a black wall adorned with chalk graffiti faces a white piano that Hadjopulos affectionately calls "the Elton John" and a hanging Eero Aarnio bubble chair, all living together in harmony.

Midcentury designer work appears throughout his house -- Bertoia, Eames, Saarinen -- and some knockoffs too. But Hadjopulos is most proud of what he paid for the designs, regardless of their pedigree or label.

"This couch was $120. That was $40," he says, invoking an encyclopedic memory of past transactions. "I got the pair of those for $35. The table was $40."

Though Hadjopulos seems to have little sentimental attachment to most of the furniture in the house, there is without question one piece that he would never let go: an oversized, early black-and-white image of Daryl Hannah that he scored at a garage sale. He loves its '80s-ness, he loves that it's not a well known photo of the actress, but most of all, he loves that he paid $1 for it.

"I wouldn't sell that photo even if I could get $5,000 for it," he says. "I mean, it might be worthless, but to me it's priceless."

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