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Arte de Mexico expands but still relies on network of artisan families

Arte de Mexico, known for artisan-made lighting and furniture, expands its NoHo showroom

A dead-end street in North Hollywood is an unlikely place to find a mecca of handcrafted design, but it exists. Arte de Mexico's North Hollywood showroom, open seven days a week, recently has expanded to about 250,000 square feet of space, up from 200,000.

Inside the labyrinthine warren of rooms are embellished wrought-iron chandeliers, intricately carved wooden doors from Indian palaces, even a carbon copy of the Resolute desk that sits in the Oval Office.

"This where you go to find something exotic, exceptional and different," says owner Jerry Stoffers. "You can't find these in Ikea."

For more than 40 years, Arte de Mexico has been unobtrusively helping designers all over the world find or custom-make exquisite pieces of lighting, furnishings and décor that speak of Old World elegance and craftsmanship. The family-owned business has done work for celebrities such as Michael Jackson and Oprah Winfrey. Its handcrafted pieces grace hotels ("The Venetian, Caesar's Palace, practically all the casinos in Las Vegas," Stoffers says), university campuses, even amusement parks.

By marrying the fast-disappearing skills of artisan families around the world with efficiency and modern technology, Arte de Mexico eases the process of realizing the lavish designs for exacting clients.

The shop specializes in custom lighting, which makes up about half its business. Arte de Mexico creates prototypes in-house. Once the client is satisfied, the shop generates technical drawings, which are communicated to its network of artisans. After the hand-forging or handcarving is done, the lighting fixture will make its way back to Arte de Mexico's shops to be wired and finished. The shop is currently working on wrought-iron lamps for USC as well as a large chandelier for Disneyland.

The same process applies for commissioned furniture.

Stoffers launched the business after leaving the U.S. Navy post-Vietnam. He took a trip to Mexico to "surf and flirt with girls" and chanced upon artisans in their workshop. Stoffers fell in love with their work. He subsequently rented a U-Haul trailer, drove it to Mexico and filled it with $300 worth of goods he purchased. Stoffers began selling the items on Hollywood Boulevard and met with continued success.

Arte de Mexico now employs about 80 people and works with more than 100 artisan families around the world. His son, David, has helped him run the company for three decades, but Stoffers says he has no plans to take a break. "I'll stop when I drop dead. If you love what you do, it's never work."

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