Unless he is entertaining — and his friends do like to hang at his plastic-fantastic bachelor pad — Leon Gazarian is the only living thing in his Encino condominium. If he wants to see plant life, Gazarian looks out the window, past his 1970s chrome and glass étagère and white Verner Panton chairs.
"I have a fondness for the inorganic and synthetic," admits the 40-year-old owner of Opium, a Studio City clothier. "The '70s are my favorite era for fashion, music and interior design."
Gazarian is no lone Qiana-wearing crusader. Others barely out of their Underoos in the '70s are bringing the decade's look home. Modern furniture expert John Sollo says many who "consider 'The Dukes of Hazzard' nostalgia can see the sometimes cute and space-age modern designs of the period with a fresh eye."
Stereotyped as shag rugs and mushroom lamps, '70s décor also has a sophistication that fashion-conscious designers now deem hot.
"Think Studio 54," says David Rago, Sollo's employer at Rago Arts and Auction Center in Lambertville, N.J. That look, he predicts, "is what New York and L.A. decorators are going to put in the homes they are working on for the next couple of years."
Elements of the aesthetic are already an important part of the retail landscape. Leather and metal chairs, glass and chrome ball lamps and mirror-clad furniture are bestsellers in home décor stores.
"We do really extremely well with mirror-top coffee tables," says David Benbow, manager of Mecox in Los Angeles. "People buy them to add a little pop of glam to a room, but they also like to look at themselves. It is L.A."
Upscale vintage furniture galleries report a surge of interest in three '70s designers: The late Paul Evans, an East Coast sculptor known for his cast metal cabinets, created the Art Deco-influenced Cityscape line of furniture covered in a patchwork of metal. New York-based Karl Springer's curved consoles covered in exotic skins were a '70s conversation piece. And Los Angeles designer Charles Hollis Jones redefined Hollywood glamour in Lucite and brass.
These are caviar tastes, a far cry from the popular perception of '70s décor.
"Back then it did seem that everyone had a refrigerator in harvest gold or avocado, the upholstery was all nubby and natural, and those ever-lovin' geometric daisies were everywhere," says Garvin Eddy, production designer of Fox's "That '70s Show."
In one week around Christmas, the Urban Outfitters on Melrose Avenue sold nearly three dozen shag rugs in black, white and, of course, avocado, says women's home manager Emily Hart. "We just added four more colors," she says. "It seems to be what everyone from college students to younger kids is looking for — something fun, poppy."
Along with shag, the current eye candy is Finnish designer Eero Aarnio's Pop-influenced fiberglass ball and bubble chairs. For budget decorators, knockoffs of these classics abound. Gazarian, who isn't a designer dilettante, indulges but has but one rule: "It must be comfortable. I will not suffer for the look."
He notes that the decade was marked by a Modernist revival. "Furniture that was too ahead of their time for most people in the '20s and '30s, like the Mies van der Rohe Barcelona chair, became accepted elements of '70s style," Gazarian says. Designs by Le Corbusier, Marcel Breuer and architect Eileen Gray were sought after, "even by people who didn't consider their taste to be modern."
Hal Meltzer, an artist and a scholarly collector of late 20th century decorative arts, says American Modernism "dropped the ball by the late '60s, and the Europeans ran off with it." Furniture by fashion designers began surfacing in limited numbers in the '70s. Meltzer, who owns a white and silver bedroom suite designed by Pierre Cardin, likens it to "couture for the home."
"It was an age of opulence and vanity," says Judith Lance, a partner in Studio Sofield West, the design firm known for its sleek updates of Gucci stores. "The '70s were more sexy, decadent even."
For a recent home design commission, Lance mixed vintage '70s pieces with elegantly curved custom furnishings made of cast glass, lacquer and Mongolian lamb upholstery. For some, such furniture adds a certain mystique that an instantly recognizable Eames chair no longer exudes.
"Things can become passé so easily," says L.A. designer Jan Appleton, who spent the '70s growing up in a rustic home in the south of England and who says the revival is refreshing. "I gravitate to pieces from the period because I appreciate clean lines and great design that isn't necessarily datable."
At one client's Doheny Estates open-plan home, Appleton punctuated the living room's low-slung contemporary Italian modular seating by Living Divani with an array of '70s international classics. She brought in a molded plastic and leather chair by Yrjo Kukkapuro, a Pierre Paulin lounger reupholstered in orange leather and a bird's eye maple credenza on a chrome base by Los Angeles-born designer Milo Baughman. In the dining room she hung a Verner Panton fixture over a table by architect and industrial designer Ward Bennett, whose work, she says, "every decorator in New York is clamoring for."
"Furniture from the '70s was very daring," Appleton says. "Designers were working with new materials and revisiting Modernist classics and improving upon them. Furniture from the period works very well with California midcentury architecture, and it adds depth and personality in a home that's decorated with contemporary pieces.
"But you can't force the look into a house that doesn't want it. There is a cheeseball side to the '70s. It was a period of recession, and manufacturers were trying to knock off designs that had come before cheaply, so people could afford it. But, of course, that's not what we're all raving about now. The '70s stuff that we love now was impeccably made and expensive even then."
Meltzer knows that firsthand. For almost a year, whenever the inveterate collector of Italian and Scandinavian glass visited Fat Chance in Los Angeles, he was captivated by the Wisteria, a see-through folding screen that was designed by Charles Hollis Jones for Tennessee Williams' home.
"I was awed," says Meltzer, dressed in an Emilio Pucci shirt and jeans and perched in a plastic chair shaped like a giant hand. "It looked like glass — it's really tinted Lucite — and resembled something that Frank Lloyd Wright might've designed. It was extraordinarily expensive at the time, but I've never regretted it."
Meltzer contends that Hollis Jones, who is a part of his social circle, "is the greatest artisan of Lucite in the 20th century." The Wisteria screen is the core of Meltzer's collection, which also includes a Hollis Jones dining table with a pedestal made of cast Lucite poles and a brass-trimmed coffee table from the Metric line that was made for 1960s bossa nova belter Eydie Gorme.
Born in 1955 in Burbank, Meltzer lived "a very traditional 'Wonder Years' type of existence, but I was certainly aware of what was contemporary. I always wanted the chair that looks like a hand or a swan, and the way-out futuristic push-button desk." As a result, he says, he began collecting '70s designs in the early '80s, when many people were rediscovering the fabulous '50s.
"I liked the concept of furniture that does not take up too much presence in a room," he says of the '70s aesthetic. "Because Lucite is functional but also disappears, everything in the room seems to float."
With a commanding view of the San Fernando Valley just off Mulholland Drive, Meltzer's post-and-beam home does have a celestial quality that is emphasized by his transparent furniture and the bold splashes of blue on two upholstered mushroom stools by Pierre Paulin and a swirling Edward Fields area rug. The room is a fine stage for Meltzer's exuberant menagerie of gold-flecked glass birds and candy-colored Venini figurines. The effect is like looking at a rainbow-lighted sky through a cut crystal goblet filled with ice.
At Versailles, Louis XIV built a hall of mirrors to reflect his infinite good taste. Meltzer's front foyer is also lined with mirrors, fewer perhaps than Louis had, but no less pedigreed. One is an Argenta by Paul Evans, a rare piece of metalwork, says its owner, that was discontinued because the manufacturing process was so toxic that it made workers ill. On the opposite wall is "Raindrops," a metallic wall hanging studded with dozens of mirrors by the French decorative sculptor Curtis Jere.
For Meltzer, the '70s was a period of unparalleled creativity. As proof, he points out the rough-hewn steel and brass base of a glass-topped Evans table, which could easily stand alongside the work of sculptor Louise Nevelson. In a study strewn with art reference books and auction catalogs, Meltzer works at a Karl Springer table with a twisted column pedestal painstakingly inlaid with thousands of tiny tiles made from bone and meant to resemble ivory.
Meltzer freely mixes his diverse assemblage of '70s design with pieces from 1955 and 2005. "Everything in the house," he says, "except for one doorstop, was made during my lifetime." On his walls, tribal masks mix with art by Andy Warhol, Keith Haring and Kenny Scharf. A Frank Gehry corrugated cardboard chair sits as an improbable art installation atop his refrigerator.
"I've learned to trust my own eye," Meltzer says. "I like things that explore new territory and aesthetics, even if they are not economical. I religiously go to flea markets, estate sales and thrift shops as well as fine antique stores and major auctions. You never know what is going to strike, and you always have to be prepared to put the money forward."
Gazarian agrees — up to a point. "I respect the purists, but all that matters to me is the look. There doesn't have to be a name attached," says the former Rose Bowl flea market furniture vendor who also works as a production designer for music videos.
"I'm not against paying a good chunk of money for something, but I do like finding deals."
Gazarian's 1,150-square-foot condominium — in a 1965 complex that was developed and owned by pop trumpeter Herb Alpert — is such a deal, a case study in do-it-yourself design with a '70s swing. He painted the entry platinum and covered the floor in gray Pergo, an homage to Andy Warhol's silver-painted studio, the Factory. He created a groovy room divider out of stained glass roundels and steel cable. He turned his bedroom into an office and, at the far end of the living room, where he now sleeps, he painted a wall-sized geometric mural in yellow and orange.
This precisely rendered supergraphic, as they were known in the '70s, travels across the walls, ending in fat stripes of blood orange and black cherry in the dining room. Against that wall, he built a credenza from yard sale metal lockers from a public swimming pool. They are mounted on two trumpet bases in the style of Eero Saarinen's famous dinette set.
His furniture is a mix of period classics, such as Don Chadwick's fiberglass-based modular sofa, a display cabinet from the Gianfranco Ferré store in Beverly Hills, and '60s and '70s pieces without a designer pedigree. The artwork, including a Warhol silk screen, an ubiquitous element of '70s décor, comes from estate sales and, in the case of a rendering of Robert Indiana's "Love," from Gazarian's own hand. It is, he admits, a far cry from the dark woods, French Provincial furniture and Persian rugs of his childhood in Burbank.
"My parents get very upset when I tell them that I don't want any of their things after they're gone," he says, adding that at least they understand.
"I've gotten a mixed response from some of the ladies I've gone out with. A lot of people just don't know what to make of it or think that I'm following a trend, but I've always been into this. What you see here is a visual slice of my brain. It's my atmosphere."
That explains his glossy ebony bathroom — sort of. "It's my signature," Gazarian says. "I always do my bathrooms black because it relaxes me. I know most people go for brightness, but I'm all for artificial light and mood, because you can control it."
David A. Keeps is a frequent contributor to Home. He can be reached at email@example.com.*
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
Vintage furniture, accessoriesCarla Antique Furniture: (323) 932-6064
Chez Camille: (310) 854-3565
Fat Chance: (323) 930-1960
Noho Modern: (818) 505-1297
Pegaso: (310) 659-8159
Reissued and reproductionJules Seltzer Associates: (310) 274-7243, for Verner Panton and Ludwig Mies van de Rohe designs
Room Service: (323) 653-4242, for reproduction bubble and ball chairs
Skypad: (310) 558-8900, for reproduction Breuer, Mies van de Rohe, Le Corbusier
LightingRewire: (323) 937-5254Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times