stairway to heaven

Adele Cygelman last wrote for the magazine about a house restored by artist Jim Isermann

Jim Evans and Tom Gerst love living above the store. After shuttling from their longtime business, Evans & Gerst Antiques, in Long Beach to a second location in Los Angeles and then to their home in L.A., they were tired of commuting. Now, after relocating to La Cienega Boulevard, their most taxing task is walking up 28 stairs to their apartment.

“I’ve done enough driving,” says Evans. “I’m happy just to go upstairs.”

Along with their dog Loulou (named after fashion muse Loulou de la Falaise), Evans and Gerst, who have been friends since college, inhabit the entire top floor of the building that they purchased three years ago. Living upstairs has another built-in benefit. Clients can climb the discreetly placed staircase and see immediately how the dealers themselves cohabit with a relaxed mix of Continental antiques and slipcovered sofas, or they can instantly assess how a bureau they spotted in the shop would work in a more intimate setting.

It took about six months to convert the former design studio’s first-floor maze of cubbyholes into the store. But dismantling temporary partitions downstairs was easy compared to the renovation necessary upstairs. Offices were gutted, the concrete floor was covered with quartersawn oak planks, and the space was reconfigured into living and dining areas, a library, kitchen and long hallway that now leads to three bedrooms overlooking the back alley.


The 2,600-square-foot neutral-toned apartment reflects their unpretentious style and showcases a lifetime of memories. Valuable antiques and what Evans calls “odds and ends and things we’re stuck with” exist side by side. Hidden under the slipcovers in the living room are a sofa made for Evans’ mother in 1913 and two armchairs that were owned by the influential California decorator Frances Elkins. A pair of gilt sconces on either side of the washed-pine English mantel in the living room belonged to Eva Gabor. Their art collection includes paintings done by Evans in the 1960s, when he studied art, 19th century European oils and works by friends.

Evans, 70, and Gerst, 72, who have been in business together for 26 years, no longer scour Europe for inventory as frequently as they once did. Instead, about 90% comes to them through friends, former clients and Southern California estate sales offering treasures that blend perfectly with the dealers’ 18th and 19th century French and Italian antiques and Oriental accessories.

While they would be happy to sell almost anything in the apartment, there are a few things they won’t part with. A pair of 18th century blue-and-white Chinese porcelain lamps are staying, but the zebra-covered banquettes and ottomans can go at any time. A porphyry-topped side table and a bust from San Simeon are all that remain from the period when Evans worked in the warehouses of William Randolph Hearst’s fabled castle and purchased the antiques that formed the basis of their business.

“I’ve always lived with antiques, but I’ve never been attached to things,” says the genial Evans. “I appreciate them and love the enjoyment of them, but if you have a shop you have to be detached. And there’s always the danger of ending up with a chaotic household.”

Of course, their home life could easily be disrupted by pesky phone calls and intrusive visits outside business hours, but that hasn’t happened yet. “Out-of-towners sometimes drop by on Saturdays,” notes Evans, who adds wryly, “but designers are not famous for working weekends.” Nor is their down time disrupted by their busy street.

“We were afraid it would be noisy, but it’s really quiet and we don’t miss having a garden.” When they do need an outdoor escape, there is a plant-filled balcony. And these days Jim Evans and Tom Gerst are content to simply sit and contemplate the setting sun.