Superlatives Throne Around in a Crosstown Rivalry

Times Staff Writer

Furniture pros in downtown Los Angeles didn't stand for it when rivals in West Hollywood got their big chair.

They got themselves a bigger one.

So now there are dueling giant chairs outside the Pacific Design Center and the L.A. Mart in an impromptu furnishings feud that is sitting well with interior designers and admirers of outdoor furniture alike.

The modern-looking, dining room-style stainless-steel seat outside the Pacific Design Center at Melrose Avenue and San Vicente Boulevard was installed in October 2002.

The classic-looking, kitchen-style wooden straight-back chair outside the L.A. Mart near Broadway and Washington Boulevard was installed in October 2003.

West Hollywood's chair is 25 feet high.

Los Angeles' chair is 40 feet high.

Ours is built to "reflect the creative design and the clear and unmistakable landmark" that West Hollywood's 1.2-million-square-foot, 130-showroom site has become, said Charles Cohen, president of the Pacific Design Center -- which describes itself as "the largest facility of its kind on the West Coast."

"Ours is the world's largest chair," says Caryle Fox, a receptionist at the 724,000-square-foot, nearly 300-showroom L.A. Mart -- which its operators describe as "the largest permanent market center in the Western United States."

The Pacific Design Center commissioned its chair from the Playa del Rey firm of Selbert Perkins Design.

A similarly scaled stainless-steel replica of a lamp was built by the firm for another corner of the center's property.

Known for its design of the colorful ring of 100-foot lighted glass pylons at the entrance of Los Angeles International Airport, Selbert Perkins calls its chair the "Seat of Design."

Firm President Robin Perkins wanted an eye-catching design that would be instantly recognizable to people passing by the Pacific Design Center in cars, said John Lutz, the company's senior design director.

"We wanted an international symbol that could speak to an international audience, something very simple," Lutz said.

L.A. Mart operators got their chair from a consortium of Italian furniture makers purely by luck. The seat was originally a gift to the Chicago Merchandise Mart from Promosedia, an association of chair and table manufacturers in Manzano, Italy.

Built of solid oak, the 24-ton seat stood outside the Chicago showroom center last summer for the 35th annual NeoCon world trade show. As winter approached, Chicago mart operators took it down to prevent it from getting an unstylish and unwanted weathered look. They shipped it to Los Angeles in the fall.

"It's fairly weather-resistant. It has a polyurethane finish. But we thought we'd send it out to the L.A. market," said Mark Falanga, vice president of Merchandise Mart Properties, Inc., which manages both the Los Angeles and Chicago furniture marts.

Although the chair can be disassembled and packed up, there are no plans to send it to other furniture centers managed by his firm, Falanga said.

Despite the local boasting, the L.A. Mart chair is not the world's largest, Merchandise Mart Properties spokeswoman Joanna Mineau said. It is a slightly smaller version of a chair displayed in Italy by Promosedia that is considered the biggest.

"So it's actually America's largest chair," Mineau said of the reddish-stained seat -- which visitors drive beneath as they enter the L.A. Mart parking lot.

The chair's legs are bolted to four large concrete anchors. It takes up six parking spaces.

"Nobody's hit the chair yet," said Cheak Eng, a Mart parking lot attendant. "But we send trucks around the other way just to play it safe."

Those passing under the chair sometimes don't realize they've driven beneath furniture until they park and have an opportunity to actually gaze up at it.

"You almost expect to look up and see Lily Tomlin sitting in it," said mart visitor Janet Manning of Riverside, referring to the actress and the oversized chair she uses in her "Edith Ann" comedy sketches.

Richard Medina, a bakery worker from Riverside, praised the chair's solid construction. "They need a huge fake wedding cake sitting on top of it. We could do it," he said.

Actually, say L.A. Mart officials, they are considering placing a giant fake gift box on the chair during periodic gift shows that are staged there. The next large exposition planned at the mart, however, is NeoCon West, a commercial interiors conference planned for March 25-26.

Across town in West Hollywood, operators of the Pacific Design Center say their chair was custom-created "to reflect the pure nature of the innovative design industry."

Perkins' "Seat of Design" is accompanied a few hundred yards away on Melrose Avenue by the lamp, which is called "Illuminating Design."

A planter with flowers and succulents stands beneath the silver-colored chair, which stands out from the dark blue glass exterior of the main design center building.

The chair's steel-mesh seat, brushed-steel finish and sleek lines fit in nicely with the center's modern architecture, its fans say.

"It's a little plain, but I like that chair. It's a good symbol for this area," said passerby Josh Ankrum, a customer service representative who lives in West Hollywood.

Laura Ng, executive management assistant at the Pacific Design Center, was surprised to hear of L.A. Mart's big chair.

"They have one too? Outside?" she said. Then, jokingly, she added: "They copy everything we do."

The center's chair may not have been designed in Italy -- "but it was written up in an Italian paper," Ng said.

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