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."
The actress' coy gaze looks over an oval marble dining table that Hadjopulos recently purchased at the L.A. store Blueprint (at a discount, of course). The table represents one of Hadjopulos' interior design rules: Invest in one good piece to anchor every room.
In his bedroom, that anchor would be a La Donna lounge chair, with ottoman by Italian legend Gaetano Pesce, bought at Siglo Moderno on Melrose Avenue. The surrealist yellow throne brightens a bedroom where Salvador Dali would have felt at ease: Artificial turf appears in place of a rug (a purchase that Hadjopulos' dog, Rocky, has mistaken for real grass only once). Inexpensive West Elm pendant lamps dangle on both sides of a floating photo on canvas, which fills the space like a headboard. An old parking meter stands in the corner.
"He's not afraid to take risks," business partner Whitman says. "He will put a traditional Midcentury piece and seamlessly tie it in with something like an old motel sign. Most of the time it works."
In the master bathroom, one piece actually did come from IKEA. It's a bathroom mirror, and it serves as a reminder of how much Hadjopulos' life has changed.
"At one point, everything in my room was from IKEA. Everything," he said, referring to his move from Mexico to L.A. to pursue a career in music. For two years he made do with four pieces of furniture: a mattress on the floor, a dresser, a television and a floor lamp.
There's nothing wrong with IKEA, Hadjopulos says. Most people just don't want to feel as if they're living inside a store catalog.
He has moved on. Now that he's about done finding furniture for his home, he's focusing more on artwork. He has invested substantially in three pieces, all by the street artist-turned-gallery artist Mr. Brainwash, a.k.a. Thierry Guetta.
Two Mr. Brainwash silk-screens of John F. Kennedy hang in the bedroom, and at the foot of the staircase, the image of Kate Moss appears over blown-up text from a pulp romance novel.
And the search continues. Hadjopulos still hits flea markets, where he does most of the buying for his store. He has been to all of the majors: Santa Monica Airport, Dodger Stadium (since closed), Melrose Trading Post (where he used to be a seller too) and the Rose Bowl, but his favorite is Long Beach Outdoor Antique & Collectible Market, held on the third Sunday of every month. And if you don't see him there, you might soon watch him wheeling and dealing on your TV. Stay tuned.
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How to score deals
Alexis Hadjopulos scores most of his finds at flea markets. His shopping strategies:
1. Go early. The best items go quickly, so Hadjopulos has started as early as 4:30 a.m.
2. Go late. The best deals are at the end of the day, when the sellers are packing up.
3. Go on rainy days. Demand is low, supply is high.
4. Remember that everything is negotiable. The first price you see or hear is "what the seller dreams he can get." Think of it as a game.
5. Be persistent, but be nice. Vendors hate obnoxious buyers.
6. Keep going. Big markets can be tiring, but the more you look, the more you find.
-- Lizzie Garrett Mettler