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Kreiss, the store credited with creating the 'California casual' look, continues its legacy

Kreiss, the store credited with creating the 'California casual' look, continues its legacy
Loren Kreiss, CEO and creative director of Kreiss Furniture, sitting on a mambo swivel chair made out of rift walnut that is part of the Azul collection. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

For the launch of Kreiss 2.0, Loren Kreiss sat in front of his computer in his West Hollywood condominium late one night and cobbled together a basic website. He had no store or products. All he had was the company name and a phone number.

"The phone started ringing at 9 the next morning," he said. "There were people who had been Googling us, looking for a sofa."

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Angelenos who were here in the 1980s will be familiar with the Kreiss name. The furniture brand, which had a 6,000-square-foot store on Melrose Avenue from 1980 to 2012, is widely regarded as the originator of the "California casual" look -- large, comfortable couches, sleek wooden tables, a sea of neutral shades. It was an aesthetic that the company -- originally founded by Loren Kreiss' great-grandfather, Murray Kreiss, in 1939 as an importer of Japanese tchotchkes -- came to symbolize.

Ronald and Nancy Reagan shopped at Kreiss. Magic Johnson and Bruce Springsteen outfitted their homes with its collections. In its heyday, the brand had 24 stand-alone stores and 16 shop-in-shops worldwide. With Loren Kreiss' father, Michael, and grandfather, Norman, at the helm, the Kreiss name, and the look it perpetuated, had spread to Mexico, Canada and Dubai.

"It was about purposely letting the personality of the home come through," Loren Kreiss said. "Natural materials, varied textures, generously proportioned items, and things that are not aggressively designed. There has always been a market for that."

The Aria buffet, made out of solid alder wood, is on display inside Kreiss Furniture in West Hollywood.
The Aria buffet, made out of solid alder wood, is on display inside Kreiss Furniture in West Hollywood. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

That market, however, struggled through the 2008 economic recession. Eventually, stores were shuttered and employees laid off. In 2011, Michael and Norman Kreiss died within six weeks of one another. The business closed its doors.

But Loren, who had been working for the family business, knew he wanted to resurrect it.

"I had ambitious plans," he said. "I remembered that when I was young and asked in school what I wanted to be when I grew up, it was always to take over the family business."

In 2014 Loren Kreiss acquired the rights to the name and elected to restart the brand out of his home.

"I thought, 'What do I have to lose?,' " he said. "We moved out the living room furniture, and wrote orders sitting on the floor."

As orders came in, he returned to his longtime furniture makers around the country and began shipping custom-made couches, beds and coffee tables to his customers. He took on design commissions and scored projects outfitting five-star hotels in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

"This was a company that once had 75 employees and now, here I was, doing everything."

WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA-DECEMBER 1, 2016: A Mambo coffee table with a hand painted finish is on display inside Kreiss Furniture on La Cienega Blvd. in West Hollywood. (Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA-DECEMBER 1, 2016: A Mambo coffee table with a hand painted finish is on display inside Kreiss Furniture on La Cienega Blvd. in West Hollywood. (Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times) (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

A year ago, he opened a 7,000-square-foot store on La Cienega Boulevard in West Hollywood that is, like the original location, an ode to effortlessly chic West Coast style: the U-shaped couches and sectionals, which can run up to 14 feet long, are predominantly in shades of ivory, eggshell and cream. Accents are in hand-finished leather, walnut and limestone.

"We do every category -- rugs, accessories, mirrors, lamps, an outdoor collection. We'll even sell the art."

It all helps make Kreiss a frequent source for designers seeking that signature Californian style.

"I like the focus on natural materials -- the light woods, linen, cotton," said Dina Marciano, founder of Dina Marciano Design in Laguna Beach. "The collection is elegant but also practical. I've used it on a few of my residential projects that are close to the beach, and the aesthetic works very well."

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As breezy as the stylistics might be, it's still a premium line: Sofas start at $7,500 and the U-shape sections go up to $25,000. Queen beds and dining tables are around the $6,500 mark.

"If I trace it back, the big thing for us is we made design accessible," said Kreiss. "People could come into the Kreiss store without a decorator. They didn't have to go into the Pacific Design Center. We were known for our look, plus accessibility. I want to continue that legacy."

La Cienega Design Quarter

Design buffs will be making their annual pilgrimage to the La Cienega Design Quarter next week, where the theme will be "Legends: Your True Colors," a three-day event. Some 53 of the area's design showrooms and boutiques — including Kreiss — throw open their doors to the public for talks, panel discussions, trunk shows and cocktail parties. Other participants include Remains Lighting, Design Within Reach and Kelly Wearstler.

When: May 9-11. (Most public events take place May 10 and 11.)

Cost: $75 per person ticket includes access to most of the events, as well as parking and a shuttle service.

Info: Registration and information, including a map of the participating stores, at lcdqla.com

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