Our Laguna: Four generations celebrated at event

Von Hemert Interiors is one of the oldest stores under the same ownership in Laguna, but one of the newest in design.

Generations of von Hemerts have worked in family stores for 90 years. The family celebrated the anniversary with a grand reopening of the Laguna Beach store after more than 10 months of remodeling to the interior and exterior. The family also owns stores in Costa Mesa and Torrance.

"We have a loyal customer base who still come(s) in with stories of our grandparents delivering furniture in the back of their station wagon," said Carrie von Hemert, vice president and a member of the fourth generation to run the family business. "It started when my grandmother opened our first store in Los Angeles 90 years ago.

"My great-grandmother, grandfather, parents and now my siblings and, I have worked for the company and expanded it to what it is now.

"The Laguna store is the crown jewel of our three stores and that is why we decided to do a very special rejuvenation at this location. This is not only going to be a delight for our customers, but a tribute to our family."

The family moved to Laguna Beach in 1953, when von Hemert matriarch Anna wanted to retire. The first Laguna store was where the Bead Shop is now. Later the shop was down the street on a parcel that eventually became a gas station.

After Anna retired, her son Theodore von Hemert Jr., known as Ted, leased a store in North Laguna where von Hemert Interiors still is. The family eventually bought the building.

Ted's son, Barry, joined the company after graduating from college with a business degree. Father and son opened two more stores and Barry was sent to Europe to search for new furniture manufacturers. He and his wife, Sue, traveled to Italy and Spain, and then China, and began to directly import one-of-a-kind pieces to add to the American-made furniture bought in Highpoint, N.C., Mecca for furniture stores.

"Our pride in our pieces comes from our long line of knowledge and travel to Europe for many years, where our offerings are hand selected by the family," Barry von Hemert said. "We pay special attention to inlays, finishes, sizings and no detail is too small or unnoticed.

"I believe the attention to the specialties of our pieces is what brings our loyal customers back and their next generation coming back for years and years."

The fourth generation of von Hemerts has continued the tradition of annual European buying trips.

Son Mickey, now president of the company, joined the firm in 1987 when his grandfather partially retired. Mickey's expertise is purchasing, merchandizing and sales management.

His sisters Kelly and Carrie joined the firm in 1992-93 after graduating from college. Kelly's degree is in business administration. She is the chief financial officer.

"I do the marketing and PR," Kelly said. "Mickey sets the vision and does the buying."

Carrie majored in interior design in college and started her career in Laguna.

"My great-grandmother started the business and the reopening of the Laguna store is very sentimental for us," Kelly said at the reopening.

Barry retired in 1999, still a co-owner of the business with his wife.

A decade later, the younger generation decided to remodel the store as a tribute to their great-grandmother and the von Hemert tradition.

Laguna Beach architect Bob McGraw designed the remodel.

Only the front wall and back section of the building are left from the original building, McGraw said at the reopening.

Walls were brought up to city code. McGraw arched the front entrance. Glass doors with iron tracery are centered between show windows on either side of the front of the building, which is faced with rough cut stone.

A skylight was added to flood the interior with light.

"It is wonderful how they have opened up the building," said Ann Weisbrod, who attended the opening with her husband, Peter.

Red Point builder Dave Shipp of Laguna was the contractor.

Barry and Sue chose much of the custom-designed tiles that face the arched entry, assisted by Georgia Shuwall, design consultant with at Mission Tile West. The tiles are reproductions of the colorful 1920s Malibu pottery line.

Laguna Beach glass artist John Barber created the jellyfish-like fixtures on the façade of the building, in keeping with the beach locale of the store.

Stickley furniture is showcased inside, as well as imported Italian furnishings, accessories and design books to guide your selections and how you how to use what you buy.

The reopening of the Laguna store celebrated the family's 90-year history in the furniture business and paid tribute to Anna von Hemert, whose legacy the family cherishes.

Anna and Theodore von Hemert Sr. and Theodore von Hemert Jr. left Europe in 1909 and came to the United States via Mexico.

She later married Fred Martin, and they opened the Martin and von Hemert Design Studio in 1920 in Los Angeles. The family believes the store was on Sunset Boulevard.

The three-story building included drapery and custom upholstery workrooms, among the first to produce hand-quilted upholstery. Luxurious fabrics were sold by the "cut-yard."

The younger Theodore apprenticed with interior designers in New York for two years after graduating from college, then joined the family business, designing model homes in Beverly Hills and the surrounding area and movie sets before moving to Laguna with his mother.

OUR LAGUNA is a regular feature of the Coastline Pilot. Contributions are welcomed. Write to Barbara Diamond, P.O. Box 248, Laguna Beach, CA 92652, call (949) 380-4321 or e-mail coastlinepilot@latimes.com.

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