Whether it’s highlighting the linear perfection of a Christian Liaigre coffee table or sporting the minimalist cut of his own Dries van Noten ensemble, interior design impresario Thomas Lavin has proven that he has an indefatigable eye for design. Fuse that eye with his razor sharp commercial prowess and a charmingly cultivated personality and what you have is the winning formula that has fueled his continued success as the owner of Los Angeles’ preeminent interior design showroom.
For over 16 years, his selected range of textiles, lighting, wall coverings, furniture, accessories, and art has given rise to a certain design vernacular that not only pays homage to that undefinable, but very much present West Coast aesthetic, but also showcases the craftsmanship of true masters of design including Christian Liaigre, Maya Romanoff and Magni Home. Lavin is known for representing boutique textile & wallcovering collections such as Christopher Farr CLOTH, Galbraith & Paul, Rosemary Hallgarten (who also creates her own rugs from such locales as Peru, Nepal, and Tibet), as well as international giants such as Romo, JAB and Zimmer-Rohde. In the lighting realm, he represents several companies, including Fuse and McEwen.
And though Mr. Lavin combs the world in search of the finest furnishings and accessories, this third generation Angeleno is always happy to return to his 1958 modern home in L.A. located in an area he has qualified as truly “heaven on Earth.” With its close proximity to downtown Los Angeles and its unexpected touches of local wildlife, the Hollywood Hills provides him with peace and relaxation whilst being just a stone’s throw away from the eclectic, urban vibe of Melrose Avenue and West Hollywood. Previews® Inside Out recently caught up with Mr. Lavin at his Pacific Design Center showroom to learn more about his personal style, his home and some of the international trends that are shaping the future of Southern California style.
Previews Inside Out What would you say are some of the key trends in interior design that seem to be influencing your clients as well as the brands you represent?
Thomas Lavin When I started in the industry 22 years ago, wall-covering was a rarity. Sometime prior to that, people decided that plain walls were the fashion. However, and excitingly, wall-covering continues to become an important category. For example, we represent the august company, Maya Romanoff. While Maya Romanoff is a major company in the industry, they provide bespoke product that is more evocative of a boutique. A few of our textile companies have also introduced wallcovering that coordinates with their fabrics: Galbraith & Paul and Cloth. Out of San Francisco, we bring Surfaces by David Bonk to the marketplace, which is a hand-screened product that is elegant yet passes the rigors of hospitality.
- LIMITED EDITIONS
Thomas Lavin A few of our manufacturers have begun introducing limited editions pieces. Tuell & Reynolds based in Healdsburg, California created a museum quality bronze cabinet that we have on our floor (located in my office for protection and joy). James Magni designed and made a limited edition cast glass table two years ago that we sold almost upon receiving it at our Los Angeles outpost.
- THE DESIGN PROCESS
Thomas Lavin Another realm in which I have experienced changes is the process itself. Consumers are increasingly knowledgeable about home furnishings and are more engaged in the process. Through this, they can sometimes drive a project that would have been anathema when I first started.
Previews Inside Out We can already see how Millennial culture is beginning to affect how the global luxury consumer lives and shops. Do you think your younger clients have a different perspective on interior design?
Thomas Lavin We continue to learn about the younger clients. I feel that the design industry is finding its way vis-à-vis technology and viscerally. At our price point, the consumer often prefers to see product before purchasing. However, all preliminary work is conducted on the Internet. Due to the expansion of our “global village,” we have more international customers than ever before. They shop around the world and Los Angeles is a major destination for travel. As retail home furnishings have grown and provides appealing goods, our challenge is how we introduce our furniture, textiles, and lighting to the end user. Similar to high-fashion luxury brands, the companies that we present are exclusive and made for a discerning clientele.
Previews Inside Out In addition to Christian Liaigre, who is considered by many as a veritable master, who should we be looking to as the new generation of luxury craftsmen?
Thomas Lavin We represent several important furniture designers, including the iconic Dakota Jackson, whose work is held by several museums. Dakota has just rolled out an extraordinary new collection which is presented in our Los Angeles showroom. Jiun Ho and I have been working together since we both started our companies 16 years ago. Jiun’s work always inspires our customers and me for his breadth and vocabulary. One of LA’s pre-eminent interior designers, James Magni, created Magni Home several years ago and includes furniture and lighting utilising luxurious materials such as cast glass, bronze, and mirror-polished stainless steel. It has been our pleasure to bring Hellman Chang, from Eric Chang & Daniel Hellman out of Brooklyn. While they are newer to the marketplace than our other collections, they hit the ground running with unbeatable quality and an updated take on modern furniture.
Previews Inside Out Though many of the brands that you represent are international, would you say that the selections you make for your Los Angeles showrooms reflect a particular Southern California style? Are there any local designers that you recommend discovering?
Thomas Lavin I think as a born and reared Angeleno (even having attended UCLA for university), my point of view is Southern California. We are not formal, enjoy our outdoors most of the year and strive for comfort even in elegance. Certainly as a culture that blurs the boundaries of the interior, outdoor fabric or “high-performance” is the fastest growing segment of the textile market. We represent Giati, Chella, and Link, among others. Giati and Chella are born in Southern California while Link hails from Texas. Each provides a different point of view on what a high-performance fabric may be.
Previews Inside Out In terms of real estate, Los Angeles has become the epicenter of the multi-million dollar spec home, attracting celebrity buyers and international billionaires. Are there any high profile projects that you and your teams have been working on that you could share?
Thomas Lavin We have had so many celebrities come through; every “A-List” celeb. I have met every one of the ladies known only by their first name. Since we are based in Hollywood, we do a lot of work with all of the industry heavies through their interior designers.
Previews Inside Out You have been quoted in saying that your home in the West Hollywood Hills is truly “Heaven on Earth”. Tell us more about why you love it so much.
Thomas Lavin My home evokes quintessential California — on a cul-de-sac in the hills. The only human sound I experience is the Sunday paper hitting the driveway. Otherwise, I hear the hawks and owls that nest nearby; see quail, raccoons, deer, and a lot of coyotes (whose haunting night call is something to behold). And while I can hide out, I can get downtown in 20 minutes for dinner or the Philharmonic. Gary Hutton designed my interior when I moved in, having designed my last house. Gary “got” me more than I did myself. The interior is understated, masculine and modern while incorporating family antiques, 20th century, and my collections of 19th Century Komai work, as well as Arts & Crafts silver.
Previews Inside Out Los Angeles offers a plethora of cultural activities. Are there any in particular for which you are quite passionate?
Thomas Lavin I have had season tickets to the LA Philharmonic since I was 18 and continue to attend annually. My friends and I purchase tickets to many theaters around town that showcase dance including the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and Royce Hall at UCLA. Of course, I lap up museum shows, including recent exhibits as varied as Louie IV’s tapestries at the Getty Center and Mapplethorpe presented at LACMA and the Getty Center, concurrently. The gallery scene in Los Angeles is vibrant. The ACME gallery is a prominent stop on any gallery day and includes such artists as Jennifer Steinkamp, Tamory Dodge, and Amir Zaki. A rising star, who is immensely talented, whip-smart (and kind) is Raffi Kalendarian whose newest show just opened at the indomitable Suzanne Vielmetter. Suzanne has a very powerful program and she, like Randy Sommer and Bob Gunderman from ACME are engaged and supportive of up and coming artist (and collectors) as well as their cache of established superstars.
Previews Inside Out When you need your own retail therapy, what are your go-to shops?
Thomas Lavin I reconnected with one of my friends from high school at Barney’s — she has become “My Lady” when it comes to Fashion. We get to hang out and she keeps me dressed properly for work and play. Garde in Los Angeles is a visual delight with fashion, jewelry,and home accessories. They curate like none-other in the city and I stop in often to see what they have to tease. Down the street from Garde is Hotel de Ville, owned and operated by my friend Javier Brambila. His not only designs eye glasses but brings in the latest from Europe as well as vintage dead stock. If I am in San Francisco, my favorite clothing store in North America, MAC, in Hays Valley. Owned by a brother/sister team, they have the most discerning point of view (and to my liking, have the largest Dries van Noten and Commes des Garçons buy on the continent).
Previews Inside Out As a native Angeleno, I am sure you are equally passionate about dining out. Any recommendations?
Thomas Lavin My friends and I try what’s new. Maude by Curtis Stone is non-pareil when in our fair city for haute cuisine. A sublime experience of molecular gastronomy presented in a California atmosphere. My regular stop is Lucques; Suzanne Goin turns out perfect food at every meal. They have even created the “TL” special for me, which is vegetables of the day.