Joel Chen with his daughter Bianca at their showroom on Highland Avenue. Photo by Frances Anderton.
FROM THIS EPISODE
You can love or hate its cheap, cheerful furnishings, but “if it wasn’t for IKEA, most people would have no access to affordable contemporary design. The company has done more to bring about an acceptance of domestic modernity than the rest of the design world combined.”
That was the conclusion of Icon magazine, written in 2005.
This weekend, IKEA’s founder Ingvar Kamprad died at the age of 91. He went from being the son of farmers in southern Sweden to the world’s 8th richest person. Swedish-born, Fredrik Carlström runs a furniture company called Austere, and he has consulted with brands including Ikea. DnA reached him at his office in New York and asked, how his native country is reacting to Kamprad’s passing.
“I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that Ingvar Kamprad is the biggest entrepreneur that Sweden has ever had,” says Carlström, explaining that Kamprad was so beloved people forgave him the “blemishes” on his life, such as his support of fascist causes in his youth, and leaving Sweden for Switzerland to avoid paying his country’s high taxes.
Carlström also points out that IKEA has much to teach about branding, saying the company “has a tremendously strong culture bordering on religious” with everyone from the “chairman down to the person at the checkout register” focused on its core values of creating a “better everyday life for many people.”
An IKEA store in Frisco, TX.
Swedish IKEA founder Kamprad dies at 91
IKEA has changed the way we think about furniture
IKEA: a rebellion in flat-pack
Ingvar Kamprad, Founder of Ikea and Creator of a Global Empire, Dies at 91
Ingvar Kamprad: “The Testament of a Furniture Dealer”
Echo Park might be considered a case study in gentrification, from the renovation of its lake to third-wave coffee shops lining Sunset Boulevard. Now the City of Los Angeles is looking to radically transform the neighborhood directly southwest of Echo Park, bordered by the 101 and 110 freeways. An ordinance submitted to the Department of City Planning proposes creating a "North Westlake Design District," which means approving more mixed-use buildings, adding pedestrian bridges at the expense of parking spots, and imposing regulations on everything from signage and design to the paint color of the buildings.
The only problem? The neighborhood already has a name – Historic Filipinotown – and a strong cultural identity. Activists who created the Coalition to Defend Westlake in an effort to defeat the ordinance argue that it would exacerbate gentrification and lead to the displacement of low-income tenants in the historically immigrant community. The Coalition to Defend Westlake recently hosted two community meetings to discuss how the plan will affect the neighborhood.
Reporter Jennifer Swann talks to DnA about the mixed reaction in the community, how the ordinance might change the neighborhood and why some residents, like Arturo Garcia, are prepared to “fight” a design district “up to the end.”
Read the draft design guidelines for North Westlake Design District
Creating a ‘design district’ in Westlake is bound to cause displacement, activists say
Planning Department Releases Draft Design Guidelines for North Westlake
Los Angeles is full of people buying and selling furniture and decorative arts. But one of the most respected - and incurable - is Joel Chen.
Chen first opened a store trading in Chinese antiques on Melrose Place over 40 years ago, and now owns three spaces totaling around 65,000 square feet on Highland Avenue. JF Chen contains a huge and eclectic collection of carefully chosen and carefully staged chairs, tables, sofas, armoires, sculptures and odd artifacts encompassing painted Italian, English Regency and midcentury modern. In Chen’s words he has “dabbled in 30s, 40s, 50s and all the way to the 80s,” becoming along the way a leading collector of Memphis designer Ettore Sottsass.
Now Chen is thinning his collection by a tiny amount. Later this month over 300 of his prize pieces will go on sale at Christie’s auction house. Among the objects to go on the auction block: a Sam Maloof rocking chair, an 18th century Chinese blue and white ‘Lotus’ vase, a Carlo Mollino chair, a desk lamp by Greta Magnusson Grossman and two vases by Sottsass.
While Chen says he is very flattered by Christie’s interest, this validation comes as no surprise to his longtime followers, who include interior designers, museum curators and individuals, from the late Gene Kelly and Elizabeth Taylor through to Moby, Justin Timberlake, Adele, Robin Williams, Ellen deGeneres and Kanye West. West, by the way, is a fan of 40s and 50s French furniture such as the designer Jean Royère.
DnA talks to Chen about a life in antiques -- launched by a perceived racial slight -- and hears from his daughter Bianca about growing up with a design connoisseur father who created a beautiful bedroom but “all I wanted was to put up my Depeche Mode posters on my walls and he would not let me.”
They also share how they are adapting to a industry now dominated by the internet -- where you can find everything online and buy something in three seconds, but the thrill of the hunt is gone, and today’s shopper “no longer needs to go anywhere.”
Inside JF Chen’s showroom on Highland Avenue. Photo by Frances Anderton.
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