Converso has opened its first-ever West Coast showroom, a new haven for design lovers who want to get an up-close look at rare and one-of-a-kind works by the most iconic designers of the century. Following a successful debut at Design Miami/ with a special presentation of never-before-seen works by Albert Frey, founder Lawrence Converso opened the 2,200 square foot showroom on Beverly Boulevard as both an exhibition space and platform for programming themed around modern design.
Outside the showroom, a camouflage awning by artist Artsu Ono frames the window that gives you a glimpse of the showroom’s current features, which include: a sculpted coffee table by the late Wendell Castle, a rare Phillip Johnson Tripod lamp, a torch-cut table by Isamu Noguchi, and more. We couldn’t help but want to know more about the unique objects inside the showroom so we caught up with Lawrence Converso himself to talk us through his favorite items and the exciting events to come.
Why did you pick this city?
I’ve had a long relationship with LA from the earliest days of my career, starting with the Rose Bowl back in the day all the way to Palm Springs Modernism which we’ll participate in again this February. So many of my friends and fellow dealers are here on the West Coast. We’re based in Chicago, so we’ve always functioned as a kind of Midwestern hinge between the East and West Coast markets. We also saw consistently in Tribeca that a lot of our best designers were working with clients on both coasts, so we felt it a necessary convenience to be present here so their clients could encounter the pieces in person. Our online business has really exploded the last several years and, again, so many of those clients are here on the West Coast.
We also liked that this neighborhood has a long history of strong dealers, starting with the real pioneers like Skank World and Fat Chance. All our friends like Adam Blackman (Blackman/Cruz), Joel Chen, Gerard O’Brien are a stone’s throw away. This is actually the old Lawson Fenning space and that’s still a muscle memory for a lot of people: they even come in looking for the old staircase. It’s a good choice for us.
What’s one of the challenges you had with opening the showroom?
We have super tight logistics and it really takes discipline to run a store in Manhattan from our workshops in Chicago and we do it well. But the distance here is still triple the distance from Chicago to Manhattan. Nevertheless, we’re committed to refreshing the showroom regularly and being very present here. We’ve hired a great Gallery Director, Katie Nartonis, who’s coming to us from Bonhams and knows LA intimately and we’ve spent a pretty big chunk of the fall here in LA preparing this space. That focus is not going to let up.
What other stores have you worked in before opening this one?
I’ve progressed from a solo dealer handling every phase of the business and participating in the major design fairs as they’ve evolved to now having three locations in the three major markets in the US, with commensurate staff. The business really demands heavy involvement in the auction world as well as strong online platforms. In terms of the expertise of my staff, many of them have run their own stores, worked for major contemporary design brands, or functioned as auction specialists for major houses. It’s a pretty seasoned crew that also includes professional photographers and expert craftsmen working full time for Converso.
What’s your favorite item in the store right now?
There are too many!
I love the Eames Storage Unit (ESU). The originals are super rare and I’ll always be an Eames fan. It’s something that feels really satisfying to acquire, it’s just such a good design.
The Monumental Argente Cabinet is really the best of the best when it comes to Paul Evans material.
The torch cut, aluminum Noguchi Table is a great, late example from one of the most important figures of 20th century Art and Design. It’s an incredible opportunity to acquire his work.
The Phillip Johnson lamp, originally designed for the Glass House, is a museum level piece, there are less than 5 in existence. We showed it in Miami and received interest from the Glass House itself, as well as top international architects shopping for their own collections.
The massive redwood table by Rufus Blunk, son of the great JB Blunk, is just a flat out gorgeous piece of California craft. There’s even a position for a live planting in the middle.
What is this season’s theme?
I think design moves a little more slowly than fashion, other than maybe color, so I’m not sure if there’s a seasonal story. One thing we’re thinking a lot about coming out of Design Miami is how the American Design that we focus on is still a relatively esoteric category to the European market, they just don’t have that much of this material there. The Belgian and French collectors we met are focused on their Prouve Jeanneret, and Perriand, etc., so a lot of our material is still very exotic to them. The Dutch still want to see Frank Lloyd Wright, for example, and we’ve had single owner auctions of Warren McArthur in France. American Design is a strong category they want to explore and we’re very interested in that.
Are you carrying any new products and/or undiscovered gems you’re particularly excited about?
We’re exhibiting a real trove of Mario Dal Fabbro sculptures that we acquired directly from his family for the first time on the West Coast. These have already found their way into important Manhattan projects. He was from a family of craftsmen in Milan, trained as a sculptor, and then came from the US and played important behind-the-scenes roles in offices like Knoll and McCobb. He’s a really interesting crossover figure just reemerging, the pieces are incredible, and they’re already some of our first sales in LA.
Any special events/exhibits/pop ups/collaborations coming up?
We have some pretty exciting projects coming up. We’re really interested in Argentina and how the dialogue around Concrete Art intersected with post war German Design, it’s something that the LA/LA Getty shows just sort of touched on without fully exploring and we have relationships with some of the original figures who are now in their 80’s and 90’s and still working. That should be incredible. We’re also exploring a full on gallery swap with our friends in Rotterdam. New York is just as active, with a Arturo Pani/ Pedro Friedeberg show in the works. Stay tuned, there’s a lot coming!
Do you have anything from the store in your own home?
I’m lucky to live in a great space in a great neighborhood in Chicago, Hyde Park, which is where the University of Chicago is and where there’s been a lot of architectural experimentation. I live in an Y. C. Wong Atrium home (Actually, two that I’ve connected around the central gardens). It’s a completely blank, ivy covered cube from the outside, no windows at all, inside every room has floor to ceiling windows that look out into the garden and the pond. I fill it with pieces that I have really personal connections to: my dining room is mostly furniture by the LA architect Craig Ellwood. I also have collection of his paintings that hang in my living room.
What’s next for you and the showroom?
We’re looking forward to Palm Springs Modernism in mid February. It’s such a combination of a great location, a laid back vibe, and a really focused client base. We’ll be doing the fair and we’re also thinking through a collaboration with Iwan Baan, the contemporary photographer of Albert Frey, who we just focused on in Miami.
What’s one lesson you’ve learned since opening your showroom?
The objects speak for themselves but this is a designer driven business. You have to get the word out.
If you could give one piece of advice to someone who wants to follow a similar path to yours, what would it be?
I probably shouldn’t say this, but you better be able to drive and text. It’s a numbers game, you have to look at countless objects, I’ve probably passed on more good finds without knowing what they were than what I’ve needed up with. You have to be ready to work your ass off for decades. And be endlessly fascinated by design. The last is the most important, I’m fascinated by each and every object.
Visit Converso at 7257 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90036.
Showroom photos by Sam Frost.