I stopped in to the massive, two story showroom of Lawson-Fenning on the famous Melrose Avenue lately to take some pictures and interview one of their founders, Glenn Lawson. Glenn was still finishing up a meeting when I arrived, but the showroom staff were more than accommodating, as soon as I stepped through the front door – a refreshing change of pace from the usual upturned noses I encounter on my day-to-day adventures at showrooms. (Gracie Studios was also excellent in this regard, and you should check out my previous blog post on them if you haven’t already)
Obviously, we only feature the best of the best, so Lawson-Fenning’s furniture is, of course, top quality, handmade, all locally sourced in California. But if you’ve ever wanted to hear tips from an industry leader on how to pick out furniture, the famous humor of the Austrians, and most importantly: an introduction to entry-way design theory and philosophy, then read on!
Eric: So what is Lawson-Fenning, and why is it known as a unique space in the design world?
Glenn: We started our first line in 2000, as a small, vintage inspired line to fill some gaps in the furniture market at the time, which wasn’t very Mid-Century focused, Traditional and Transitional pieces were more the thing. So we came up with a small line to fill the needs of clients, and then it quickly grew over-time, as there weren’t a lot of people doing it back then.
And now, here we are, 18 years later. And since then we’ve really honed in on our focus of American made, good quality, everything is made here in LA. We source all the wood ourselves. We are sensitive to the kind of furniture people want to live with for a long time, so that is the sort of market that we go after, people who are looking for heritage pieces they want to keep, and hand down. Not disposable stuff.
E: What’s the benefit of going with something hand crafted as opposed to mass produced?
G: That you can hold onto it for longer, and that you can give it to your kids, so it has many lives. Our pieces are not too trend driven, they’re not too crazy. We do simple, useful, comfortable, classic pieces that can work in a variety of interiors, throughout their life. So, if you move to a different house, if you are updating your style, they’re pieces that should be able to work in a variety of environments. I think that’s a real keystone for that.
The other thing is that we all were raised on Ikea, and shopping at Ikea, and I think we’re all at the point now where we’ve thrown that stuff out, at least one to two times. And we don’t want to buy furniture that we know we’re going to throw out. It just seems wasteful, and silly. I know our clients, and us personally, we’re looking for pieces that we can keep, that we can live with forever, or for a very long time. That we’re not just going to have to throw out in ten years and have to buy again. So they may cost a little more in the front end, but in the long term, it ends up being a good value.
E: What is it about California and LA in particular that influences the work that you do?
G: For us, it’s the light, the beach, the mountains. Outside, in Los Angeles, is so incredible and so enticing. For me to be able to go to the beach, go hiking, go skiing, to do a multitude of outdoor activities in a really inspired way, is really important to us. And we’ve always looked a lot at the landscape here: the colors, the textures, the materials. Everything we do is sourced directly from the southern California aesthetic, either visibly or the lifestyle, which is more casual, more laid back, a little more European - where it’s more easing into the world, not going full force.
E: What would your dream entry-way to a house look like?
G: That’s funny, we were just talking about this, because I’m building a house. We kind of landed on this idea of separation of spaces. So, having a main house that has all of your public rooms, living room, kitchen, TV room, whatever. And then sort of having a master suite that is a separate building that is across from the house. Having this private retreat that’s away from the kids, we entertain a ton, so a place where you can have your own little space. And we conceived of this entryway where you enter through the middle, and it’s screened with a fireplace, and it’s just a place to pause and be without committing to where you’re going to go, sort of where everyone can kind of come together.
And we have this advantage of this incredible environment where we can be outside most of the year. So the idea is that all it has to have is a little roof, and a little screen - or not, and it’s good to go.
E: What’s something you see when you go to a friend’s house, and maybe they aren’t very design oriented, that a normal person could do to improve their house?
G: I think the couch is super important, I think you can work the whole room around the couch. Just because it takes up so much real estate, it’s kind of the first thing you see. It’s usually a lot of fabric, a lot of leather, a lot of whatever, so I think that if you’re going spend money or spend energy on one piece, I think it’s it, and you can build the room around that.
I also tell people not to be afraid of what they like, and what they want to live with. I get a lot of clients who are like, “should I buy this?” and my answer is always: “Do you like it? Do you want to live with it?” because you shouldn’t be afraid of what you like, live with what you love and then the space sort of sings.
I think people sense that, you know I have pieces in my house that are nothing special, but I love them, and I’ve placed them in a way that feels special, so people respond to them in the space, and they kind of get my vibe and my energy and they feel comfortable. I think that’s important because you want to be comfortable in your home, you want other people to be comfortable in your home, so if you buy all this stuff that you think looks good, or you think is the thing you should be buying, it maybe won’t translate as well as the things you actually love.
E: I think that’s good advice in general
G: Totally! Live with what you want. And for some people, that’s a bunch of pillows on the floor, and cool!
E: Yeah! Very bohemian. So what’s on the horizon for Lawson-Fenning and what do you think is on the horizon in general for design?
G: In general, that’s a tough one. I think people are heading more towards a cozy, nesting life. I think stark modernism is waning a little bit, and people are wanting to nest. As a reaction to the cultural and political environment, people are wanting a safe, cozy, homey environment. So I see people heading towards that. Regardless of style, just in terms of feeling and energy, I think people want cozy.
For us, we’ve been doing this long enough now, where we can really focus on pieces that we love, both pieces that have been in the line for quite a while, and then new pieces. So we’ve been taking our old favorites, and building collections around them. So, you know, a chair that we’ve loved forever, we’re conceiving of a whole collection around this chair. What would the table look like, what would the cabinet look like, what would the couch look like, and starting to really come up with these little collections that I think are a little more thoughtful than just stand-a-lone pieces. So that’s where we’re headed towards more collection based.
E: What’s your ultimate vision for Lawson-Fenning? When can you take a deep breath and say “We’ve made it?”
G: I think for us, at our core, we’ve always tried to have pieces that appeal to a broad spectrum of people. So for me, it would be for our appeal to be somewhat universal based on aesthetic and comfort, just based on a quality piece that you can really use and live with. I want to be that sort of classic, heritage brand that people look at as like, everyone can use a piece of it somewhere in their life.
E: So, the showroom is open to the public, not just designers in the industry.
G: Yes, correct.
E: what’s something that people should know before they come in, or what can you say to people who might not know a lot about design, but want to up their game a little bit?
G: For us, we’re really focused on the customer interaction. So we have people here are really great, and can really help with fabrics, or color schemes, and things that people kind of trip over that are hard for people to do. We like to be able to provide that for people, because we do everything custom, everything is to order. Everything on the floor is available, but we’re not stocking, so if you come in and you want a couch, we’ll make it for you and we’ll make it 6 inches longer, and 3 inches deeper and with the fabric you really want, so every piece is really made to order for that specific customer. Which is a nice touch, I think.
E: Do you have any last words or anything you want to get off your chest?
G: [laughing] Oh man, I think you might have to turn the recorder off! No, I think that hits all the notes. Our big thing is that we’re local. Oh, I think another thing that we didn’t really hit on, a direction we’ve been moving in lately is a more collaborative environment. So, me and my partner Grant, are the two designers. And we co-design everything, but we’ve been really reaching out to a wider circle of makers that we know: textile artists, ceramicists, woodworkers, other people, and doing collaborative lines with them. Which for us, is really where the magic happens. Where we can collaborate with someone who has a completely different skill level and expertise level. And come up with a great product that works for both of us. So we’ve been doing a lot of collaborations lately and their really fun and I think we’ve come out with some great products as a result.
E: Who would be your dream collaboration?
G: Well, we did it, to be honest with you. There is a designer named Carl Aubock. He’s a third generation Austrian bronze-smith, whose foundry has been in the same family since his grandfather founded it at the turn of the 20th Century in Vienna. And I’ve been obsessed with their family and their designs, and their whole culture. The product and the world they’ve created is really beautiful and sensitive, and a little humorous and they just really do great stuff. And I was able to go to Vienna a couple years ago and meet with Carl and we ended up collaborating on a line of hardware which I’m really proud of and happy with, and it was just an incredible experience to work with him directly on that.
There you have it. Glenn knows his stuff, and was very friendly and approachable, if you are ever in Los Angeles and really looking for a great piece of furniture that will last for generations, stop in to one of their two showrooms: In either hip Silver lake, or famous Melrose Avenue, and take a look around.
Written and photographed by