When announced it was opening a new Los Angeles flagship, the news resonated with collectors. A 5,400-square-foot, two-story space designed by would open in April with treasures abound for collectors in notoriously modern Southern California, and it took many in the design community by surprise.
But is it really so surprising?
"Southern California has been an important market for Christie's for nearly four decades and is now one of our most active regions for new buyers," said Guillaume Cerutti, Christie's chief executive officer, in a statement. "With this new flagship, we are opening our doors to even greater engagement with LA's vibrant arts community and creating a dynamic convening space for both emerging and established collectors."
While today's collectors include homeowners and art aficionados, Los Angeles' particular romance with the industry actually started — and continues to thrive — thanks to set decorators.
"I'll get a call saying, 'Hey, do you have an old-fashioned 1920s ice box?', and then the next call is for something from the 80s," says Ryan Wertz, owner of — a favorite hotspot in the L.A. design community for antique and vintage furniture. "What's nice is I still have the ability to buy older antiques and traditional styles because it's exactly what set decorators are looking for."
Most recently, Wertz sold a set of four walnut office chairs he purchased from the Los Angeles Superior Court and a retro Philco refrigerator to FX's "" show, a spinoff of "Sons of Anarchy." It was exactly the aesthetic the set designers were looking for, and was in the vintage roadside condition the show's plot required.
"Even as the market for traditional antiques has slowed down in Los Angeles in the last few years, [set designers] are always looking for that certain piece that will tie the set together and take you to that specific moment in time," says Wertz. "We have sold too many pieces to the movie and TV studios that we've lost count. From Danish modern and midcentury furniture for 'Mad Men,' to family pieces for 'Parenthood' and 'Modern Family,' to mirror and antiques for 'American Horror Story,' the list goes on and on."
When Los Angeles-based set decorator and interior designer first started work for independent films in the 80s, scouting for period-specific pieces was an important part of the job.
"We'd go to thrift stores, flea markets and antiques shops," she says. "We'd make selections, load them up in our cars and get them to the set."
Ritz, who later won three Emmy Awards and received 4 other nominations for art direction on "Will & Grace," now focuses on more contemporary finds as she decorates for "" and "." Still, she uses the foraging techniques she learned when she first started off to supply decor for her interior design clients' homes.
For certain period pieces, she'll head to shops in Santa Barbara (many antique shops that used to surround Melrose Place are now fashion boutiques). For great Art Deco finds and sun rattan furniture, she'll frequent in West Hollywood. Other set decorators might turn their eye to the , a warehouse of furniture throughout the ages — from a to a — meant to be rented out for filming,
"Los Angeles is really full of vintage pieces and not antiques," says Ritz. "When I'm doing a residence, I head out to New York or Stamford, Connecticut and go to all the antique malls, and shop until my feet hurt. Most of the better antiques coming in from Europe make their stop in New York and don't make it out west."
While traditional antiques (those that are 100 years or older) abound in other large cities, Los Angeles has proven to be fertile ground for Danish mid-century furniture. The collectibles of choice in the city are typically clean-lined pieces from the 50s and 60s, a stark contrast to the shabby chic, chipped-paint trend it experienced in the early 2000s, says Wertz.
A Danish Rosewood bench and drawers, circa-1960, found on .
In the past decade, Los Angeles has witnessed an overall revival in art and design. Perhaps marked by the 2015 opening of the renowned , a contemporary museum in downtown Los Angeles, the city is experiencing a new era for the arts.
"It really started about 10 years ago, and it was maybe because New York was getting so crowded and expensive that a lot of artists ended up moving to Los Angeles so they could get space to work," says Sonya Roth, managing director of the Los Angeles and Western region of Christie's. "It started this boom of culture and activity, and created this really beautiful, interesting community that was really based on the artists, not on the commercial side."
To cater to the more modern tastes of Angelenos, many shops are adapting a new way of displaying older pieces.
"The antique shops have become more like galleries," says Ritz. "You don't have to dig through tables of 20 Tiffany lamps to get to just one item you want. One item is highlighted for you to understand the importance of that item."
The new Christie's flagship understands this trend. It will resemble a showroom gallery where regular curated shows will be featured. Highlights for auction materials will also still make an appearance, but for shorter periods of time.
It's apparent that the modern, angular homes that dot the Pacific Coast may not be filled with the traditional antique brown furniture revered in other collectors' markets. Still, the City of Angels may be forming its own type of tradition: one that boasts vintage finds showcased in a contemporary fashion, a thriving community of artists, and an appreciation for period pieces driven by the film industry. It's this acceptance of blending storied pieces into a modern aesthetic that might just lend the city's collecting scene stamina in the long run.