Furniture | The Cult Shop

LA Studio

An eclectic Spanish antiques emporium that mixes 20th-century classics and pure theatre.

October 30 2011
Paul Richardson

The name is cool and Californian, the location downtown Madrid at its grungiest. LA Studio, in the Rastro district – heartland of the city’s antiques and bric-a-brac trade – was once a garage, and you can still see the original textured, sloping floors and rolldown door. These, along with the walls, are now painted in striking colours: dark grey, white and gold.

The exterior gives little idea of the wonders inside. Where other antiques emporia just exhibit their wares, LA Studio applies a dose of theatre. The 700sq m showroom is a series of invented living spaces in which, for example, a 1950s Mies van de Rohe chair (€825) and a 1960s Italian sofa with Warhol “camouflage” print (€2,450) sit alongside a gold-leaf covered palm tree light (€2,550). It specialises in furniture and objets from 1910 to 1970, though you might find a piece of 1980s work from the Memphis Group if LA’s owner, Carlos López , took a fancy to it.

“This is the continuation of a business that’s been going for many years,” he says. As a child, he was excited by the furniture he saw in 1940s American films. “When I wanted to set up in business, it was clear I’d specialise in the 20th century – that was what I really felt.”

The shop opened in 2001 and, for design gurus such as Dolce and Gabbana – who adore it and have worked with López on the interiors of their shops – film folk including Pedro Almodóvar and Alejandro Amenábar, not to mention magazine editors, set designers, interior decorators and other paragons of style, LA Studio represents a unique and irreplaceable resource.

Its philosophy is eclectic, with a mix-and-match approach that avoids historicism and pastiche. Furniture of the mid-20th-century is often reupholstered with contemporary fabrics, although leather is preserved if possible. López loves the contrast of a hand-painted Clash tour poster (€1,200) hanging above a 1950s cabinet (€2,850) from a grand house on the Champs-Elysées.

To say López is fond of the pieces he deals in is an understatement. He and co-worker Adelino Garcia have been known to drive thousands of kilometres to Belgium and France, for example, to buy an item. (Most of the stock is sourced outside Spain, where the taste for vintage is widespread, and lucrative.)

On my recent visit, López was keen to point out some new favourites: a roulette wheel hidden in a 1940s table (€6,500), for clandestine games in wartime France, and a 1960s Italian cocktail bar in chrome and grey velvet with matching stools (€2,300). A totally “pop” multicoloured cabinet, a glorious rarity from 1950s/ 1960s Italy, was priced at €2,850 – a good €1,000 cheaper than you might find in Paris, London or Milan.

The key to López’s success is his passion for his merchandise. LA Studio is not about received taste but encouraging an individual take. “I believe the greatest mistake is doing something simply to be in fashion. That always leads to failure,” he says.