Jul 29, 2014

Le Garage: No Ordinary Antique Store

Bret Blumenthal’s Le Garage Home & Garden in South Redondo Beach offers shabby chic antiques and custom-built furniture.

You can’t categorize Le Garage Home & Garden in any single way.

The shop on Pacific Coast Highway—easily recognizable from the street by the curved green awning and decorously arrayed windows—stocks antiques like stately armoires, wonderful old vanities and mirrors fit for the Palace of Versailles, as well as things for the garden like stone sculptures, potting benches and a bistro set.

Interested in shabby chic? The distressed tables, ornamental sconces and big, upholstered stools are right up the shabby chic alley.

“A lot of people have shied away from using that term,” owner Bret Blumenthal, 46, said. “They will use beach chic, cottage chic, or French country, something along those lines.”

Regardless of what you call it, people come "from all over California" for the one-of-a-kind rustic pieces, Blumenthal said. Just as designers searching for unique items—antique ceiling tin, say, or a Belgian corbel—find them at Le Garage.

At first glance the shop seems cluttered, chandeliers dangling from the ceiling, clocks, ornaments, vintage crockery and art crowding walls, shelves and tables.

Slowly, you begin to realize that each “vignette,” as Blumenthal refers to various areas in the store, is color-coordinated and skillfully arranged: a set of cobalt blue bottles, a pale green tray arrayed with sea shells, a small oil canvas emblazoned with the word “Pool.”

Elsewhere, a black-beige-and-white area features a black wire basket, beige hutch and painted wooden board that says "Happiness is not a destinatiion. It is a way of life."

But what you see is not all you get at Le Garage.

Want a custom-built armoir?

“Customers will come in with a photo and we’ll (build) it exactly as it looks in the (picture) and save them a few hundred dollars," Blumenthal said as he stood between the sales counter and a wall of ticking antique clocks. "I work with several carpenters and they each have their specialties.”

One specialty is outdoor Adirondack-style furniture.

“We do a great lifeguard chair that we offer in seven different colors,” the graying shop owner said, indicating a tall wooden chair in his catalogue. “They are great for patios if there’s a railing in the line of vision; this (chair) elevates you."

Not only does Blumenthal offer custom-built furniture, including a line of upholstered chairs and sofas (no fewer than 150 different styles, mind you), he provides painting, refinishing and interior design services.

L.A. Kings star Dustin Brown is one of Blumenthal’s clients. The hockey player's home is done in a style Blumenthal calls "eclectic ... with a beachy twist to it."

Blumenthal, who travels from Bel Air estate sales to Paris flea markets during the year, may be best known for unearthing unique pieces, whether it's a huge antique bistro clock or a French zinc-top buffet.

He loves buying trips to Europe and northern California and thrives on negotiating, although his traveling is somewhat curtailed these days due to sports and family obligations, like coaching his son Cole's baseball team and teaching the 7-year-old ice hockey.

An avid ice hockey fan and player for 20 years, Blumenthal currently plays left wing on two local teams, The Blue Meanies and The Flyers. “It’s a good release for me after a long day in the store, a great way to bond with team mates,” he said.

Relaxing back on one of the custom sofas he sells, he talked of arriving at his present occupation by way of textiles.

Born and raised in the San Fernando Valley, Blumenthal leapt into the industry after a couple years of college, finding his niche in designing and merchandising fabrics and traveling to China to purchase silks and brocades for garment manufacturers.

“I would travel to the Orient to different textile mills,” he said of these Asian buying trips. “There used to be a big textile industry (in the U.S.) until everything went overseas to China.”

He met his wife, Leslie, when both were in the textile business, he said. Leslie Blumenthal, now a merchandiser for a clothing manufacturer in Gardena, lived in the South Bay, where Blumenthal moved prior to their marriage 10 years ago. The couple live in Hollywood Riviera.

Eight years ago, his wife pregnant with their son, Blumenthal decided to buy Le Garage from a friend who wanted to sell to someone who would maintain “the integrity and style of the place.” 

Blumenthal had been commuting to downtown L.A. for “many, many years,” he said, and wanted to work closer to home. 

There were two Le Garage stores at the time, both next door to each other, one “more rustic,” the other “more elegant,” he said. The business was very successful for a while, he added, but when the economy started to go sour he decided to consolidate.

He kept the more rustic store, he said, a move that allowed him to be more “selective, dialed-in and focused” on what he wanted to offer customers and designers. Another good thing: “I’m doing about the same amount of business out of one store that I was doing out of two.”

His goal is “to continue bringing unique items to people who shop here. I love going out and doing flea markets, estate sales, just searching and hunting for that unique object and negotiating the prices,” he said, adding, “Wheeling and dealing as far as purchasing is a kind of high for me.”

People often walk in off the street to sell things from their parents’ or grandparents' house, he said. "Just being in a retail establishment every day, meeting all kinds of personalities coming in the door, has been a totally positive experience."

As much as he loves traveling, he likes "being local" even more. 

"I've made a lot of good friends, business owners in area, all doing what they can to support other businesses in the area."

Same goes for charities.

"We do gift baskets for silent auctions, support school auctions, and the YMCA," he said. At Christmas, he sells tickets for the Sandpipers and Sophisticated Snoops, two South Bay groups that conduct home tours on behalf of charities.

The whole reason for the store, however, was to allow him more time with his family. "I try to do that as much as I can," said Blumenthal, who relishes the opportunity to drive his son to school and pick him up whenever possible.

Add a rousing ice hockey game as a Blue Meanie and—while he is "by no means becoming extremely wealthy"—life is good.

is located at 717 Pacific Coast Hwy. in South Redondo Beach.

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