JF Chen offers an eclectic perspective on design

| May 2, 2019 | 0 Comments
“COLLISION” exhibit pairs iconic furniture with fashion from the archives of Lynn Pickwell.

Windsor Square resident Joel Chen has spent the last four decades building a reputation as one of the best antique and decorative arts dealers in Los Angeles. His eponymously-named business, JF Chen, now boasts a collection of museum-quality art and furniture, spread across nearly 60,000 square feet of gallery space over three locations.

For a limited time, Chen has dedicated one of his galleries, C-Project, as space for an exhibition called “Collision,” which pairs iconic furniture designs with a selection of fashions from the archives of costume designer Lynn Pickwell. But more on that later.

Humble beginnings

Last month, I stopped by JF Chen’s main gallery, located at 1000 N. Highland Ave., to talk with the founder about his passion for good design and his love for Windsor Square.

According to Chen, it all started in the mid-’70s when, after walking by an antique store located on Melrose Place, he tried to enter. “But they wouldn’t let me in, saying it was for trade only,” he says. The Shanghai native sensed the real reason was racially motivated, which both annoyed and inspired him. “I wish it didn’t happen that way, but that was my motivation to open my own store. I had no clue, but just like that, I decided to open an antique shop.”

JOEL CHEN started his business with a $6,000 loan.

Chen borrowed $6,000 and traveled to Hong Kong to start buying antiques: “I came back with a whole container full of junk,” he says modestly.

“The first few years, I concentrated on Chinese antiques. Then, slowly, I started collecting Italian and Regency furniture,” says Chen, who soon learned how to visit auction houses and international markets to find special pieces.

Today, Chen presides over a collection of museum-quality furniture, lighting, accessories and art, ranging from period pieces to 20th- and 21st-century masterpieces.

How does he approach the acquisition process? “I don’t look for anything specific,” says Chen. “Whatever fancies me, I buy. That is, with the prerequisite that the object must have some kind of provenance and quality to it.”

LACMA support

With a natural eye for good design, Chen has championed designers such as Ray Eames, Ettore Sottsass and Hans Wegner, among many others. In fact, Chen was a major lender to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) in 2006 for a retrospective of Sottsass’ work.

As a member of LACMA’s Decorative Arts and Design Council (DADC), Chen says that he is happy to help the museum whenever he can:

“Being an art dealer, I can help LACMA find certain items they want. Sometimes I help introduce the museum to other dealers,” he explains.

For this work, Chen was honored by LACMA in 2012 with DADC’s Design Leadership Award. At that time, DADC’s department head Wendy Kaplan said: “Joel is legendary for nurturing young designers as well as presenting the best historical work, and we are happy to have the opportunity to recognize his inspiring role in the community as well as his many contributions to LACMA.”


JAPANESE DESIGNER Rei Kawakubo designed both the dress and the table on display at Collision through May 30.

On the topic of presenting historical works, on view now through May 30, furniture meets fashion in JF Chen’s newest exhibition, “Collision,” at the company’s C-Project location, 830 N. Highland Ave.

Curated by Chen’s oldest daughter, Bianca, the exhibit pairs iconic furniture designs from Chen’s galleries with a selection of pieces from the archives of Lynn Pickwell, a longtime Hollywood costume designer and stylist.

According to Bianca, the idea was sparked after Joel introduced his daughter to Lynn Pickwell, who mentioned she had an archive of over 200 pieces of fashion from a broad range of designers. Bianca says she was instantly interested in viewing the pieces, so they scheduled a time to meet.

“She starts bringing them out and they were amazing,” says Bianca. They needed to be seen by the public, she thought, but the collection was not all one era, or one style. “So that made me think,” says Bianca. “That’s kind of like our store too, which gave me the idea of a collision of design and fashion.

“What excites me most about the exhibit is that there is so much fast fashion and fast furniture these days. This collection reminds us that craftsmanship matters.”

Neighborhood proud

During my visit to JF Chen, I asked the owner about his clientele. Chen admitted that, in decades past, a lot of his business came from Beverly Hills and West Hollywood, but that in recent years, he has seen a lot more business from Hancock Park-area homes.

“The younger generation is moving in and renovating their houses,” he guessed.

“Everything is changing, and I want to say for the better,” says Chen, although he did show concern for what will become of the recently purchased Lipson Building on Larchmont Boulevard. “But thank goodness for the work of the Windsor Square Association and the local historical society,” he says. “They have kept the neighborhood intact through the HPOZ [Historic Preservation Overlay Zone]. I think that was a godsend.”

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Category: People

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