California modernism isn’t something only to be observed and coveted at the annual Palm Springs Modernism week, although Reform Gallery has exhibited there. This gallery as shop offers stylish, sleek furnishings and home decor handcrafted by California modern designers right on Melrose Ave.
The 3000-square-foot showroom features a variety of Modern furniture and decorative arts, but specializes in California modernism designs from the 1950s through the 1980s, an era often overlooked or underappreciated. Sofas as art form? Cabinets that don’t hold art pieces but are art pieces themselves? This is the spot.
Curator Gerard O’Brien founded Reform Gallery in 2003 when it was first housed on La Cienega, then La Brea, before coming to Melrose Ave. and providing O’Brien with a copiously larger space. O’Brien was able to include a small fine art exhibition space within the shop, called The Landing, a self-contained area within his furnishing design store that he has since spun off as a separate gallery at a different location. Now Reform Gallery’s space is given over entirely to furnishings, which he considers works of art in their own right.
O’Brien views mid-century post-war American design as being able to “stand the test of time because it is good,” and an example of a period when “true American exceptionalism existed.”
The designers he exhibits include Sam Maloof, Greta Grossman, Charles and Ray Eames, J.B. Blunk, Paul McCobb, Evelyn Ackerman, and Arthur “Espenet” Carpenter, among others. Current offerings include a Grossman magazine table crafted for Glenn of California, and an Ackerman Flower Pot tapestry circa 1963.
Other seminal pieces now on display include a custom coffee table by Gerald McCabe, whose sleek lines and styling have the look of functional sculpture; and from the same designer, an orange crate modern oak bench with a back trestle support as comfortable as it is stunning.
From designer sofas, nesting tables and side tables to a rare, free-standing six-stem candelabra created by Arthur Umanoff, O’Brien’s store/gallery offers furnishings that double as art and support an evocative and well-defined mood and sense of place.
A former actor, O’Brien now acts as an advocate for unique design such as a felt-covered re-imagining of prosaic metal folding chairs hand-crafted by artisan Tanya Aguiniga, or artist J.B. Blunk’s woodstone water table. He sees the act of furnishing a home as an artistic endeavor, and says his appreciation for handcrafted design is based around this philosophy: “Buy the object you want to live with…it makes you think and carry yourself differently.” In short, whether a chair, a lamp, or a sofa, even a functional art object can be beautiful and inspiring.
Browsing or shopping at Reform Gallery proves that beauty with every carefully selected piece that O’Brien stocks. The furnishings are every bit as compelling as sculptures of a different sort at a full-fledged art gallery, which is no coincidence, considering O’Brien’s curation of craftsmen who are often sculptural artists as well.
He loves Melrose as a location to show off his ever-changing array of unique decor, asserting that Melrose Avenue itself has become a new design destination, a location that attracts shoppers looking to discover the unique and exceptional.