On Highland Avenue in Los Angeles sits a hidden gem—the 9,500-square-foot lighting, furniture, and art atelier of Blackman Cruz.

Housed in a former gay nightclub, the sprawling shop is home to such vintage and antique treasures as red leather club chairs from Italy to a Pre-Colombian skull carved out of stone, as well as contemporary pieces designed in-house. The Arch caught up with the store’s co-founder Adam Blackman to talk about design, business, and how his mother’s bridge partner affected the course of his career.

Read on for the full Q&A.

Black and white room with gold light

How did you meet [business partner] David Cruz?

We met in an antique collective. He had a different business partner and we were kind of thrown together in this one space. They split up and I was stuck with David and he was stuck with me. We were acquaintances and we realized that there was a real simpatico and that neither of us were that neurotic about the stuff. I’d rather sell it, I'd rather keep it going and that's what's exciting for me. I can't speak for him, but I can in this respect.


Tell us about the location—it’s iconic!

It was a notorious gay club in the ‘80s and ‘90s, called Probe. There's a whole scene in American Gigolo where Richard Gere goes there. It was also a lesbian club, and a swingers’ club and an after-hours club. It was in unbelievably bad shape. There was no foundation. The electrical wasn't grounded. The top level was condemned. It took us 10 months to fix it up. But it was the smartest thing certainly to buy the building and we've been here 10 years.


What are some of your favorite pieces in the store right now?

I tend to lean towards a lot of the vintage stuff, but we do really well with the new stuff we’re making also, like the Polanco dining table. It's made out of solid walnut and has been a pretty good seller. It's always easy to talk about it because you can't kill this thing.

Blue Chair

Where are you from originally?

I was born in the Bronx, and I grew up in Neptune, New Jersey and then Rumson. My mother still lives in Rumson. But I've been out in California for 30 years. David is from Chihuahua City, Mexico. He has this real international flair about him. He went to school in Florence, for art history, and he travels a great deal.

What brought you to L.A.?

I went on a trip through Utah and Arizona [ending up in L.A.] with my older brother Josh for two weeks and I just decided to stay. Leaving behind, my job, my girlfriend, my apartment. The first day I was here, I got an interview to be on The Dating Game. I went on The Dating Game, and I won. I got to go to the Bahamas.

Statue and Green Mirror

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I didn't think I wanted to have a store. But my grandfather had a moving and storage company, so I think I was always intrigued by the stuff. We had kind of wild stuff, stuff that was left behind after the Depression, or someone was moving and just didn't want to take their grand piano. We had a baby grand in the house when we were growing up. I don't know why because no one really played. Then, through high school and college I wanted to get into acting.

How did you get into this business?

Because I was involved with acting, my senior year of high school, my mother was given a box of women's clothing by a bridge partner of hers, so I could give it to the costume department at my high school. But my high school didn't have a costume collection. I ended up with all these flapper dresses, feather fans and beaded bags, mostly teens and twenties, some things from turn of the century. First, I brought everything to the Museum of the City of New York, so I could learn about what I had. Then I went to Sotheby's, and at the time, they had auctions called carousel auctions. The carousel auctions were like their crap auctions. A lot of the dresses and things went through and I did very well. I took the rest to Christie's and what Christie's didn't want, I walked around the city with my little valise and sold it to different boutiques and I saw there was really money in it.

I started to go to thrift stores, I’d buy mostly pillowcases, tablecloths and napkins and things like that and then sell them. I ended up working for Sotheby's as more of an intern. I would help on preview day and help people with catalogs and things like that. When I came out to L.A., back in '88, I answered an ad for this other auction company called Abell's. They were, and still are, the only weekly household auction in Southern California.


What’s the secret to your success?

Having the right business partner. I've seen a lot of partnerships that did badly. What we've had, or what other partnerships don't have, is the complete autonomy to do whatever; David has his trips and his money and his creativity, things that he designs for the line. Then, I also have my trips, when I go Brimfield, or when I go to Italy. Our paths do cross — we each buy in Italy, there's a big show in Parma — but we're still buying separately. That was the smartest thing we could have done.

I see other partners, you know when you buy a sofa, you have to not only confirm with the other person, “Hi. We've both agreed to buy this thing," but you have to both agree to have it upholstered a certain way. It’s so easy to think, if things are going well, "Well it's because of me," or if things are not going well, it's very easy to go, "We should never have put that upholstery on there."

Room with Chandelier

What’s your best advice for standing out from the competition?

It's a very simple answer. Us doing our own thing. We don't follow. When we started, we were doing a lot of the industrial. There just came a point where we said, "We're done," because there were so many other shops that were getting inspiration from us. We thought, "We need to be doing our own thing. We need to be standing out." Our strength is in the fact that we don't watch what other people are doing. It never feeds us.

What inspires you?

Isamu Noguchi inspires me. The guy's been dead since '88, but his paper lamps, and the designs of them, are still going strong. He was really clever. Here he is, he's been dead for years, and [looking at his work] is like listening to Frank Sinatra. You still listen to his stuff and go, "Oh!"