How Obsolete Gallery is Changing Design One Perfectly Dilapidated Object at a Time

Having out grown his neighborhood space in Venice, California, Ray Azoulay founder and owner of Obsolete Gallery– the wildly popular Los Angeles antiques and vintage design gallery that sells unusual gothic vitrines, vintage French furniture and distressed hand-painted mannequins ca.1870- recently relocated to Culver City, transforming a 6,500 sq. ft. building into an open and airy space, complete with a back garden filled with everything from California native plants to his newest obsession—bonsai bowls.

Specializing in unique designs and curiosities, Azoulay has become part of an elite community of international dealers.  However, being based in California has served him well, an East Coast transplant, Azoulay established Obsolete Gallery in 2001 and has since cultivated a clientele that includes top architects and interior designers as well as such A-list celebrity collectors as Ellen DeGeneres, Diane Keaton, Barbara Streisand, filmmaker Marc Foster, and artist Takashi Murakami.  His remarkable flair for the unusual and sometimes creepy, always keeps you interested, from his methodically curated vignettes throughout the gallery to the distressed and purposely un-manicured industrial objects, to a Sputnik chandelier, ca 1960, and velvet French settees.  The Obsolete Gallery never disappoints, the decorative objects always pull at your imagination and the creative space is uniquely California.

Never a dull moment, with the witty and talented Azoulay, I reached out for a “Proust” style Q & A, and his clever answers may just surprise you.

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Photo Credit: Jesse Stone

Your unique style is very recognizable and has developed into a “brand” all your own. How has the “California lifestyle” influenced your design esthetics?

From the very beginning the Los Angeles audience has been supportive of our aesthetic, they encourage mixing vocabularies and strive to be unique, and this has been a great benefit in searching for pieces that satisfy their desires.

What is the most unusual item you have sold or have for sale in your gallery?

We have always collected artist drawing models and wooden figures from the 17th thru 20th centuries, these life-like figures were used in drawing classes by artists. They have always intrigued me, the most unusual one we currently have and actually have ever had is a life-sized woman artist model made completely out of paper board, and it is exquisite.

As a designer I get a lot of inspiration living in California, from the rugged coastline to our scenic hiking paths. Where do you draw your inspiration from?

I have drawn inspiration from art, music, theater, dance, fashion … the cool things in life.

Where is your favorite “flea market”?

I like the Paris flea market, it is always a hit or miss … the dealers there, especially at Paul Bert, try to pay attention to design trends and reflect that in their stall installations. It is quite impressive at times.

Personally, I have been to many of your Gallery openings and I always marvel at how you stage small vignettes throughout the gallery by mixing nature and art.  For instance, an Agnes Baillon sculpture in a fish tank with live fish? These kitschy vignettes are what make you so special, for someone that has never been to your gallery, how would you describe “Obsolete Gallery’s”overall design style? 

I have always felt if we are asking you to leave your home and come see what we are doing that it should be compelling and inspiring. We have four walls and what we can do within those four walls is limitless. A great example of using four walls and limitless inspiration is the new Harry Potter play in London that just opened.  I was lucky enough to see Part 1 and Part 2 all in one day and was blown away by what can be done within four walls … now that is inspirational!

I love “Farrow & Ball” paint, specifically the color “Elephants Breathe”, what is your favorite paint brand and color?

I have always loved Donald Kaufman colors, I worked with Donald many years ago on a farm house I owned in Buck’s County, Pennsylvania. The house was built in 1790 and I spent three days with Donald and his wife Taffy as we picked all the colors for the interior and exterior. It was my education in paint color. While I don’t have a favorite color, I do like “Chocolate Ice Cream.”

New York has a design image of sleek and marbled, Miami’s image is that of neon with a modern vibe, how would you describe California’s design image?

Traditionally California’s design image has been colorful, quirky, mid-century. For me we represent many vocabularies and most of our followers incorporate several aesthetics into their homes and projects. Just look at Ellen DeGeneres’s latest book, HOME, you will see the brilliant use of form, color, period, and just great, unique design aesthetic.

If you could reincarnate yourself and come back as anything in your gallery, what would it be?

A dimmer. They may be one of the most important gadgets ever created.

Recently I visited Cuba and went out to Ernest Hemingway’s home, surprisingly it was filled with taxidermy game animals and jars of reptiles preserved in formaldehyde, is there a place in your travels that have surprised you?

I like 500 Capp Street in San Francisco, it was David Ireland’s house … so primitive and sublime.

Name three things you never leave home without?

My swim goggles and swimsuit (that counts as one), Kiehls hair cream and my iPad.

Maggy Siegel is a Los Angeles based lifestyle designer, Vintage Finds buyer for One Kings Lane and a veteran apparel industry leader who pioneered several popular children’s brands. She is a Mother, art & nature lover, and collector of all things chic for the home. Contact information: maggysiegelcastyle@gmail.com