December 19, 2018

Learning the ropes at the Pacific Design Center

You can’t miss it as you drive down Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood — a trio of angular, glass-façade buildings in blue, green and red. It’s the iconic Pacific Design Center, the home of nearly 100 showrooms for furniture, textiles, wall coverings, and kitchen and bath products.

But unless you’re an interior design professional, the Pacific Design Center, at 8687 Melrose Avenue, can seem like an impenetrable fortress where everyday people enter upon pain of death — or at least face withering stares.

It is true that, officially, the showrooms are open only to members of the design trade. But nonprofessionals looking to furnish or remodel their homes can, in fact, browse for inspiration and, in certain cases, make purchases. You just have to know the inside scoop.

Anyone can enter the building

The design center’s “Blue Whale” building, where most of the showrooms are located, is open to the public. At the main entrance on Melrose, you can walk right in. No one will ask for your identification or the reason you are there. After all, the building houses public spaces such as restaurants, a screening room and even temporary art exhibitions.

Going into showrooms

Individual showrooms have varying policies regarding nontrade professionals. Some allow individuals to enter only when accompanied by an interior designer. Others will allow you to enter alone as long as you carry a letter of introduction from a designer. From my experience, despite the official policies, most sales representatives in the showrooms do not check for any qualifications and will allow anyone to walk in and browse.

Making purchases

While you generally can browse all you want, making purchases is another matter. Technically, the way the showrooms work is that a design professional buys a piece at a trade discount and then sells the item to you with a price markup. But those who aren’t working with a designer can take advantage of the design center’s Consulting & Buying Services program, which enables people to purchase a limited number of items at a trade discount plus an administrative fee. Find out more about the program at the concierge desk in the lobby.

Understanding pricing

A key to walking into a showroom and looking like you know what you’re doing is understanding how pricing works. The price displayed on an item generally is the retail price, not the trade price. The trade discount varies by showroom, so you need to ask what the “net” price is — that’s the lingo for the trade price.

Some showrooms do not use prices, and instead display a code such as 1355/60 that only designers understand. The secret to deciphering this code is the “5/10 rule.” You subtract $5 from the number before the slash and 10 cents from the number after. So 1355/60 actually translates to $1,350.50. And if this is the list price, and the trade discount is 50 percent, then the net price would be $675.25.

Ask to see a catalog

If a particular piece of furniture in a showroom interests you, but you aren’t finding exactly what you’re looking for, ask to see a product catalog. Because not everything is on display, showrooms have binders full of their collections you can peruse, and you’ll also find out what fabrics and finishes are available.

Taking photographs

Some showrooms do not allow photography, so ask before you take any snapshots. Better yet, showrooms usually can give you “cut sheets,” or spec sheets of products that include a photograph and dimensions.

Dress appropriately

In this pantheon of style, you need to dress accordingly. The design center is one of the few places in perpetually casual Los Angeles where you still need to dress to impress. Up your fashion quotient when you enter, and you will be taken more seriously.

Parking the car

Since this is Los Angeles, the question before going anywhere always is, “Where do I park?” The entrance to the Pacific Design Center parking garage is on Melrose just east of San Vicente Boulevard. The first 20 minutes are free, and it’s $1.50 for each 20 minutes after that. There is also a West Hollywood municipal parking lot across the street on San Vicente where the first hour is free.

Jonathan Fong is the author of “Walls That Wow,” “Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself projects at