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World-class Italian furniture and fine art combine at Brennen

Is it a furniture store, or an art gallery?

Actually, Brennen in downtown La Jolla is both.

Recently opened at 7624 Girard Ave., Brennen is a boutique gallery of exclusive, handmade Italian furniture complemented by world-class fine art.

“I’m breaking every single rule in every single way,” said owner/founder Steve Brennen, of his unique furniture galleries, which started out in Carmel and now also are located both in Scottsdale, Ariz. and Palm Desert. “We’re mixing contemporary and traditional in both the arts and the furnishings.”

In the gallery business for the last 20 years, Brennen, who grew up in La Jolla and only recently returned, wanted to open an art gallery in the jewel, but didn’t want it to be tourist-oriented. “We wanted something more for local people,” he said, adding his high-end boutique, serving the needs of a discriminating clientele, is strategically situated on Girard Avenue. “This particular area lends itself perfectly,” Brennen said. “It’s got a town center that’s growing. It’s become known as the highest-end design center, and that’s what we’re all about. So here we are.”

What you won’t find in Brennen is the commonplace. The hybrid furniture gallery offers a truly unique collection of elegant furniture paired with the finest works of both living and deceased artists, past and present, local and international.

A perfect example of a one-of-a-kind item carried only at Brennen is a petrified, several-thousand-year-old, carved mammoth tusk serving as an accent piece.

Brennen has furniture for virtually every room in the house. It all comes from three manufacturers in an area near Milan noted for its craftsmanship. Said Brennen: “It’s the best-quality furniture in the world-equivalent to Bentley, Ferrari and Porsche, all handmade Italian leather and upholstery. With these pieces of furniture you actually feel the quality. You see it. You smell it.”

The furniture store/art gallery owner points to a chair, noting it’s so lightweight it’s almost hard to believe “They (manufacturers) use the best of woods and dry them for five or six years to take all the moisture out so that 50, 70 years from now there’s no cracking.,” Brennen said. “Hopefully, this is the kind of furniture that our kids - and their kids - are fighting over.”

European furniture is different than domestic. Moving over to one of his Italian leather couches, Brennen points out Europeans don’t pair them with Ottomans. Instead, they design them with partitions that can be pulled out to convert them into beds or for more room to stretch out.

But whether furniture or art, Brennen assures his customers of one thing shared by both kinds of items in his boutique: They’re made by the best in their particular field.

The artwork at Brennen is as varied as the furniture. You’ll find something somewhat abstract next to something very traditional and realistic. “We have American painters, European artists, French and Italian,” he said.

The public response to Brennen’s unique blend of foreign and familiar, thus far, has been encouraging. “The response has been phenomenal,” he said.

Looking around the inside of Brennen, every glance reveals something dazzling, like delicate crystal accent pieces and stylish sculptures, something Brennen intends to bring in more of in the near future.

Presently, Brennen is in need of more space in his gallery. That’s being provided by an upstairs in his retail space that he’s converting to exhibit additional fine art and furniture. “I’m trying to make it a showroom,” he said.

Brennen broke into the art world as a collector. He opened his first gallery in Carmel in 1988.

The price range at the La Jolla Brennen ranges from a few hundred dollars to a quarter of a million.

Asked what he believed the high-end customer is looking for in their art and furniture, Brennen noted: “People want and expect the best in whatever they have. And, we can comfortably say, we have it here.”

Competition is everywhere, noted Brennen, who added he’s not particularly worried about competition because he’s “breaking the mold” with his fine furniture art gallery, providing something so unique it can’t be found anywhere else.

Some of the art pieces handled at Brennnen are huge, covering much of a wall. Many are historical. The pieces are not only of different styles but of different time periods. Brennen said a collector, such as himself, purchases work from deceased artists as a long-term investment. The same is not true, however, for living artists. “Living artists you buy primarily because it does something for you,” he said. “With living artists, there’s rarely a secondary market.”

Brennen is open seven days a week. For more information, call (858) 454-6544 or visit www.brennencolllection.com.