Real Men Make Furniture

In lighter—or perhaps, heavier—moments, Kevan Sledge can break an empty beer bottle over his head, casually smoothing the glass from his pompadour with a thick, callused hand.

Depending on the day, his ride of choice is either a prewar, customized Mercury coupe that looks not unlike a road-going Japanese beetle or a loud, rough-hewn '32 Ford roadster he built himself. (Seven or eight years ago, Sledge drove a smaller, unfinished roadster to the high desert, where he raced it only to have the steering column unmoor from the dashboard and flop around on his lap like a dying trout.)

As a man clearly armed with prodigious amounts of moxie, cajones, chutzpah, spunk and hand tools—to say nothing of a hollow leg—you'd expect Sledge to hold down a job in which he worked tipping the bucket in a steel mill or shooting birds at the airport.

But Sledge has inner depths. The man owns and runs his own furniture factory, Krypton, which is warehoused in Placentia and has a showroom in cyberspace (www.krypton1.com).

Better let him explain.

"I pretty much just picked it up on my own, just being into old music and old cars," says Sledge, 31, a founding member of Orange County's infamously ill-behaved Shifters car club. "The furniture thing just kind of came out of that."

During the 1990s—before the Internet made it possible for somebody living on an island in Wisconsin to figure out that Great-Aunt Harriet's '50s bedroom set was worth 10 times what she paid for it—Sledge made a living driving around the country finding furniture to resell. Then eBay ate his future.

"I think eBay changed a lot of that," Sledge says. "You can't go back there and load up a truck and bring it back here and triple your prices."

So, right around the time 14-year-old girls were doing tap routines to Brian Setzer's "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," Sledge and partner Joe Tatar founded Krypton.

The company reproduces such '50s and '60s landmark modern furniture as George Nelson's Marshmallow Sofa, Eero Aarnio's 1966 Ball Chair (at Krypton, it's the Sphere Chair), and the Charles and Ray Eames Eiffel Tower chair base.

Where necessary, designs have been changed enough to duck the copyright police. Not bad for someone who might rather be tearing apart a Cadillac flathead V8 to see what makes it run.

"More and more people are going in that direction, (buying) reproductions," Sledge says, pointing out that the Eames chair base is out of production here. "I think they're doing them in Europe."

But who wants to go to Europe when they're phasing out the Concorde? Jump on the Internet, and a world of satellite-shaped chandeliers, bubbly '50s-style sofas in vintage fabric and tiki bars with faces peeking out of them is at your fingertips. Bring your credit card, though; prices are better than the originals, but they're not cheap. The tiki bar is priced at $999—surely making at least one person feel good about himself.

"I dig what I'm doing. It's a lot better in the long run. I guess I can make more money with it," Sledge says.

Plus, he's got you over a barrel. You! In the Men's Wearhouse suit. Where else are you gonna find a perfect egg chair with fuzzy upholstery or a chandelier with good wiring? Not at the Salvation Army. Those designer pieces are long gone from the thrift stores.

"Yeah, yeah, unless you find something that needs things done," agrees Sledge, pointing out that restored originals aren't a bargain, either. "If you find something that's original and restored, it's always going to be more money."

So relax. Have a beer. Give in to Krypton.

Krypton, 707 Monroe Way, Placentia, (714) 577-0219; www.krypton1.com.
 
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