Robert Kuo transfigures exquisite ancien régime Chinese techniques into modern-day masterpieces.

Robert Kuo has one of those calm, patient demeanors more befitting of a psychiatrist than a creator of luxury goods. But behind his eyes, lined from the squinting required by his work for more than half a century, is the eternal observer, designer, and, perhaps most notably, translator of forms, cultures, and ancient genres into fanciful contemporary furniture or “livable art,” as he calls it.

Kuo, 68, made his name taking classic designs from his Chinese homeland, mixing them with generous portions of Art Deco, Art Nouveau, and whimsy, and creating furnishings and decorations that have been seen everywhere, from the décor of The Four Seasons to the pages of Architectural Digest.

On a recent Saturday, grown-ups and kids were pausing before Kuo’s Melrose Avenue showroom’s giant display windows as fantastical lipstick-red Chinese bureaus and sculptural tables seemed to corral a virtual zoo of giant copper frogs, snails, and animals amid oversized lacquered fruits and vegetables. It was as if the colorful visions of an Asian Dr. Seuss had been brought to life by a modern Fabergé—and with prices to match.

Despite the humorous nature of, say, a lacquer and copper frog that doubles as a chair, Kuo’s creations are labor-intensive to a medieval standard while his level of perfectionism is second to none. After spending a little time amid Kuo’s immaculate, built-for-the-centuries furniture, it’ll be awhile before anyone would want to visit his or her local IKEA store again without proper medication.

The son of Catholic Chinese parents who fled to Taiwan from Beijing ahead of Mao’’s troops, Kuo’’s background is as fanciful as his creations. His father owned a cloisonné studio (cloisonné being an ancient Byzantine enameling-on-metal technique of applying layers of glazing between copper wire designs and then firing everything at different temperatures to get the right colors out) and Kuo was expected to follow in his footsteps. “But, as you can see,” Kuo smiles, “I had other ideas.”

“Other ideas” included moving to Los Angeles in 1973, where Kuo opened a cloisonné studio in Beverly Hills and began experimenting with new uses and techniques for this fading art. ““I chose LA because it has no boundaries,”” Kuo says.

Here, he abandoned cloisonné’’s traditional chinoiserie for a more graphic, geometric design for his new American clientele, including one early adherent: Neiman Marcus. Another turning point came when one of his pieces, “Goldfish Bowl, which depicted multicolored goldfish against a black background, ended up in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.

Despite the $35,000 price tag for one of his repoussé (another ancient technique where designs are hand-hammered onto sheet metal) copper bathtubs or the long time it can take to finish a commission, the demand for Kuo’s products has been so large that he has opened a second gallery in Manhattan.

Many of the artisan’’s works are forged piecemeal in small villages around Beijing and in a large atelier in LA, where a crack team of mostly Latino artisans labors at techniques perfected half a planet and five millennia away. And they also have to keep up with Kuo’’s constant experimentation and expansion into yet new genres. ““I [recently designed] ceramic tiles based on Song Dynasty designs for Ann Sacks,” says Kuo. “It’s the first time I’ve done tiles. But I never stop learning.”

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