Brooks Hudson Thomas of Specific Merchandise

I’d known about the Los Angeles design shop Specific Merchandise for nearly a year before I figured out that its name was a play on the idea of the general store. “I wanted to have a huge range of things, but when I started thinking about it, I liked the idea of flipping that and being specific rather than general,” says Brooks Hudson Thomas, the former Blackman Cruz manager who set out his own shingle at the beginning of last year on a stretch of Beverly Boulevard that includes Lawson-Fenning, L.A. Eyeworks, and the former digs of TenOverSix. “One model I had in mind was a museum shop, but sort of trying to kick its ass. The other was stores like Moss, Matter, and The Future Perfect, which also have that blurry store/gallery vibe.” It’s a shop model that’s only recently begun to take hold in Los Angeles with stores like TenOverSix and Iko Iko, and Thomas isn’t totally sure if people are catching on. “I think the context I show things in can be confusing to people,” he says. “I change over the stock a lot, and it goes from being quilts to chairs to paintings. A lot of times people will say, ‘Hey, what happened to that little shop?’”

Thomas has a master’s in painting from UCLA, and it’s true the store is both more cerebral and more conceptual than your average L.A. design shop. (The name also makes reference to the Donald Judd essay “Specific Objects” and a conversational trope from a Lawrence Weiner film called Water in Milk Exists — “basically a porn with studio assistants having sex and talking about philosophy,” Thomas says. “There is this funny part where these kids are having sex and one of them says, ‘Is this general or is it specific?’And I was like, ‘Oh! That’s it!’”) Last year, Thomas redid the shop six times, clearing out the space and replacing it wholesale with new exhibitions every few months. “I didn’t realize when I first opened that it would end up being run like a gallery where I would really change over everything depending on what I was finding and what it needed to be shown with,” he says. “But when I started talking to people I wanted to work with, like Workstead in Brooklyn or Todosomething in Los Angeles, it became more attractive to them when it became a featured exhibition with a party. And I suddenly realized, “Oh, I can run this like a gallery. I can consign things.”

Thomas spent much of his original capital acquiring vintage inventory that now lives on a 1stdibs page, but he soon found that the vintage — a market that’s oversaturated enough in Los Angeles without the addition of sites like Etsy — wasn’t selling for the most part, and that his other focus — work made by artists or designers or architects he knew from L.A. or found through scouting — was beginning to interest him more in any case. And so an aesthetic began to evolve — one that mixed the old and new, that focused on color and mixed materials, and that clearly stemmed from the passion of a guy who appreciates finding beauty in the high and low. (The offerings range from four-figure French wirework lamps to tiny packets of classical literature that come stuffed in cigarette boxes and cost under 20 bucks.) “One reason I personally run my shop this way is that I’m not really interested in having something if someone else has it, in part because a lot of my friends are shopkeepers and I don’t want to compete with them,” says Thomas.

The odd retail model has had its drawbacks, though, and Thomas plans this year to be a bit less ambitious in terms of turnover. He’s also contemplating a move to a collective space on La Cienega. Before he abandons the quirky narrow footprint he occupies on Beverly, we take you on a tour to find out more.