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Studio culture and design establishment

The Open Studio

An early “forensic visit” confirmed his instincts by revealing a long-span wood truss system that would facilitate the creation of an open environment to support the practice’s established studio culture. “I always like to be in large volumes where people feel they’re working together,” Ehrlich says. “No low ceilings, no cubby holes for this office.”

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Renovation centered on “honoring the spirit of the building without being a slave to its preservation,” the architect continues. Thus, the footprint, with its distinctive bowed front, was retained, as were roof lines and raised maple flooring dating to the dance hall era. Everything else was completely stripped down to the shell.

The “new” structure, essentially a container for the open studio, is dominated by fenestration systems addressing light and ventilation needs. An aluminum, thin-line sash configuration, recalling steel window systems of the early 20th century, covers much of the building’s front face, where the “formal” entry is marked by a steel-framed door, steel and glass canopy, and the architect’s one nod toward extravagance: $850 Bauhaus hardware. A second system at the east elevation fuses the interior and exterior to make the all-important Southern California connection. Here, one progresses from the parking lot through sculptor Guy Dill’s concrete portal to an enclosed courtyard built around an 85-year-old rubber tree. Entry to the studio proper occurs through a roll-up garage door, left open more often than not. There is a third distinctive facade treatment and it consists of raw steel panels. The naturally rusted metal clads the built-up front curve and pierces the building’s boundary to continue as a reception wall.

 

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Studio of An Multi-talented Designer

Walz’s Studio

Normally, Walz relates, the selection by jury is an arduous process, fraught with debate, and decisions can take up to a month to finalize. In his case, the jury announced its unanimous verdict after mere hours. The designer was told that it was a first in the Academy’s (then) 99-year history.

The studio is located in Eternal city
The studio is located in Eternal city

So Walz, with daughters Jersey (now 17) and Addie (now 14), went to Italy for a year as a Rome Prize Fellow in 1994. “When I went to Rome, it was to start a new life,” he says. “I left all of my design tools at home. I brought only art materials and created artwork for a whole year.” Walz, whose formal training was in fine art, is an accomplished painter as well as a distinguished designer and member of the Interior Design Magazine Hall of Fame.

Why the Designer stays in Rome?

As the fellowship drew to a close, he was hesitant to leave Rome. “I pulled out a piece of paper to list reasons why I should go to New York and why I should stay in Rome,” he recalls. “The New York side was blank. So I stayed.” Nevertheless, he had no definite plans for the next stage of his life.

By now, Walz realized he couldn’t negate 20 years of experience and commitment to design. He also knew that it was incumbent upon him to earn a living for his family. Fate intervened just as he was contemplating reentry to the design world. Licensing contacts he had made before leaving New York began to call, and he was soon in business with Baldinger, DesignTex, and Tufenkian. Then, a fortuitous reunion brought Walz into filmmaking. The designer’s friend Rob Cohen, a film director, arrived in Italy to shoot Daylight with Sylvester Stallone at the famed Cinecitta studios. The story centered on an explosion within the Holland Tunnel, but not one of the movie’s 200 crew members had ever lived in New York. Walz was hired as a visual consultant.

Inside the studio
Inside the studio

Soon after, Amy Napoleone called to introduce herself. An American businesswoman with ties to Italy, she had followed Walz’s work through the press for years and had contacts with cork suppliers in Sardinia. She wondered if Walz would be interested in exploring the material’s potential. KorQinc, the company they founded, now distributes Walz’s growing collection of cork furniture, which is available in the U.S. through Dennis Miller. Walz was back in business.

 

And the design business called for a bona fide studio.

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