RMW architecture & interiors is excited to welcome Larry Peifer to the team! Senior Designer – Interiors, Larry is a graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the California College of the Arts, where he was a Matthew Mills Traveling Scholar. He has contributed to the success of prominent projects such as Facebook and Nokia in Sunnyvale. His work on the planning and design of commercial offices is inspired by his belief that the built environment can inspire us to greater collaboration and well-being. To introduce Larry, we thought we would share excerpts from a conversation about his depth of experience in art and interior design, and the path to his new home at RMW.
Tell us about your experience as it evolved from installation artist to interior designer?
I am a Chicago native, anyone who is from Chicago grows up immersed in modernism, it’s a living museum of modern architecture and design. It’s as if when the Bauhaus fled Germany they pretty much all landed in Chicago, so I was steeped in it but didn’t fully understand what it was until it was in school. Like a good, rebellious, Midwestern youth, I fled to San Francisco when I was 18 to study at the San Francisco Art Institute. I was in the New Genres program which was conceptually based and focused on performance, film, and installation, so I was very much concerned with space and the politics that are inherent to space, urban space, interior space, the gender dynamics of those, architectural masculinity, interiors femininity. My work kept progressing to the point where it became more design than it was expressive, and so that shifted my focus a bit to a tipping point. I was less concerned about what I could express through space to how I could help address some of the inequities that I saw in the dynamics of space and gender play through design. I went back to school for interior design, but my practice has always been at the intersection of art and design. I’m ok with ambiguous space. Though some are of the belief that design is functional, there are often conflicting viewpoints on artistry; I’ve never been one to shy away from that.
How do you maintain the awareness of where you stand between art and design?
Perhaps what is most ironic is that my career has come full circle. My first job was at SOM; then to Gensler and working for corporate clients where they were focused on how to maximize real estate holdings, optimal square footage for people, how space can fuel innovation, what’s the ROI… could not have been less artistic, which was a fantastic education, wonderful foundation, but something I just fell into, not something that I chose (I had some hand in it). I was designing workplace exclusively for tech clients then became steeped in the design vocabulary, and vernacular associated with the way tech works, specifically in San Francisco. How do you design for creativity? Can space make people more creative? Can it make people efficient, more innovative? I think tech and art, and high tech and analog feed off each other, so after working with tech clients, my practice became slightly more artistic. Then I went to design for food and beverage. F&B is interesting because its performative in a way. There’s also something deeply human about F&B, people are interacting with things they ingest, and I’ve always been attracted to artists that work with food and use food as a medium, be it nourishment, comfort, or communion. Food can, like pictures, transcends language. That was a great next step as well, so now I’m back to corporate workplace, but I think with a clearer understanding of exactly what my approach is, exactly how I do things, that I didn’t have before. For the first time in my career, I think I have a handle on my practice, my approach, my point of view, what that is and how I can leverage it for the benefit of a firm or a client.
Why not RMW? For the past ten years, my diverse portfolio has taken me to many firms. San Francisco, Chicago, and New York, doing everything from corporate workplace, to laboratories, to restaurants, to courthouses, to embassies, to hotels, to mobile parklets, to products. I’ve done quite a bit, but I knew that wherever I was (coming directly from Facebook in a role that was also diverse), I knew I wanted to take my experience somewhere that I could stay for the rest of my career. Somewhere that was was open to investing in me and that was open to letting me and my experience influence the direction of interior design. The fact that RMW has almost 50 years of history in San Francisco, that it has an incredibly well-articulated design philosophy and approach that is rigorously sustainable, ethical, and concerned I think in many ways with social justice, being responsible designers and good people. And (that RMW) has a solid client base that could benefit from my experience, and is at a point of incredible trajectory and enormous potential. I feel that it’s the perfect storm and environment for someone like me. In my interview, Stan and Terry talked about why the firm is its size, and that they enjoy knowing everyone’s names, their strength’s and their weaknesses, and that part of what makes RMW unique is their ability to leverage those strengths and weaknesses to configure teams with agility. I think that makes the experience working in that place more positive. It’s better for the firm, the employees, and the clients.
How has your experience been at RMW been so far?
Amazing! It has been wonderful, and I’m not patronizing or exaggerating. I can’t think of someplace that’s been more positive and more welcoming, that’s let me ease into things but also accelerate and let me take on new things at the same time, I could not be happier. Terry trusting me to pull together a few presentations, smaller projects, but in my first few weeks says a lot because those personations carry the name and weight of the firm. I was able to give it a little bit of me in such a short space of time. Terry was very open to me giving feedback to design that was in process, and I saw how that feedback was processed and respected and that it yielded a better product, It was a positive collaborative relationship from the get-go. It has been fantastically fluid and positive; I’m very excited about this. You don’t know if something works until you’re in it. A lot of times it’s a chemistry thing, it’s right, or it’s not. I think it’s right, its good.
There’s something to be said for a firm that functions as a family and supports people. I think that’s something that I was looking for and that came across very clearly. RMW is one of those places where I didn’t need to put on a figurative suit, I didn’t have to walk in with a veneer and act, I could just come in and be a great designer and talk with other great designers. I think a firm that’s like that allows for a lot more fluid and creative discussion because you’re not worried, walking on pins and needles, wondering if your hair is too messy. That was something that I felt from the get-go, from my first interview, I didn’t feel uncomfortable, I was just there talking about myself and design. I think that there aren’t a lot of firms of this size, which are like this, who have this type of client base, is this established, and that embrace people for who they are holistically.
How do you see your impact elevating design and the work we do in the Bay Area.
How do we build on 47 years of design excellence and create something that is exceptionally relevant, rich, progressive and innovative? I think part of that is deep engagement in what’s happening in San Francisco right now that’s unique in the world. The intersection of technology, food, politics, and the environment is a unique organism. It’s very dynamic, and I think it is something that people all over the world admire. People know that San Francisco is a hub for innovation and progressive thought, and RMW, being in San Francisco for almost 50 years, those are already the tenants of its practice and approach. Part of what I’d like to do is further that and make it even clearer than it already is to help differentiate us from other firms. (Leveraging) Our deep engagement with the city, our deep knowledge of our clients, our partnership with our clients: because we are very client focused and not the other way around, or concerned with our glorification. We are concerned with the success of our clients. I think it’s about taking everything that’s here and funneling it into this powerful vision we can use for the next 50 years.