News broke this morning about the passing of New York fixture Jim Walrod. In memory of the legendary design guru, we're reposting this profile by PAPER founder David Hershkovits.
What makes a quintessential New Yorker today? Someone who's not a native, who's crazy in love with the city, warts and all, an aesthete who can appreciate the wide range of trivia, ephemera, art and sheer volume of things that inspires them to stay in New York.Jim Walrod, author of I Knew Jim Knew, is that guy, an interior designer who works for some of the world's richest people, helping them to turn their homes into environments and their airplanes into artworks. His quirky little book blends Walrod's love of Instagram, a passion for New York City and little known bits of cultural history hidden in plain sight. Like did you know that the two-story building at 496 Broome Street in Soho was John and Yoko's home where, says Walrod, you can still see their belongings?
Walrod lives on a working class block in Chinatown in a third floor walk-up above a hardware store that's located inside the building. His loft is immaculate, a kaleidoscopic collection of art, both the kind you sit on or that comes with drawers, as well as pieces meant to be hung on a wall. A Gaetano Pesce door from the old Chiat-Day offices that he scavenged, a Peter Sutherland photo of a phone booth tagged by Barry McGee and Ryan McGinness, a Kenny Scharf painting, each one comes with a story that tells you as much about Walrod as the piece under examination. There are also works by Ray Johnson, Phil Frost, a Lee Friedlander photo of wrestler Bruno San Martino, Ettore Sottsass, Ben Watt, Chris Johanson, Will Cotton, Pierre Jeanneret... There's a through line tied to Memphis design and Walrod describes his love for the genre thus: "I like design that's hard to live with."
Self-taught, dyslexic, Walrod never went to college. He grew up in Jersey City and started taking the PATH train into Manhattan at 13 with a group of friends in the '70s. "We'd take the train over to go to Playland on 42nd St. and go around and rob purses. We'd to buy fake IDs, play pinball, buy knives and go around causing trouble."
On one trip, he tracked down Max's Kansas City after reading about it in a rock magazine and discovered a brand new world that changed his life. "I heard music like I'd never heard before. Two people on stage. It was [the band] Suicide. This was a line in the sand. How can you go listen to a Yes record after that. If you don't like this, I'm not your friend anymore."
A random encounter with Andy Warhol got him a job at Fiorucci, the flamboyant fashion boutique that included salespeople like drag performer Joey Arias. "I'd take the train from Jersey City wearing kilts," he says.
I Knew Jim Knew grew out of dinner conversations with editors at Powerhouse Books, fun folks who loved his fun facts. "They just kept asking me questions and I had answers," he says. "I wanted to do a book that anybody can do. Random shit that could occupy our time, stupid shit that you can breeze through. The book would come out of walking down the street and you turn around and go 'that's where Robert Frank lives.' Or walk past where the Fun Gallery was."
And like a quintessential New Yorker, he lives on a block that he says, "doesn't feel like New York. New York is overrun with bankers and money. Here's where I can walk and see families and punks."
Just like in the good old days.
I Knew Jim Knew is out now via powerHouse books.