We customize our lives and the environment that surrounds us every day — from things as big as shaping our own boards to the smallest ones, like adding that little bit of extra milk to our coffee.
In our Custom Spotlight series, we’re exploring the process of some of our favorite artists, musicians, and creatives to learn how they see their world and to find out what drives them to get their hands dirty and bring their ideas to life. We also give them free reign to create their own custom, one-of-a-kind Birdwell gear, and to bring their unique vision of our California tradition into the world.
Christian Schulz, one part of award-winning Santa Monica design agency Studio Collective, grew up skating and surfing on the Jersey Shore where California was more far-flung dream than reality. Now a fixture in the Los Angeles art scene and daily rider at Venice Beach, the “detail man” draws constant inspiration from his adopted home, using it to craft magical, transporting interiors from Los Angeles to Oahu’s West Coast and beyond.
1) How did you (or Studio Collective) get started?
We came about at the peak of the recession in 2009, my friends Adam, Leslie and I were all looking for new work to keep busy (Senior Designers weren’t in vogue then) and so when two of our prior clients/employers reached out to me directly I immediately called Adam & Les and we jumped at the chance. It DEFINITELY wasn’t like hey we’re ready to go and start a Studio of our own right now…. it was much more organic, touching base with people we enjoyed working with and starting out small project by project, until more and more interesting work started coming thru…..then we realized we needed to get organized, got a small studio space and started calling in for back-up….
2) Tell us about your artistic process.
Even though the size & scope of our projects and typologies vary considerably from project to project we always try to start with site specific research first. We do sort of an archeological dig into the locale, the cultural layers and pay special attention to the surroundings whether that be historical significance, regional building vernaculars, even characters of importance or infamy; basically we look for traces of history or lesser known cultural aspects to inspire or inform us before we ever put pencil to trace…. Once we set a narrative or storyline for the project we always work collectively ( partners and the design team ) to start compiling a story board of imagery ( photos, type, artworks, whatever ) and keep building and editing. Ultimately the research and the narrative sets up a framework that helps us make design decisions moving forward from everything from a piece of custom furniture to a soffit detail or a wall finish, and ultimately establishes the overall vision for the project…. For myself specifically, one thing I always still try and do in my design work is to always sketch by hand throughout the project – from initial parti designs for the overall plan(s) to metal trim details in construction; by keeping the design process loose at times it frees up my creativity so as not to hold onto anything to dearly…..ebb and flow…...
3) Is your work a collaborative or solo process?
Our Studio as a whole has evolved out of the collaborative process of many people coming together, working side by side, adding uniquely and individually to the creative process making it better together; hence the name “Studio Collective,” which notably reaches beyond our studio of talented designers, stretching far and wide to the craftsmen we employ and learn form, to the many artists we collab. and are inspired by and the creative clients that challenge us and we vibe off of to come up with one-of-a-kind experiential spaces & places…..Always a group effort here at SC.
4) Describe your workplace/studio
Our Studio right now is like a campus of sorts….. We’re currently located along the trendy retail section of Montana Ave. in SaMo ( Santa Monica ) where we started roughly 10-years ago. Initially we were sharing 1/3 of a loft Studio space with an architect and a landscape designer, which we have since taken over, and now we now have (3) separate spaces within the block due to recent expansion, most of which are jam-packed with materials, nice light, and a whole lot of energy. KCRW is always playing, people ( clients, vendors, Craftsmen and the like ) are always coming and going so it’s a dynamic collection of visual ideas, conversations, with design samples and numerous tactile material everywhere. I’m becoming a garden addict so I’m constantly moving potted plants around and ensuring all of the designers have greenery near their desks as much as possible….. The exciting news is it looks like we are finally moving into one large shared loft space this summer nearby in Venice on Lincoln, which is more our speed and we like the little bit of grit over there still; To be continued….
5) Describe your ideal workplace/studio.
One day the studio will be a lot larger, with plenty of room and light filled with of course - a rooftop-deck(s) having an ocean view….. A place where the designers can take refuge and smell the salt air…..
Of course we will have a great Bar/Café tricked out and a proper DJ set-up so we can have our friends like Max Vanville or Scott Oster come thru and play some records for us when they are so inclined…..
I have my eye on a great building on Rose Ave. nearby for years now that fits the bill…..
6) What does a working day look like for you?
On my best days I’m up early, and will just ride my beach cruiser down to the Breakwater in Venice ( surf spot here ) and catch a morning surf….. then pass by my buddy Travis Lett’s place GJusta on Sunset Ave. for a coffee and one of those insane breakfast sandwiches…..too good ! Stop home to share a smoothie with my better half Elizabeth then off to the Studio for some Design time ( every day is different ) but being able to meet and collaborate with some designers directly on several projects throughout the day is always rewarding. If I can get out and head into the field like I did today – went down to the Arts District in DTLA to check on a project in construction…..met with the contractors and craftsmen, well that’s always awesome. I’ll usually head back to the studio and close out the day and catch up on things, and if I’m not too beat I’ll try to visit one of the local Bar/Restaurant projects we have worked on, to spend time with our clients who always become friends and share a cocktail or dinner with them, that’s the cherry on top !
7) Artists/Musicians that inspire you ______.
Steven Holl & Peter Zumthor (Architects) both for their experiential buildings and the insane yet sublime beauty expressed in the building details they create
James Turrell The Light Artist ( Originally from Ocean Park) for the beauty with which he sculpts light and alters ones perception
Alison Van Pelt A local LA fine artist whose work I instantly fell in love with upon first glance: mounted in VODA Bar SaMo back in the late 90s; now a friend who we commission in as many projects as possible
David Carson Graphic Designer whose work and custom type has always got me excited and amused….
Interpol for their strong conceptual development of Image and seductive sound, the Cure for their expansive oeuvre and unique style of music, Tame Impala for his comforting & layered Sonics and brilliant technical productions and finally Bad Brains> for the diversity in their music between their Dub vibes and more hardcore power…..
8) What does Southern California mean to you?
Ever since growing up skating & surfing on the Jersey Shore in the 80s I’ve been obsessed with the SoCal lifestyle and the cultural power that was consistently being generated from there: from the skaters I idolized like Christian Hosoi and Gator to Surfers like Tom Curren, Matt Archbold and Brad Gerlach, to the artists and designers I later drew inspiration from such as TSOL, Craig Stecyk and later Thom Mayne…..The SoCal beach lifestyle is what drew me here initially, and the Santa Monica school ( an informal movement led by local architects like Frank Gehry, Morphosis & Eric Owen Moss among others ) is what ultimately brought me here, drawing me to enroll at SCI-Arc school of architecture. Southern California has been a constant source of inspiration and joy through is sheer beauty, its juxtaposition of City & Nature environs to enjoy daily, its temporal qualities – its ever-changing vibe and the influx of so many unique people that move through this area is culturally rewarding on so many levels…..
9) How important is the outdoors/surf/beach to your work?
For the past 20 years I have lived permanently along the California coastline ( from Playa del Rey to Montecito and back to Ocean Park now, and the ocean and surfing has always been a constant for me. I need to smell the salt air and get wet at least once a week to clear my head and be whole again. I’ve been surfing avidly since I was around 11 years old, like 35+ years now so I can’t live happily, nor think/work effectively without being near the beach, wont happen….. Everything about surfing is positive to me, your learn innately to be respectful to the ocean and nature, and your constantly inspired by these experience – it’s a given….. Having many years in/around the beach coupled with the many travels to other lands in search of surf has taught be to be a better person, to be respectful of other lands and cultures, and ultimately to bring home amazing memories to further enrich my design thinking….
10) Favorite beach/vacation spot and what it means to your art.
I’ve been going back and forth to Mexico ( Baja and Mainland ) a lot for both surf trips and for business over the years and I’m always inspired by the colors and the tactility of materials they use, whether it be for simple structures and churches or for the beautiful hand-made quality of everyday objects they still use often. Its just incredible they have kept so much artistry and craftsmanship alive and well in their country. My partners and I have several design projects in the works down there and we are so blessed to have met such talented artisans who are so talented, so kind and so humble…..
11) How important is a connection to the past/classics to your work?
Like I mentioned earlier, researching history to better understand the past ( and the surroundings ) will only make your future design(s) stronger; it gives roots to your project ( whether it’s a building or some wall art ) and it helps establish guidelines to making creative decisions along the way. Anyone can collect fotos off Pinterest and make a nice collection of seductive imagery, but what do they really mean and how do they inform your story? It takes research combined with the understanding of the classic examples to build your own point of view, and give your ideas a soul…..
12) Can you tell us one rule that governs yourself/your art?
“Details are not the details, Details make the design,” Charles Eames. One of my favorite design statements; I have an obsessive love for the attention to detail and tactility in my design work, and this transcends into my daily life, which can be a major time-suck…… but I love it.