Step inside the studio of designer Keith Scharwath & writer Alissa Walker

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[Alissa Walker & Keith Scharwath] Our Los Angeles studio doesn’t have a name or its own letterhead, but it’s unique because it’s occupied by two people who live together and happen to do complementary things: Alissa is a design writer and Keith is a graphic artist and art director. So we don’t necessarily work together, it’s more like we work alongside each other. It’s nice to have someone just over your shoulder to ask how to phrase something or get feedback on color choices from someone who understands what you’re talking about. We are definitely inspired and influenced by what the other person is working on. Sometimes we update our Twitter accounts about the same things simultaneously.

When we started looking for a place, we knew we’d need enough space for two people to feel comfortable being at home together almost all the time. Exactly two years ago we stumbled across our amazing little house in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles, a hilly, walkable part of town where a lot of our creative friends live. The house was built in 1940 and is now painted in a nautical-esque palette that also happens to match L.A.’s street signs. We don’t own it, so we can’t do much to customize the space, but it doesn’t matter because the house has been lovingly restored by our landlord, who also happens to be graphic designer. It was meant to be.

Our studio is upstairs in the second bedroom. Keith has a large, uncluttered desk for working with his hands, since his process requires him to do a lot of drawing and hand-lettering. He then scans that work and manipulates it on the computer to make illustrations for places like the New York Times, GOOD and the independent design and craft show Unique LA. Above his desk is the Beautiful Losers poster that Keith designed for the 2008 movie about street art and DIY culture. In our studio, Keith is also the DJ, hence the portable turntable and a chunky hard drive filled with music.

But Keith works with so many non-MacBookPro mediums that his studio space overflows into the garage. Here he has a painting studio lined with gallons of One-Shot signpainter’s paint and a workshop complete with a bandsaw and a drill press that vibrates the entire house when he uses it. He collects old skateboard decks and scavenges scrap wood on the street to use as the canvases for his art projects and custom skateboards. One time he used the garage to screenprint 100 $1 bills. This is also where he works on his cars, and two nights a week, Keith also practices guitar in here. It’s a true garage in every sense.

When she’s not out reporting stories via bus or liveblogging a design conference, this is Alissa’s command center, where her cinema display monitor lights up with activity for the various publications she writes for, like Fast Company and GOOD, or the radio show she helps produce, DnA: Design and Architecture. Sometimes Alissa pulls the sewing machine over and cranks out a few dozen gelato patches or maybe some robot ornaments.

Strewn among the various estate sale and flea market finds — an Alice in Wonderland watercolor set, a set of ’60s kitchen containers used for art supplies — are an unhealthy accumulation of rocks and stones, which Alissa cannot bring herself to take outside, and a healthy accumulation of succulents, which are found all around the house. Out that window — even though you can’t see it right now — we can see all the way to Catalina Island on a clear day.

Speaking of estate sale finds, our shelves are heavy with odds and ends we’ve collected through the years, from a blue glass collection to a row of vintage thermoses (thermi?). We own a lot of vintage games, like this Jeopardy board where all the “questions” are from the ’70s, and an early version of Perfection that’s pea green. Keith has a clutch of vintage cameras. We also have — as one would expect from a designer and a design writer — far too many books.

Perhaps our very, very favorite possession-slash-DIY project is a Seeberg Select-o-Matic jukebox that Keith nursed back to health (here’s a photo of it). Alissa’s parents bought the jukebox in the mountains outside of Denver at a bar named The Glory Hole Saloon. Alissa grew up with it in her basement, where she rollerskated to a 45 of the “Cantina Song” from Star Wars over and over and over. When her parents moved out, they shipped it to us, and Keith spent months replacing mirror tiles, designing new labels and refilling the selections with a mix of old and new tunes. It really is the world’s first iPod.

One of the very best parts about working from home is that you are almost guaranteed to eat a nice, healthy home-cooked lunch. We cook pretty much every day, most of the time making huge, colorful salads with farmers market ingredients, or veggies from our own garden (which Keith designed and built in his workshop). Alissa likes to blog about our most successful lunches. We don’t always have a big bottle of rosé for lunch, but we sometimes go out for afternoon gelato. The curtains behind the table were made by Alissa, from Marimekko fabric she bought at the factory in Helsinki. Yes, that’s an orange tree outside.

We really do work in almost every room of the house, whether it’s an alternate place to draw or sit with a laptop, or a place to have meetings and parties with our clients (who are also our friends). We wanted the living room to be a colorful, comfortable place to relax. The serigraph on the wall is by the legendary designing nun Sister Corita, who Keith worked on a film about. The print over the fireplace is by Will Sweeney. The needlepoint pillow is by Jonathan Adler. And the monograph of one of our favorite designers, Charley Harper, is on the coffee table.

And even though mostly we’re working alongside each other, sometimes we do end up working together. Like when Keith guest art directed the Neighborhoods Issue for GOOD, and illustrated a piece that Alissa wrote. Keith also designed the graphics for an event series Alissa co-curated for GOOD called GOOD Design LA — Keith’s graphics were recently selected for the California Design Biennial. And last weekend, we both worked on the newest issue of Longshot, a magazine that was produced in 48 hours, with Keith as the art director. In fact, you should probably buy an issue of Longshot right away!

If you want to see more of the Scharwath-Walker workspace, we uploaded a few more photos to Flickr. And be sure to drop in to our virtual workspaces as well: Keith is at Scharwath Carwash and Alissa is at Gelatobaby. Thanks for stopping by!

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Comments (9)

  1. Posted by kim on 09.2.10 at 11:14 am

    What a cool pad! I love that you have a jukebox. We had one growing up too, which is how I proudly learned all the words to The Devil Went Down To Georgia. I didn’t realize that Keith designed the Beautiful Losers poster, that’s such a great piece. Your place is as fun and full of energy as you are, and since I know your address—and you serve wine with lunch—don’t be surprised if you hear me knocking.

  2. Posted by Alissa Walker on 09.2.10 at 11:31 am

    Ha! Thanks Kim! I know, I didn’t realize it at the time, but I really did know every song in the jukebox by heart. You are welcome to come by for lunch anytime!

  3. Posted by A Kuhntributor on 09.2.10 at 11:33 am

    Shoot, I wanted to be The First Commenter, but while I was slaving over my alphagram, Kim beat me to it. Here I go: Alissa Bloggerissima charmingly describes extra-fab garage & happy interior juxtaposing Keith & LaWalker’s myriad noteworthy objets. Pretty quintessentially rainbowlicious. Select-o-Matic trumps! Umpteen vignettes with ’xtraordinarily yummy zeitgeist!

  4. Posted by Pam on 09.2.10 at 11:51 am

    Alissa & Keith, love your studio. Now I can imagine where Alissa writes and how Keith works. {I looked really closely for a house number but I couldn’t find it. Lucky you, because I have my eyes on your vintage blue glass collection, the thermi (!!!) AND the jukebox.} Thanks for opening your studio/home to us.

  5. Posted by kate on 09.2.10 at 12:39 pm

    LOVE LOVE LOVE your space!!

  6. Posted by Laura on 09.2.10 at 4:11 pm

    So nice to see a life blessed with sunshine and gelato. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Posted by Sami on 09.2.10 at 6:27 pm

    Thanks for sharing, Alissa! I love the rug, and all of the little bursts of color throughout. Can’t wait to pull design inspiration from this when I finally have a place of my own! :)

  8. Posted by Mick on 09.2.10 at 11:12 pm

    It all looks lovely. If you just worked on a magazine I hope you listened to this classic piece of ska from my yuut (and no thats not a typo)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jqKT5-3-Gwo&feature=related

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YPlQoTVlqjs&feature=related

    check out both versions!!

    nice and sweet

    xxx

  9. Posted by Mick on 09.2.10 at 11:25 pm

    Oh no, now that’s got me in a dancin’ mood!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c4v8kgw-HlU&feature=related

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R0f-X4dMzZc

    Classic lovers rock, brings tears to my eyes (beats Kris Kristofferson, Sammi Smith or any other version!)

    and lets finish with this one! The late great Alton Ellis. Sweetest voice in reggae

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=keqkNTqSMGk

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