On September 20th, the League will host the 2014 Beaux Arts Ball at Weylin B. Seymour’s, an event venue next to the Williamsburg Bridge that was the former headquarters of the Williamsburgh Savings Bank. As part of an ongoing feature in anticipation of the event and in celebration of its theme of Craft, we spoke with graphic designer Federico Rozo to discuss creating the Weylin B. Seymour’s brand and the wallpaper concepts for the building. What follows are excerpts from that conversation.
I’ve been working for almost 20 years as a graphic designer. I grew up drawing, surrounded by music and visuals. I found graphic design as a career while studying art direction in advertising, which I didn’t like at all. Graphic design felt like it had more of a sense of craftsmanship. I was worried that I would have to sacrifice the other things that I didn’t choose to do, but in a way my graphic design career took me to them. For instance, in this case, architecture and history.
Juan Figueroa, who started the Weylin B. Seymour’s project, has been a creative partner of mine for a long time. I did the graphic design and communications for the New York Loft Hostel in Bushwick that he owns. When he started this project, he proposed that I work on the basic graphic design: the communications, concept, and logo. That opened a door to so many other things.
The first step was the name. We were looking for a name that matched the three letters of the Williamsburgh Savings Bank monogram, which was the bank’s original logo. That monogram is stamped or engraved on every kind of material in the space — on iron, wood, and glass — so we wanted to bring that back. We decided on Weylin B. Seymour, a romantic character from the late 19th century.
For the new logo, I thought that I could design a hybrid typography that was born from those three letters in the bank monogram. The monogram is very strong and also sort of eclectic, so ultimately creating a hybrid typography didn’t work because it still looked too much like a bank’s logo. That’s when we decided to go with a completely new logo in a calligraphic style, in keeping with that time period but with a contemporary feel. We collaborated with Roballos | Naab, a calligraphy studio in Buenos Aires. But we also brought the monogram back as a stamp in some graphic pieces — engraved on the flap of an envelope, things like that — as a tribute to the original building.
I also worked on some of the ceilings and the wallpapers. The biggest and most important investment in artwork was restoring the main dome. After that, Juan and Carlos wanted to focus on a couple of very important ceilings, including the seven-panel vestibule and the balcony ceiling above that vestibule. There were remnants of the original artwork there, but it was too much to restore that manually, like they did with the dome. So we proposed redrawing the artwork digitally, silkscreening it with special inks, and then applying it as wallpaper.
I digitally redrew about 70 percent of the original artwork in the vestibule. It was like a puzzle, using what was left behind and what we knew could have been there. But I didn’t know Peter B. Wight’s work beforehand so there was about 30 percent that I couldn’t read. The drawing was finished by Steve Bauer, of Bradbury & Bradbury Art Wallpapers. He’s an expert in Peter B. Wight, so this was a dream project for him.
The vestibule panels share colors with the dome — the dark red, and especially the blue. There is a certain place in the vestibule where you can look up and see both the vestibule artwork and the dome, so those tones really had to have a good relationship. They were never going to be exactly the same because one was wallpaper and the other is a mural, but we worked hard on matching them. Blue is a color that is very difficult to print, actually. In any kind of reproduction of color, we are trying to recreate natural colors — the green from grass, for example. Our main reference of blue is the sky, but it’s not tangibly blue — it’s just a visual effect, same as with the ocean. It may sound a little romantic, but I think that it’s difficult to print blue because it’s not a tangible reference. You can print it digitally more easily, but it’s difficult in inks. We worked on the inks, the tints, and the tones a lot.
In the smaller rooms, there was not enough left of the original material to recreate anything. So we decided to wallpaper all of the rooms — bathrooms, corridors, stairwell, everything. I continued to collaborate with Steve from Bradbury & Bradbury, and I learned a lot from him. The first inclination was to do the whole building in Peter B. Wight’s High Gothic Victorian style. Ultimately, we did that in just the President’s Office, bathroom, and hallway — that’s the Peter B. Wight tribute area.
For the rest of the building, we decided to make every room different, each one really powerful, but with a different feeling. There is a logic to how they work together, with each one of the rooms is a transition to the next. You have High Gothic Victorian, a more geometrical environment, and as you move upstairs you end up in the style of the Aesthetic movement, with more flowers, birds, and nature. We have rooms inspired by Christopher Dresser, the Herter Brothers, William Morris; we used this Victorian-influenced Japanese style from the period for the bathrooms. The stairwell and corridors are more neutral, which sort of glues everything together. Then we have a Persian-style room on the first floor between the bathrooms and the President’s Office, which is used as a bar. That is our black sheep, our rebel room, but it still fits.
It was a very intense process: the printing, the cleaning, the preparation of the colors for each molding in each room, the painting, and the installation. The project was very rich, but it also required a lot of patience. But in the end, the balance is beautiful and we’re very proud of it. I really love the way two very different styles, Neo-Classical and High Gothic Victorian, live together in one place.
Our goal was to respect the building and its context. We didn’t make up anything without a concept. This is a landmarked building; it’s part of the history of New York and I felt a huge responsibility to that. I studied the history of the city to help me get the thing by the roots. It was a big challenge to work in an 1875-style in 2011 — it was a different planet, a different mindset, a different everything. So, understanding that context was so important. And in a way, the project is about more than restoring the building. It’s restoring the history of the neighborhood itself. They didn’t tear the building down and put in a Nike store or a shopping center. So I think it’s a very good reference for everything that could happen around the neighborhood, and I hope that it’s a little seed that will expand.
As a graphic designer and art director, Federico Rozo has been creating logotypes and brand identity since 1996. His clients include clothing designers, artists, and television channels, among others. He has been honored with PromaxBDA Awards and published in the latest LogoLounge Master Series book collection. Having lived and worked in Miami and New York City for six years, Federico now works from his studio in Buenos Aires and travels internationally for various projects.