Design Fabrication

KNA Design Principal Kirk Nix has some good stories to tell (and not all of them are tall tales).

by Erika Templeton

Kirk Nix is a designer with a storied past—or at least his projects are full of them. From Disney resorts to Robert Allen textiles, Nix has taken narrative-based design to its fullest extent, writing novellas that drive his concepts, and painting a rich universe of characters that form an abstract foundation for his creative process.

A friendly fast-talker with a light southern twang, Nix is a self-proclaimed “poor boy from Alabama” who also happened to travel the world with his military family. He is an avid reader, boasting a library of over 6,000 titles at his studio, KNA Design, in Los Angeles. But before you pin him for a literary snob know this: Nix binge-watches shows like Keeping Up With the Kardashians on long flights (even when sitting next to the vice president of a client company, as he did on a recent trip to Hong Kong), and loves flipping through the pages of People and Us Weekly as much as T.S. Elliot.

It is with this unapologetic blend of high and low culture that Nix views the world—and stays carefully attuned to the movements and trends that drive his work.

“Culture today is celebrity obsessed and fashion obsessed. It’s sort of escapism. People want to live other people’s lives. It’s really interesting to me,” he says. “You know, in Los Angeles everyone is so jaded and they don’t care about anything unless it’s somewhat cerebral. And I’m like ‘No, no, no, this is popular culture. You’ve got to realize what’s the fascination here.’”

Speaking of the high and the low, KNA Design began 10 years ago when they won the contract for the Tokyo Disneyland Hotel. Eight people completed the entire project (750 rooms, 2 restaurants, and all public spaces) out of Nix’s garage. Now KNA is a 40-person operation, sitting at No. 21 on the Top 100 Hospitality Giants list.

“Two of the best clients I am eternally grateful for are Disney and Sheldon Adelson,” Nix says. “They taught me how to reach for the stars.”

In the early 1980s, Nix first met Wing Chao, the executive vice president of Walt Disney Imagineering responsible for much of the company’s master planning and architecture until 2009, as a young project designer for Design Continuum in Atlanta—but it’s likely they saw each other many times before they ever spoke.

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