I know enough about everything to make myself dangerous, I like to say,” laughs Griz Dwight, AIA, LEED AP, principal and owner of the Washington, D.C.-based Grizform Design Architects.
And while the laugh softens it, that’s still a loaded statement for someone who describes himself as a “fairly laid back” kind of guy. “But I’m also inquisitive,” he goes on to explain. “I like to know the why, as much as the how.”
Which is, of course, a double-edged sword. With attention to detail often comes an anal-retentive nature that can be both a great attribute and a cross to bear.
“There’s definitely a part of my brain that wants things to be straightened out in a line and be organized,” Dwight continues. “I like to know how things get put together. I tend not to get worked up much. But when I do need to get worked up, I get worked up.”
Beyond being a highly detail-oriented person, he’s also something of a risk-taker. After a slow progression south from his hometown in Vermont to Williams College in Massachusetts, then graduate school at University of Pennsylvania, he moved to Washington, D.C. in 1999. Dwight was working for another firm in town when he received a serendipitous call one day.
“He said, ‘Hey Griz, you ever think about starting your own firm?’ I looked around the office to see who was prank calling me. And I gave him the very definitive, ‘maybe.’ I was still trying to figure out what this is. He says ‘can you meet me in 20 minutes? I’ve got a project.’”
He paused for only a second before saying: “Why not? And I jumped off the cliff.”
Thankfully, Dwight’s picture didn’t end up on the back of a milk carton after that meeting. To the contrary, it served as the impetus to him opening his own firm in 2003. The gentleman who’d called him was working on a local restaurant and thinking of using the firm Dwight was working with; he also knew that Dwight had been doing all of the noteworthy work for the firm, and decided to cut out the middleman.
Just like the mystery caller who sparked Dwight’s solo career, Grizform clients know they are getting something out of the ordinary from this small firm of four, including custom furniture pieces, graphic design and branding concepts that create truly original restaurants and retail spaces.
“As we’re working on the restaurants, we often come up with ideas or things that we want or things we wish we had that just either don’t exist or don’t exist in the way that we want them. So we tend to invent them as we go along,” he explains. For example, one project the firm is currently working on called for a double-wide bar stool that they wanted to resemble the back seat of an old, vintage car. For a restaurant in Naples, Fla., the firm couldn’t find the table base they wanted, so they designed it with a company that creates cast-concrete pieces. The company now offers the Grizform product as part of their line. “We find manufacturers who are willing to customize things or do what we invent, and they often add it to their line,” he says.
Dwight brings that same sense of invention to materials, as well. The firm is currently working on a new surfacing concept that involves cutting up old car tires, flattening them and mounting them to a backer. The goal is to create tiles which will offer a certain amount of sound absorption. “We like to take things out of the box and display them in an unexpected way. If you have a whole wall of tire treads, that’s going to be a great texture from far away, and then you get up close and can say ‘there’s 300,000 miles on this wall!’”
Perhaps he can take this new surfacing concept to his dream job: a boutique hotel or a contemporary museum. And speaking of culture, it’s also where he draws his inspiration from. He names Akira Kurosawa films for his use of light and shadow, and he also loves to travel, especially to Italy. He recalls a recent trip to the country with his wife to celebrate their anniversary, where they met up with a food writer who took them on a tour of local farmers’ markets.
“There can also be inspiration in trying to rediscover things you haven’t noticed in a while,” he says. His two children certainly help him to do that. “Just the way they look at the world and see things for the first time, it makes you sort of step back and look at things fresh again.”
And with a fresh perspective comes a new energy. “Clients get an energy other firms don’t have. We push the boundaries of what can be done for the budget. We’re looking for the next thing.” Because the firm is a small one, employees wear many different hats. Dwight himself can weld, do electrical work and even finishings.
In a nutshell, his firm gives clients a heart and soul that can often be lost in a day and age where communication is often considered leaving a posting on someone’s Facebook wall—perhaps one of his greatest accomplishments so far.
Read an exclusive photo essay on Estadio, designed by Griz Dwight, here.