Interview with Jim Walrod
The interview was conducted in August 2015, and was published by Euroman Magazine in September 2015.
Jim Walrod passed away in his NYC apartment in 2017.
Interior decorator Jim Walrod has lived in Manhattan since the 1980’s. Today, he’s critical of the city's development. And yet, he’s the go-to guy for some of New York’s wealthiests inhabitants.
Walrod, once referred to as “The Furniture Pimp” by Mike D of the Beastie Boys, got his first job at the design store Fiorucci at the age of 15 thanks to Andy Warhol. Today, the self-taught design guru makes a living by decorating for a roster of clients that any top decorator in the world kill for. I spoke to him in his Chinatown loft on a warm August morning in 2015.
Is it fair to say that you’ve been close to the art scene in the city from an early age?
Absolutely. I grew up in New Jersey without any specific goal in life. All I knew was I wanted to be a part of punk culture somehow. The people I looked up to were older and they all represented the generation that grew around the time of the Vietnam war. They were hippies, or perhaps more accurately, speed freaks. To me, they were the essence of the culture that I wanted to be a part of.
So how did you get access to that world?
I came to Manhattan to apply for a job at Bloomingdales, but I was told they weren’t hiring. So walking down East 59th Street and bumped into Andy Warhol and his assistant Benjamin Liu. They were handing out issues of Interview Magazine. We struck up a conversation and I told them I was applying for jobs. So, Andy pointed to one of the shops and told me to drop off my resume and tell them he sent me. I walked in and he would just casually wave to them from outside the window to let them know he vouched for me. We had never met before. That’s how I got my first job.
That was Fiorucci?
Yes, at that point, it was referred to as “the daytime Studio 54”. The best art and furniture in the city. It became my education. New York was very different then. No one checked my ID, so at 15 I would go to Max’s Kansas City or The Mudd Club. Looking back, it sounds completely insane, but it was my way to get into that culture. I used to go straight from work to nightclubs and bars where I was not allowed to drink, but did anyway.
This was the mid 80’s?
Yeah, I was 15 or 16 years old at the time. This was around the sametime I started going to galleries and hanging out with Terry Richardson, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Ryan McGuinness, Mike D and those guys.
Did you have a sense that these guys would one day grow to become icons?
Definitely. I was very aware that these guys were creating stuff that no one else was able to. If you weren't able to contribute anything, you didn’t fit it. We all did stuff. Today, you can buy your way into the right circles, but you couldn’t back then. You had to have intellect and be really fucking cool.
Is working at Fiorucci the reason you’re an interior decorator today?
One hundred percent. It was the first place I became familiar with any kind of design. From furniture to fashion. The house I grew up in didn’t have one piece of great design.
Mike D from The Beastie Boys coined the term “The Furniture Pimp”, right?
Yeah, that was later in my career. Back then, you could open a store in New York if you had a couple of thousand dollars. I had a lot of furniture in storage at my mom’s house, so in my early twenties I opened a store on Lafayette Street. Today, it’s one of the most fashionable streets in town, but it wasn’t then. One day, Mike came by the space and we got along well. He was just a young kid who liked hip hop and I was just a young kid who liked punk rock. One day, a friend asked me if I had seen my name in the latest Rolling Stone Magazine. Turns out, Mike did an interview on his personal taste and had referred to me as his “furniture pimp.” That’s how it started.
In your book, I Knew Jim Knew, you write about obscure facts from pop culture. From how Mike D did a country album to how Harmony Korine would try and fight strangers in the street for a documentary. Does culture allow for those things to happen or has it become too mainstream?
I hope culture still has a place for it. There’s a new generation of young people who are getting into book culture now. They can’t afford art so that concept is totally unachievable to them. Instead, they see books as antiques. You can find all information online, so they see the physical representation of text and pictures in books or magazines as art. That warms my heart.
And they gave up on the galleries?
Totally. They do not give a fuck. They just show their stuff in friend’s apartments. There’s been said a lot of obnoxious stuff about normcore, but essentially the concept was born because young people were excluded. They couldn’t afford designer clothes so they just took the most affordable stuff and made it into their way of self expression.
You’ve lived in Manhattan for many years now. How do you see the city developing?
Unless there is another terrorist attack or Godzilla comes by to smash everything to pieces, I think New York will be a gold coast for many years to come. A lot of money has not done a lot of good for this city. It took creativity and artists and pushed it to different parts of the country. I have an apartment in Los Angeles and when I’m there I always know I can get into trouble within 30 minutes. I like that.
So Los Angeles feels less polished?
Yeah, and in Los Angeles, you can have a bad idea for a very long time. That’s a good thing because it means you can actually develop something unique and interesting. That’s what made The Velvet Underground good. They were shit for a long time and then Andy Warhold turned them into the best band in the world.
When people visit New York, which places do you tell them to go?
There are so many. But it’s never the places people expect. There are a few restaurants that are New York institutions. Bar Pitti is great because the food is fantastic and if you’re not a regular, you’re treated like absolute shit. It’s not even about the food. The food tastes exactly like Italian food should taste. It’s about the attitude and the atmosphere. I love Ballato in the East Village. It was Halston’s favorite restaurant. I like Patsy’s on West 56th, an Italian restaurant that John Lennon and Frank Sinatra used to visit.
What are your favorite places in the city?
The Earth Room on Wooster Street is one of them. It’s an installation by Walter De Maria in this big white room the size of my apartment. It’s just dirt. And you’re just looking at it in this big, empty room. Full of dirt. It smells fantastic. The AT&T building on Madison Avenue has one of the most beautiful ceilings in the world.
Some people see Brooklyn as the new hip spot in the city. Do you see it that way or is Manhattan still the epicenter of culture?
No, I don’t think Manhattan is the place. But neither is Brooklyn. The gentrification happened a long time ago. These days, it’s cheaper to live in the Lower East Side than it is to live in Williamsburg. But that said, I would rather live surrounded by hipsters than surrounded by bankers. Anytime. At least they’re interested in something, you know?