When you walk into the Cayton Children’s Museum at Santa Monica Place, your eyes are immediately greeted by a bright, primary palette of colors — rows of red, yards of yellow and balls of blue all dominate a space that looks like Dr. Seuss dreamed it.
One of the creators of the space, however, is perhaps less fantastical than a Seuss book but just as imbued with childlike wonder. In fact, you may have seen him around Santa Monica.
Greg Nelson, the founder of design firm Altitude Design Office and Santa Monica resident, routinely forges unique identities for physical spaces. He and his team have imbued some of Sony’s building interiors with Hollywood history, given the Hotel Indigo a back-lit lettered, luxury feel and gave downtown’s a + d museum some art and design.
With Cayton Children’s Museum now in full-swing, Nelson had some spare time to talk to the Daily Press about his life, his inspirations and what his favorite project in his career so far has been.
A little about you—are you Santa Monica born and raised? Or, like many, are you a transplant to the city?
I was born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri. Like many people, I headed west about 12 years ago for new life experiences and clients and different opportunities, career-wise. I got a job in Los Angeles (Gensler) and I visited Santa Monica and never really looked back.
What got you into art and design?
My family built a house when I was in middle school and I saw firsthand how the architect’s plan came to life. Seeing something go from a draft to a fully built house was me being bitten by the bug at that point. I knew I wanted to pursue that. I worked in interior design after college and had a strong interest in graphics and worked it into a profession, design.
Bold, big fonts, line work and bright colors dominate your work— what are some of your influences?
Our influences are always about our client’s stories. That’s our starting point. Some are more quiet and reserved, some have a loud, bombastic personality and have a boldness. We work hard to bring a client’s voice to life. For example, the Cayton Children’s Museum is all about play and diversity. They’re really about diversity and education and that comes to life in the space. It’s bold and loud and fun and prideful.
What was your mindset in creating the space for Cayton’s? Do you usually get full creative control or is your process more collaborative?
We usually have some good leeway but the team there at Cayton, they had such a strong vision for what the museum was about and how play can impact and build citizens of tomorrow. It was and is a noble vision. Just visiting and spending time with the client, we got to see their vision and help bring that to life. It was genuinely a true joy of mine to help see that vision through.
What’s your personal favorite project thus far in your career?
If I had to pick one, it’s definitely Stuart House in Santa Monica. We got to work with the director of the House and she told us about the place; It’s a project where children and their families come for treatment therapy to rebuild their lives. It was a project we worked on several years ago and it’s still very meaningful to me. My favorite project of all time.
How do you choose the clients you work with? Or are they choosing you? How do you pick which projects to take on?
A little bit of both. We do have quite a range of clients, we work with hospitals, hotels, residential developers, but I have to say I have a personal passion with organizations that have strong mission and purpose within them. Stuart House, City of Hope Cancer Hospital, we try to work with a lot of people that are doing remarkable things in the world and we want to bring their purpose to life as well.
You’ve tackled a variety of projects in your career—what’s your dream project?
I would love to work on a larger museum, like a cultural museum, a large art museum something like that.
What would you say is the goal of your work, making visually bold design elements?
Making memorable experiences, making it feel different than what people are accustomed to. People really want to stand out in the world. So when branding in a space, we want that to feel memorable, special, something people can take a photo with. That’s the big thing now, to have a selfie moment, have people posting so it helps bring people. And its why things are bold and bright and memorable, so they get traction online and they stay with people and their memories.
What made you plant your roots in Santa Monica?
The city inspired me. I live here and my office is here as well. Santa Monica is such a colorful and vibrant place. We’re by the beach, constantly inspired by sights and sounds and color and the people that come here, both residents and international visitors. It’s a creative place to have a creative business made perfect.
For more information, visit https://www.altitudedesignoffice.com/