Fabulously Subversive: bicoastal architect William Georgis celebrates release of retrospective book


By Pat Sherman

“I love to shock,” says La Jolla- and New York City-based architect William Georgis in a recently published retrospective of his exterior and interior spaces.

And shock Georgis does — as evidenced by the arresting imagery in “Make It Fabulous: The Architecture and Designs of William T. Georgis” (Monacelli Press, $50).

The book showcases an array of high-end residential projects (several including eccentrically-appointed panic rooms), as well as galleries, restaurants and commercial spaces he’s designed (inside and out) through the years.

The book concludes with a section on architect William Lumpkins’ 1955 modernist La Jolla home, which Georgis purchased and redesigned several years ago with longtime partner Richard Marshall (a former curator of contemporary art at the Whitney Museum in New York City).

“My parents spent the last 20 years of their lives in La Jolla. I came and visited them frequently and just fell in love with it,” said Georgis, who holds a bachelor’s degree in art history from Stanford University and a master’s in architecture from Princeton.

Lumpkins (1909-2000), who began his career as an architect and painter in Santa Fe, N.M., and spent a decade living in the La Jolla house, is perhaps best known locally for designing the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library’s trademark rotunda building and the historic University House at UC San Diego (originally owned by William Black, the developer for whom Black’s Beach is named).

While Georgis maintained the exterior integrity of Lumpkins’ house (which had fallen into disrepair), his interior re-imagining of the home employs his characteristic juxtapositions of the opulent and the outré (or his application of “subversive intent,” a process by which he mines below the surface of his clients’ initial request to “make it fabulous!” — exposing elements of their risk-taking natures as part of the larger design scheme).

His La Jolla home’s “powder room” (guest bathroom) features black fixtures, Japanese woodblock prints and bullet-riddled mirror panels, which Georgis says he shot up in the desert near Ramona (an element he also used in a New York apartment, whose owners deemed his original bathroom concept “too tasteful,” he said).

“I can imagine an aging Joan Crawford walking in, looking into the mirror, and pulling a mother-of-pearl-handled pistol out of her clutch to obliterate the lies,” Georgis writes in his book. “Guests have asked, “My God — what happened in here?”

Themes repeated throughout Georgis’ projects include: rugs designed from splatter patterns of ink, paint or blood; animal accents like taxidermy (including an upright rabbit on the table of Georgis’ Upper East Side townhouse and a bobcat perched in the rafters of a log home in Big Sky, Mo.); rugs, upholstery and pillow covering fashioned of goat, rabbit and skunk pelt; and the skeletons of marine mammals and other small creatures — each lending a sort of a feral whimsy to his spaces.

Taxidermy and skeletons evoke the items in a Renaissance-era cabinet of curiosities, and sometimes play “supporting roles in domestic dramas,” Georgis said.

“In the same way that I might mix a Roman torso of Herakles with a corpus and Jacobean table, I also mix textiles,” he added. “Animal prints introduce a savage element akin to a leopard print bikini on the beach.”

For his La Jolla home, perched above Torrey Pines Road with an awe-inspiring view of La Jolla Shores, Georgis and Marshall filled the rooms with some of the eclectic furniture they’ve been storing in New York warehouses through the years — including Egyptian Revival-style furniture and a 17th Century Coromandel screen procured at Sotheby’s in New York, and several Art Deco settees.

“I’ve been collecting furniture all my adult life,” Georgis said. “The idea when we came here was to use a lot of those furnishings. In a way, it’s an eclectic mix, but it also tells the story of who we are moving across the country with all of our belongings.

“Often people come into La Jolla from somewhere else and there’s always the character of the people bringing their personal history with them.”

Though at present Georgis and Marshall use the La Jolla residence as a vacation home, Georgis said he just started a residential project near La Jolla Country Club, and hopes to spend more time here.

“New York can get in your face — it’s really aggressive,” he said. “Coming here, I feel like I can relax.”