Nick Luzietti, ‘rebel’ interior designer who transformed office spaces, dies at 76

Mr. Luzietti inspired a generation of young designers to think differently.

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Nick Luzietti dancing at a friend’s wedding.


When Chicago interior designer Nick Luzietti, who transformed corporate office spaces across the city and nation, would meet with young designers, he’d ask them to close their eyes.

“Now pretend you’re a little kid. What brought you joy? What caught your attention?” he asked them, said his daughter, Nicole Morton. “And they go from there.”

His creative method, and ensuing results, helped put his longtime firm VOA Associates, now known as Stantec, on the map.

“He threw out the handbook,” said designer Meghan Ryan Jeske, who worked with Mr. Luzietti and counted him as a mentor.

Mr. Luzietti explained the ethos in a short video played during his 2009 induction into Interior Design magazine’s Hall of Fame like this: “Let’s dig a little deeper to see if we can pull out the magic of when we played all day in the street: ‘Come on in! It’s time to come in!’ ‘I’ll be in in a minute!’”

His designs include the Harley-Davidson Financial Services building in Carson City, Nevada, Volkswagen Group of America headquarters in Herndon, Virginia, Ariel Investments in the AON Center and the Bank of America Plaza (formerly the ABN Amro Plaza) in the Loop.

“His projects had kind of an irreverent personality, but super strong architecture, and he found the spirit of the company he worked for, he dug it out of them and you could feel it all over the space,” said Cindy Allen, editor in chief of Interior Design magazine.

Mr. Luzietti died Jan. 15 after suffering an aneurysm. He was 76.

“He just had this warmth about him, always so cool and relaxed, and he just made you feel comfortable as you were making these tough decisions,” said John Rogers, co-CEO of Ariel. “There’s a certain whimsy to the office that he brought to it.”

Mr. Luzietti, who was raised in Cincinnati, was an architect and a designer but viewed life through an artist’s lens.

With sketchbook and marker in hand, punk music coming through his earphones, Mr. Luzietti would spend Blue Line commutes between his Old Irving Park home and downtown office drawing whatever musings entered his head.


A sketch Nick Luzietti drew on a CTA train.


But he prized his grandkids’ art above all.

He’d get on the floor and draw and paint with them, marvel at one of their creations and proclaim, “This one stays at the museum!” before taping it to a wall with dozens of others.

“He tried to copy their art. He just thought they were beautiful,” his daughter said.

Mr. Luzietti launched the careers of designers who now help run firms across the country.

Allison Laudicina Kahl recalled the sticky notes that appeared on her desk as a young designer.

“One might read, ‘Meet at noon at the Monadnock Building,’ and we’d sketch and he’d lecture and I’d ask questions and we’d get lunch,” she said.

“He would hang out with the young people, they were impressionable, and he could still mold their idea of what was possible, because in architecture and design so many people tell you what is not possible,” she said. “He was a rebel, a rule-breaking artist. No wasn’t an option. There were ways to push through and fight for the design and overcome problems. He’d put on his punk rock music and people would sketch and you felt like you were part of something much bigger. There were deadlines and stress, but it was happy, and that changes the product, it changes the outcome.”

Mr. Luzietti pitched on his firm’s softball team and always led the postgame charge to dance at Neo, a punk bar that no longer exists.

“He just lived with his arms wide open and was so authentic and really accepted everybody,” Laudicina Kahl said.

Friends and family said Mr. Luzietti was larger than life.

His high-altitude coif and Ray-Ban Wayfarer sunglasses — which often stayed on indoors — were trademarks.

He was a joyfully ruthless Monopoly player. He danced harder than most people at concerts and bars, sometimes lying down and spinning in circles.

He’d sing while doing stuff, regardless of present company, plant smooches on iPhone screens to punctuate FaceTime calls, stuffed Christmas stockings with love letters, played hotel lobby pianos and relentlessly spoke with strangers.

He took pride in his Italian heritage and handcrafted pizza. His made-from-scratch dough regularly rose under the summer sun on his front porch.


Nick Luzietti serves pizza to friends at his Old Irving Park home.


Mr. Luzietti loved exercising in the pool at his local YMCA, or simply hanging out there and chatting with employees and residents.

“He invited everyone in and really allowed people to be themselves, and if you had a creative idea it was like, ‘Explore it! Explore it! Go further,’” said Karen Schmitz, a former colleague who made an indie movie, “The Secret Poppo,” starring Mr. Luzietti as a super sleuth that screened at the Music Box Theatre.

In addition to his daughter, Mr. Luzietti is also survived by a son, Tyler, his ex-wife, Robyne Luzietti, and four grandkids.

Services have been held.

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