Episode 10: Bourbon and buildings: An interview with John Patrick Winberry, UP studio


UP’s latest project West Beech, presented different challenges and opportunities. The UP team not only did the design, the signage, and the branding, they were also the developers.

What do design, branding, good bourbon, and a Norwegian architect firm have in common? It’s the thread to this episode’s interview with John Patrick Winberry, founding partner, chief wrangler, and architect at the UP studio.

UP is a small, nimble boutique Architecture, Interior, and Brand Design firm that believes all disciplines can live together within a given project. If you’re a client, you get the design, but maybe you need signage, a new brand, or marketing to go with that new building. That’s where UP comes in.

As part of the Mudgil project, UP used all of its creative muscle by not only designing the space but creating a shared identity and brand.

That belief of a turnkey solution makes for an interesting conversation. At 38, Winberry, on the young side of the profession, starts us out with the path he took to start UP – a path that might involve sneaking into a Richard Meier house along the way.

What does bourbon have to do with architect and design? Plenty.

Enjoy the episode.


If you’d like to read the interview, I’ve pasted the transcript below.

Music courtesy of Sounds like an Earful from Creative Commons Vol. 1 (Check them out – they have a slew of great, free music.)


UP is a small, nimble boutique architecture, interior, and brand design firm that believes all disciplines can live together within a given project. If you’re a client, you get the design, but maybe you need signage, a new brand, or marketing to go with that new building. That’s where UP comes in.

The belief of a turnkey solution makes for an interesting conversation. At 38, Winberry, on the young side of the profession, starts us out with the path he took to start UP, a path that might involve sneaking into a Richard Meier house along the way.

I was working at a firm when I was younger. I had not gone to college yet. Out of high school, I wasn’t a hundred percent sure where I wanted to go, so I ended up working at a firm, and there was someone working there. His name was Adam Wanaselja, who’s now my partner, who was going to school, and he would bring in these like fundi models into the office, and I was just so hooked on like what was happening spatially with these models.

We were working on more cookie-cutter large scale homes for wealthy clients, and I would see these models, and I was super intrigued and ended up … We snuck into a Richard Meier house, which was by our old office, and there was this moment, and I can like … I get chills thinking about it like right now because it was this amazing moment of walking through the space and understanding quickly that someone had thought about my circulation pattern through this house, and it just clicks right there for me that this was what I really, really wanted to do is this, that understanding that someone could study someone’s path through a building whether it’s a home, or a public space, or anything like that and really register the architecture to someone’s movement was really exciting to me.

That hooked me in my path to a bunch of wines after that, which would make it a really long story, but that’s basically it. Walking that Meier house really locked me into this idea of modern architecture and obsessing over for the last 15 years.

From the moment John Patrick and eventual founding partner, Adam Wanaselja, toured the house, a theme started to emerge on how space works and how it could be applied to the homes they were designing. From there, the idea for UP emerged. Originally partnering with designer Jeffrey Ramirez for design needs, Jeffrey soon joined forces and UP was born, but let’s step back. There were a couple lessons to learn.

When I was working for that firm, there was this understanding that like large or big was the way to go, and there was really no hierarchy inside of the space. There was no understanding of like, “Ah, this is going to be where people gather, and this is going to be where people have a larger gathering, and this is going to be more intimate.” Like there was these moments that were missing in the projects that we are working on, and through that Meier house, I just like understood.

I was like, “Oh, this is where we would gather a small group of people for an intimate view out of the courtyard, and this is where we would party with 30 people on the roof deck.” It was just like this beautiful understanding of space, and I really wasn’t that well educated in it at the time, so it was really just this like instant education for me of like there’s so much more in architecture that I needed to understand. Yeah, that. It’s really those moments of just hierarchy through the space that were really, really beautiful and well-executed, by the way.

Their latest project, West Beach, presented different challenges and opportunities. The UP team this time not only did the design, the signage, and the branding. They were also the developers.

It’s been an amazing experience for us because I think on multiple levels that architects in general, a lot of times, we are part of that where we think very big sometimes or we’re very concept-driven, but there also is the tangible aspects of getting it built on time and on budget. A lot of times, that doesn’t sound as sexy as talking about the concept of a project, but for us, we wanted all to work. We think like we’re a concept-driven studio, but it also should be built on time. I think both of those things can happen simultaneously, and they don’t need to be detached from each other.

West Beach has given us that experience where we’re going to the site once a week, and we’re managing not only the architecture, the interior, and the brand design because we did all of that for this project, but we’re also managing the craziness of a job site where things get delivered and they’re incorrect, or we had three days of snow, and we lost three weeks in the budget because of that. There’s all those things that we’re learning, but I think the core principle for us is that we believe in minimal sustainable architecture that is integrated into a neighborhood, and we had the opportunity to do it, and it was a success, so that’s amazing, and we’re looking to do many more of that.

There’s a nuts-and-bolts aspect to it too because obviously, doing that much work, we’re rewarded on the backend of that project as well, and I just mean like financially, we’re invested more in it than if we’re just hired as the architect, or the interior design firm, or the brand design firm. There’s a benefit there, and I think there’s a benefit for any studio to be honest with you whether you’re young and old because architecture inherently is a pretty difficult hustle.

If this could potentially give us a more stable footing and allow us to maybe take less work and be a lot more meticulous with those jobs that we select that are client-based only because I think in the end, we always want that. We always want a client coming to us that’s looking to challenge something like a doctor’s office. We’ve done a lot of retail spaces in New York City and in California, and we love that idea that a client is willing to take the ride with us and challenge whatever norm that’s out there, so we always want that to happen in our studio, but this self-initiated stuff is giving this a little more stability just to the daily grind of running an office.

An early project was Mudgil Practices, a husband and wife team of a dermatologist and dentist who wanted to house both of their medical practices in a shared, but separate office space. By designing all of the elements, architecture, interior, and brand design simultaneously, UP was able to create a visual language that is consistent throughout all aspects of the project.

We have this concept at doctor’s offices, and I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced this. It makes no sense to me like why a doctor’s office are typically dark, and narrow, and winding, and like … It’s like that adds like so much more stress to the process and like it’s insane, so like we were super interested in like creating clarity like, “Is there a way to simplify just the experience of circulating through the space, so it wasn’t like that nightmare to go into just the exam room?”

We created this really simple bar scheme and our circulation path was one giant central hall is what we called it. Once we made that gesture, it was really exciting because we had created a … like informing the circulation pattern for the patients, but what we also started to understand is that other … The doctors that were in the space, the staff that was in the space, they were all circulating through this really clean plan, and what we did is we mapped out their circulation patterns, and we combined them, and then we grafted them to the ceiling, and that was like a main gesture that we made inside of that space.

Where the integration back into brand design happened was now, all of our wayfinding signs, instead of being placed on the door, which is where they typically would be in a doctor’s office, we actually raised them to the ceiling, and there was that subtle integration. Again, it wasn’t like overt. We weren’t trying to slap it in anyone’s face, but it was like there, the gesture that we made, experiencing the space, and we made these subtle moves so that the brand design, the interior, and the architecture all overlapped on each other in a very minimal kind of way.

Again, we’re not trying to be over the top with it. We’re just trying to make those subtle gestures, so the fact that the wayfinding signs were at the ceiling, a patient walking could always register the ceiling motion, which was one of our main experiences to the space. That’s how that all happened and the interaction of it.

The conversation turns to beers, bourbon, and maybe UP’s dream project, designing a boutique restaurant where they control the whole process right down to the design of the menus.

We have a bucket list on our wall of projects that we want, and we’ve done a bunch of small restaurants through the years just through little things, but we haven’t really had like a really nice … and we don’t care if it’s a 200-square-foot shop, or 2,000, or 20, 000. The scale is something that we were not really concerned about, but we love the idea of grabbing a small boutique restaurant where we’re doing the architecture, the interior, the brand design, so we’re doing all these main architectural conceptual things, the interiors are interacting with that, and then we’re doing the menus too, right?

Like when you’re reading the menu, you’re seeing something that’s referring back to the architecture that’s happening like right above your head. We just love that layering, and we’ve been on a bunch, but we have yet to convince them to have us take that leap. Yeah. That’s one of our bucket list projects is doing a restaurant.

Bourbon and design go hand in hand. It has to taste good and look good, and like good design, it has to communicate why you should pick that bottle from the others on the shelf. I’m a sucker for good design when it comes to buying beer and booze. If it’s got good design, I’ll probably buy it.

We’re really into, in the studio, Hudson Baby Bourbon, and it’s like this beautiful, like such a minimal design. The bourbon is unbelievable too, so it’s like a perfect synergy that’s happening there, but like the branding is so smart and so simple, and it’s just like … It just feels right like everything about it feels just like well-thought out. Like you said, like I’m a hundred percent like that. I see that, and I’m just like, “I have to give it a chance like they spent this much time working on the label. Like how do I not give this a chance? How do I not experience this?” Yeah. Yeah, we’re into that as well.

I have to ask each guest who their big influences are. It’s a cliché question, but it always garners a great answer. This one is no exception.

We’re really inspired by and that’s Snøhetta. Snøhetta does architecture. They do interiors. They do landscape design, and they also do brand design. Their output on a daily basis is just astonishing. The amount of work that they produce and at the quality that they produce it at is something that for us as a young studio, we look up to them immensely.

That’s our goal. If we can get close to Snøhetta, we’ve done something really, really, really good. They did a building my wife and I visited last year, the Oslo Opera House, and it is … I’ve had been super lucky to see a lot of different places and a lot of different buildings. That I think is my favorite building of all time. Like from start to finish, what they were able to accomplish with that building is so astonishing and to like study where … It was basically in this wasteland of Oslo.

It was underdeveloped. It wasn’t used, and they were able to reinvigorate this entire area with this single building and not only just create like a beautiful piece of architecture. Honestly, it’s stunning what they were able to do, but like it’s mindboggling like the way that they folded down a roof surface to engage the street to have … and it’s open all the time, so people were just like … when we went there. I think I went there like five times. I always like to go different times of the day and just see like what’s happening.

It was like 11:30 at night, and go to any other public space like that, it is not really occupied, but this was packed with people still, and it’s like people running their bikes. Just the way that the architecture engaged the urban scale was just like something I never experienced before and is really … it was just so beautiful to see and experience, and I was the most jealous I’ve ever been of a project in my entire life in a good way, in a way that like, “Okay.” Like, “We need to step up what we’re doing.” Like, “This is where we want to be.” Yeah, so it’s great. Snøhetta to us is one of our top firms, and we love the fact that they do a lot of multiple disciples. Yeah. They’re definitely someone that we look up to very heavily.

That Oslo building that Winberry visited prompted him to email the Snøhetta partnership. The result of that email might be surprising.

If I see something, I’m just like, “I’m just going to email the firm.” Like I’ve never interacted with them ever, and I just emailed the two principles, and I was just like, “I just want to let you know that like that building affected me. Just personally, like I was affected by this building.” They emailed me back within an hour, and they’re like one of the top five firms in the world right now. They just emailed me, and they were like, “That is the nicest thing. We greatly appreciate that. Come grab a drink with us.” You can see that like it’s not just like for lack of a really cheesy architecture cliché. It’s not like just a façade like that’s … They’re just like really engaging people on multiple levels.

I saw them lecture recently, and I think this is something that I’m always really interested in is like ego. We all have it, and it’s very difficult to sometimes like manage that in a studio, and their lecture that they gave was really about like this idea of releasing your ego and letting the best idea win inside of the studio even if it’s not yours. It’s just like a really beautiful take on things, and I think, to be honest, like that’s a very difficult thing to do, and to hear them say that, it was like, “Wow.” Like, “Maybe that is … The best idea always should win even if it’s …” You’re part of the collective that is coming up with it. If it’s not exactly yours, but it’s … and someone else is better, like let that win. I thought that was really sound advice that you don’t ever hear from a firm of that caliber.


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