The Pro AV industry is loaded with talented people, and at SCN, we're proud to celebrate the achievements of the newest members of our Hall of Fame.
According to John Storyk, serendipity—that just-right merging of opportunity and preparedness—has been a major force in his life, and when listening to him recount his professional and personal successes, it’s easy to see why.
His start in studio design has been well-documented—hired by Jimi Hendrix to design a nightclub, only for it to be turned into a personal recording studio decades before that would become the norm. That sounds serendipitous enough, but Storyk takes it back a step to show multiple levels of destiny at play.
“I was literally waiting on a line for some ice cream in the summer of ’68,” he said. “And so I grabbed a copy of whatever the free local newspaper was there and started fumbling through it while waiting. I went to the personals and there was an ad looking for carpenters to work for free on an experimental nightclub, which I thought was a curious thing to do. I put a dime in a pay phone and answered the ad, and an hour later I'm with these crazy guys who have this idea for this experimental nightclub in SoHo. I told them I'd help build this club if they let me redesign it—which, for some reason, they agreed to!
“I quickly redrew it and worked out a few more details. We made these images with Kodak slide projectors, colored lights, and mirror balls, and smoke came up from these platforms on the floor. All totally illegal—no building permits, no nothing. It opened in November, and by February it was on the cover of Life magazine and life changed on a dime for me. Everybody would go to this place at least once, including Jimi Hendrix one night, who was in the process of taking over a blues club in the basement at 52 West 8th Street.”
And what was above that basement? “At the time, I didn't completely realize that the club that I was hired to renovate that became Electric Lady was in the basement of a very famous movie theater by one of my favorite architects who I was studying in college by the name of Frederick Kiesler,” explained Storyk. “I knew about this movie theater that he designed in 1927, but I didn't know where it was, and it was not until I was into construction that I realized that I was creating a studio for in the basement of Frederick Kiesler's movie theater! It was extraordinary set of events for me.”
That would make it at least serendipity time three—and that’s just at the very start of Storyk’s career. “I think serendipity is anything but luck,” he said. “I think it's more like trying to get a drink of water when it's raining. There's plenty of water, but if you can't figure out how to catch it, it just disappears and goes back to the ocean. You have to have your antenna raised, and I try to keep it raised as much as possible.”
At a Thanksgiving dinner 35 years ago, serendipity struck again as Storyk met Beth Walters, who would become his business partner and wife shortly thereafter. “Beth changed my life,” he said. “I've been with Beth for way over half of my professional career and almost half of my life. She changed everything.”
Together, he and Walters have made the Walters-Storyk Design Group (WSDG) a prosperous global company with 65 employees and five offices across the world. And while serendipity may have had a hand in some of the business decisions made, Storyk credits his partners for taking the company to new levels.
“The way the company really grew is that students became interns, and then interns became partners,” recalled Storyk. “In the last five years, I took many of the key partners that have been working with us for 15, 20, even 30 years, and offered them positions to buy-in to the company at a very low price. They're all younger than I am, so I know there's going to be a company after I leave.”
Not that he is planning on leaving any time soon. “I am anything but retired,” he noted. “By bringing in the partners, I was able to move from the tasks that didn't quite interest me as much as others—the business and accounting parts. I want to draw and sketch as much as I can. And we have a new research company that just started two years ago on some very interesting analysis software called NIRO. I have a book I'm trying to write, and I’ve got some new grandkids that I want to spend more time with.”
Plus, this leaves him time to do more teaching, another passion of his. “I think teaching be the most noble of professions,” said Storyk. “I teach a senior level course in studio design in the spring, and then I teach an online course that I wrote, but if I can get one or two people to fall in love with the subject that we're reviewing, that's enough. If you're in love with it, then you'll take care of the rest. You just figure it out on your own. That's really my goal; not to teach somebody to memorize equations, but to spark that fire.”
That spark will soon be coming to SCN, as this Hall of Famer keeps his serendipity antenna raised and joins as a columnist later this year, although the form it will take is still being developed. “Do I interview somebody each column? Do I deal with a piece of technology and then look back 200 years and see if it existed?” asked Storyk. “I don't know yet—I'm still trying to work on the lens, but I'll get it. I'm going to try and have some fun with it.”