There’s a buzz about Holmdel’s Bell Works, not just around town, but across New Jersey and into Manhattan. In the design world Bell Works has won national awards and global attention. Something altogether different is happening in suburbia and a lot of it has to do with the vision and careful choices of one man, Somerset Development President; Ralph Zucker. Similar to the chance that he took on an abandoned 2 million square foot building, the former Bell Labs, in 2014 Zucker also had the vision to recognize unique talent. He took a chance on a young designer named Paola Zamudio.
Ralph Zucker on Paola Zamudio – "When Paola set out to design the office space, we had an empty building and there was no way that anybody could see themselves here and the challenge was to go in and create small individual spaces that brought people into Bell Works. You had this huge 2 million square foot vacant building. And we had a problem. It was challenging. People would come in as prospective tenants and look around and they couldn’t see themselves in the space and they would turn around and walk out. The challenge was to create a place where people can actually see themselves in this place. So, we set out and Paola had seven offices with no client and we said ‘here – run with it – just go ahead and create – do whatever you want to do so that people can see themselves in this space. One of our first large tenants was Workwave. At the ribbon cutting CEO Chris Sullens shared the story that they didn’t see themselves in this place until they walked by the first original industrial looking spaces designed by Paola. When they saw that space they were able to relate. So, that 2000 square foot design element ended up helping us lease close to 140,000 square feet. So that’s how important design is to real estate.”
Fast forward to 2018 and Bell Works Design and Creative Director Paola Zamudio, along with Master Architect Alexander Gorlin and developer Ralph Zucker, have received the prestigious Docomomo’s Commercial Design Excellence Award, for the restoration of the historic Bell Labs, now Bell Works. In addition, Zamudio’s Manhattan based design firm NPZ Style + Décor was named as one of the “Top 10 Up and Comer Design Firms,” in the September 2017 issue of Interior Design Magazine, highlighting Zamudio’s design work at Bell Works.
Bell Works, dubbed the Metroburb, once the largest vacant commercial building in the country (so large in fact it is as tall as the Empire State Building if it were laid down horizontal), is now over 70 percent full. It consists of the mixed use of office space, culture, art, retail, dining, salon services, a public library, social areas and even open space to run and play, … Next there will be a rooftop hotel, a conference center and a ballroom the size of the Waldorf Astoria... Every day there is something exciting and new going on at Bell Works.
From the time one enters the long and winding road to the building in a park like setting, senses become full. Enter the building and it’s not unusual for someone to be playing the grand piano at the entrance, the smells of fresh coffee and baked goods fill the air, and then as you walk in a bit further and your eyes begin to take in something very exquisite. The design and decorating of the massive open social areas leaves one in awe because it is new, something not comparable or copied. From the open space café areas, to the inspirational furniture at the turf lawn (for example the Bocca Lips Sofa by Heller inspired by Dali's Mae West Lips Sofa) where children and adults are moved to gather, lounge, run, work and play, it is all welcoming. Zamudio carefully designed and sourced colorful tubes which are strewn about, separated and sometimes piled together, moving, changing, new. As you stroll through the open spaces you become part of the art in motion, all under 60,000 square feet of photovoltaic glass. It’s an ever- changing canvas painting the story of something very unique and hip unfolding. It’s the escape from, and at the same time a modern embrace of: suburbia. The merging of both the history and the future is constantly unfolding in a uniquely creative and fluid style. That is due to the very carefully crafted and passionately planned design work of Bell Works Creative Director; Paola Zamudio.
TapInto Holmdel & Colts Neck had the privilege of meeting with Paola one-on-one in her Design Studio in Bell Works.
TAPinto: Paola, tell us about your background where did you grow up?
Zamudio: I was born in Colombia, South America and grew up there until the age of 13 when my family moved to Miami Florida. I spoke only Spanish when I came to Miami and of course I learned English quickly, but Miami is rich with the Latin culture and I could speak Spanish at school, so it was an easy adjustment for me. My parents live there, my three older brothers live there and, so many of my friends. I love all the diversity there, people from all parts of the world. I love to go back home to Miami to visit and I manage to get there every few months. My base is in New York City now which I love and my design studio NPZ Style + Design is there. I’m also in Holmdel a few days a week as Design Director for Bell Works and I love it here too! I feel so fortunate to be working on this amazing Bell Works project. I am so lucky to have the best of both worlds, the city and the suburbs. I love to go and walk around NYC and I love to go and walk around here at Bell Works. It makes me feel so good to just go and walk and take everything in and feel it all and that inspires me.
TAPinto: Paola, in 2014 you were a young designer who had just formed your company out of your apartment in NYC, what brought you here to Bell Works? How did that amazing opportunity develop?
I was referred by a colleague to the Bell Works developer Ralph Zucker in late 2014. At our first meeting Ralph was so excited and passionate about the project of Bell Works and that excitement became very contagious at the first meeting. He had a clear vision of success and was so enthusiastic. I believed in him and I saw his vision, and since then it’s been a whirlwind, very fun, very productive and every day is exciting. I’ve met so many great people along the way. This Bell Works building designed by Eero Saarinen, is a masterpiece. I am very respectful of that and always mindful of that in my work here. Every day being able to work on this building makes me happy and I maintain the history and very carefully add to it something new. Preserving and recreating the old and blending it with the new is how I design here at Bell Works.
TAPinto: Paola, I know you studied and received your masters degree in Italy can you tell us about that and what happened before that that brought you to that point?
Yes, I received my master’s degree from one of the top 5 design schools in the world, Polimoda in Florence Italy. Before that I attended Barry University in Miami and earned a B.A. in Communications and also studied Theatre. I always loved television and film. I like being current with news and I thought about being an anchor news person. After graduating from Barry, my first job was at a design firm and I also did personal shopping and I loved it. I loved putting outfits together. I was enjoying working in design and fashion and I ended up then going to NYC and attended The Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC for Fashion and Image Consulting. I styled the models and worked with magazines like Lucky and Elle and styled photoshoots with well known photographers and designers. I was running around always working with the models and fashion shoots. I also styled many shows during NY Fashion Week, and it was an exciting time in my life. Then I decided I needed to do more… I always want to do more.
So, then I left NYC and went to live in Italy and study trend forecasting. In Italy while earning my masters I was immersed in fashion, art, design and architecture and how all of them together influence trends and human behavior. I loved every moment of living in Florence for a year. I realized there when I thought about it, my whole life from as early as 8 years old, I had already been designing spaces, not thinking about it, just doing it naturally. Even in my young childhood I remember working to decorate spaces wherever I was, every room I entered…. So it’s true that design came so natural to me. It was already a part of me. After my master’s degree I was more focused with my passion on design and yes again I decided to go to school, this time to the New School for Interior Design, in NYC. After studying there I started my own design firm out of my apartment. It was all very organic for me the way I opened my own business. It was suggested by a client I was doing design work for and I just took their advice and moved the idea forward. When I want to do something I do it and I don’t hesitate to make it happen if it’s the right thing.
TAPinto: What do you find most challenging in your work at Bell Works?
Zamudio: Ralph is a great supporter of my vision and he gets design. Sometimes the challenge is to have the whole team understand the importance of design and details. One of my favorite quotes fromt he late design icon Charles Eames is, "The details are not the details. The details make the design." I give great attention to every detail and I see the big picture. I am very strong and I do not mind standing firm when I know I am right. I have a passion for it and when I know it is right I keep pushing and moving and here we are today!
TAPinto: Of all your work what are you most proud of in the Bell Works building:
Zamudio: It is hard to choose but I love the tubes! I was involved in the whole process from finding the manufacturer (Moroso in Italy known for cutting edge design) to working with Ron Arad, understanding his design and for them to incorporate colors that I found in an Anni Albers painting from 1929. I worked with the designer and manufacturer to make them exactly as I envisioned them, which was a two year process, but it was worth it seeing them now. I also love the café I designed with the long tables and every office space I designed. I’m very proud of the first retail space in Bell Works that I designed, Booskerdoo Coffee. I love the terrace… everything I’ve worked on here has a special place with me. Right now I’m working on the conference center and the ballroom downstairs and it’s very exciting.
TAPinto: What recent work have you done in addition to Bell Works with your design studio?
Zamudio: Recently with my firm NPZ, I designed the first showroom in NYC for the Swedish rug company; Bolon. The project was really a lot of fun and I love the way everything turned out. That project gave me my time to enjoy the NYC part of my life and I appreciate the opportunity of that project. Their rugs are beautiful and when you truly appreciate the company or the product it makes it all the more enjoyable. Paola's design assistant Maria Claudia Narvaez Arango comments; "I have been working with Paola since 2015 and it is so inspiring. She has the capacity to bring the best qualities of a person and put them into action to create something beautiful. She is uplifting and energizing. I'm grateful to her because she really makes an effort to create space where creativity can flourish. She inspires me."
TAPinto: Who do you think in your life influenced you the most? Who is your strongest supporter?
My mom definitely! She’s very strong, smart and hardworking. She has always supported me my whole life with my dreams. My mom taught me that when you work hard you can be whatever you want to be. My mom was a decorator in Colombia and she would make crafts and home décor. She sold home and decorating items in her little shop. She sold things like flower arrangements and bathroom accessories that she would make, like the linens… She handmade table clothes, linens, centerpieces…She had accounts, one with a large hotel in Columbia, and she would make special decorating items for the hotel.
TAPinto: Paola, you seem so calm always, what’s your stress management secret and do you have any hobbies?
Zamudio: I don’t believe in being stressed because you don’t accomplish anything. If I start to feel stress I am aware of it and I say to myself, ‘ok, now chill..’ Otherwise you cannot accomplish anything. My hobbies… I love self -care, disconnecting from all electronic devices and just wandering, walking into a museum or an art show. Just going out for an adventure. I like balance. I love to sleep, I get my eight hours. Sleep is a priority. I enjoy eating a nice meal, listening to good music, reading a great book, talking to someone I truly enjoy. I like painting… anything artsy. I love caring for and having fun with my dog Joy-Z. She’s such a joy!!
TAPinto: What is your idea of a perfect night out?
Zamudio: Good food, a good movie, quality moments with the people I decide to share my time with. I enjoy a nice cocktail, prefer small groups of people, groups where you can have good conversations and connect. I like the simple things in life.
TAPinto: Paola, what is your message to young women today?
It’s super important to be yourself, don’t compare your life to someone else looking at their social media and hoping to live their life. Focus on what you want to do and focus on yourself, believe yourself. Be the best version of yourself. You can do anything if you work hard at it and stay focused. I am very true to myself and I do what I love and what I believe in. I don’t let people take advantage of me. If I did that I would not be in the position I am in. I’m telling all the young women out there; I’m very petite, sometimes people think they can take advantage of me and then they find out I am a ball of fire. So listen, always do your job, be on time, show up, do more work than what is asked of you an keep moving forward. Don’t pay attention to negative people, be yourself. Never give up you can do whatever it is that you want to do. You are powerful.
TAPinto: Thank you Paola for the wonderful experience of getting to know you and your work.
For more information on NPZ Style + Décor go to http://npzdesign.com
Paola recently was a guest speaker at the January Holmdel Chamber of Commerce meeting, held at Bell Works. To see photos and video of her presentation and design tour; go to Holmdel Chamber of Commerce on Facebook.