The first in a series celebrating Capo Beach artists. Ron Whitworth of Whitworth Design makes art out of virtually anything and everything.
DANA POINT, CA – Ron Whitworth is a man on a mission – a mission that starts with inspiring materials – highly polished stainless steel, carbon fiber, anodized aluminum, glass, plastic, resin, metals of all kinds and often, found objects or repurposed materials. Industrial elements are honed, welded, sanded, lasered, water jetted and manipulated, emerging as beautifully rendered furniture, railings, awnings, unique architectural elements and edgy, cleanly designed objets d’art.
I visited the wiry, energetic Whitworth in his studio/home on Sepulveda Avenue in Capistrano Beach. The building is nestled on a street graced by homes designed by famous contemporary architect Frank Gehry, and peopled by landscape designers, metal workers, surfboard shapers and artists of all stripes. His street front studio is highlighted by a remarkable work in progress – a stainless steel, tension-hinged mailbox with a magnetic closure that is sure to delight his mail carrier. It will be attached to stainless steel cables suspended from a brushed steel arch, cut via water jet by the intrepid designer. This was my first glimpse into Ron’s world.
The studio, which occupies the entire first floor, is a marvel. I was struck first by its incredible neatness. This is a man who loves precision and order in all things, as evidenced by his bold, edgy, clean and meticulously crafted designs. Every bolt, metal piece, tool and part is in its place in an environment that is as heterogeneous as it is intriguing.
A giant stainless steel cross spattered with blood red paint (a piece for nearby Capo Beach Church) is strangely at home in this scene, adjacent to a gorgeous vintage wire glass contemporary desk bordered by exposed walnut burl wood; a Modern Kawasaki 250 4–stoke bike (waiting to be severed and mounted on two sides of a wall as a unique motocross wall sculpture); and a gorgeous double planked redwood dining table currently under construction.
The “Bentley” table is the quintessential metaphor for Whitworth’s talent. He not only designs beautiful pieces, but fabricates them with an attention to detail that would rival the most punctilious craftsman. It will become a Thanksgiving gift for Whitworth’s wife, Michelle – unless a client snaps it up first. Like so many of his designs, the table is at once familiar and serendipitous. He took a gorgeous knotted redwood slab, ripped it down the middle and joined it with a center trough crafted from industrial aluminum. The trough is both practical and beautiful – a receptacle for wine bottles, candles, and table décor. The base is a testament to Whitworth’s industrial aesthetic. Triangular, powder-coated steel structures in satin copper with matching screws, meticulously and perfectly countersunk into the sturdy base.
Whitworth credits his father for instilling in him a strong work ethic, insatiable drive for perfection and innate understanding of how things work. He recalls an early memory of the elder Whitworth, a dental equipment supplier, teaching him to weld at an early age and painstakingly helping him sand and hone a pinewood derby race car – a finely sculpted dart, expertly painted, hulled and weighted with mercury to blow his fellow Boy Scouts off the track. His Dad’s early death at 44 sent Whitworth reeling off to “the school of hard knocks”. At 17, he attended high school in San Luis Obispo during the day, and worked nights to pay for his own apartment. He was drawn to what he loved (cars) and relied on his already remarkable skillset to make ends meet. Since he’d been working in various body shops since the age of 14, his boss trusted him one night to do a base coat on a Mustang. His work was so outstanding that he was promoted to head painter the next day.
From early body shop work, Ron progressed to high tech Swift Engineering in San Clemente where he honed his craft working on dozens of precision open wheel racecars driven by the likes of Andretti, Fittipaldi, and Gordon. Whitworth’s attention to detail and expert precision was well suited to a field where a hair’s width error can throw off aerodynamics and performance. Along the way, he continued to work multiple jobs, tinker with his own designs and create extraordinary industrial art. His studio is filled with repurposed automotive parts. His popular “Braketime” clocks, made from laser cut aluminum rotors mounted on carbon fiber backing are a best seller, while his one-of-a- kind inventions like “Downforce” – a carbon fiber wing element from Andretti’s Indy car, converted to a shelf supported by stays and mounts from the same car, appeals to the discriminating collector.
Whitworth’s furniture and functional pieces have been celebrated in Architectural Digest, Space, Orange Coast and many other publications. Every piece is in a class of its own and many have earned industry design awards. They feature surprising automotive and industrial elements and clean, contemporary designs that are as beautiful as they are functional. Go to whitworthdesign.com and check out his “libation station”, a contemporary wine and cheese station with laser-cut steel supports and machined aluminum shelving with cleverly concealed hardware.
Take a look at his “Launch” clothing hampers – cylindrical tubes in exotic wood veneers with laser-cut breathable aluminum lids, removable catch bags, and casters. Whitworth’s “Pulse” speaker stands have been lauded in multiple audio industry publications and come in multiple sizes and heights for the discerning audiophile. My favorite pieces are the “stingray” shelf, and his stainless steel contour chair – a modern beauty with thoughtfully added Teflon guides to protect flooring.
All these inventions reveal a thinking man, just as the whimsical dog bowls custom-designed for Rugby, his giant, effusive and much loved sheepadoodle, expose his sense of humor. And if all this is not enough, Whitworth spends much of his work day in the homes and offices of the rich and famous – designing and building unique stainless steel stair railings, precision crafted awnings and sleek architectural elements.
Finding himself often fabricating supports, designing functional bases or repairing art elements produced by others, Whitworth recently had an epiphany. Realizing he has spent years helping other people (artist’s, architects, contemporary designers) make their art shine, he’s decided he’s ready to accept his own intrinsic artistry and move his main focus to his own inventions and designs. Look out world. Who knows what’s next for this prolific, energetic, endlessly creative “artist”? Yes. Ron Whitworth, fabricator, inventor, craftsman, engineer is indeed an artist.