Jaki Johnsen

studio Blu design

I interned at the Metropolitan Opera for the 96/97 season, and left in the summer of 97 for a job at Production Design Group (PDG) in Chelsea.

For the most part, PDG’s work was in television news and sports. I worked on Dateline, VTV, FOX and NBC affiliate stations around the world. PDG also did highly theatrical, themed environments, restaurants and retail spaces, including the NBC Experience in Rockefeller Center for which I was one of two project managers. I did everything I could to learn from these amazingly talented folks, starting out as a struggling intern and working my way up to project manager. It was a great opportunity.

After about three years, I left PDG to work for an architect who did gorgeous, custom, residential work with fabulously enormous budgets for properties in Westchester and New York City. No expense was spared in the custom woodwork and cabinetry. I learned about exotic woods, old world construction and design details.

However, I really missed working in production, and when DMD Group in Soho offered me a job working in corporate theatre and museum exhibits, I took it right away. I loved it. After about three years, I felt ready to begin working on my own, and started to take small shows on the side. Eventually, I had three projects of my own as well as my day job, so time was getting very tight. I had scheduled two days of meetings with vendors and venues for my projects, so, for the first time in my life, I planned to take a sick day. On September 11, 2001, I called in sick, and then headed south on Lafayette from my East Village apartment at about 9:30 a.m. When I entered the lobby for my first meeting, I ran into the FBI and all hell breaking loose.

My appointments were cancelled, of course, but the world had significantly changed, and suddenly, it seemed so silly to be playing this kind of game at my age. Life was too short to do anything but what I really wanted to do, so I left DMD and started my own business.

In September 2001, I opened studio Blu design, and have never looked back. I work in Corporate Theatre, Exhibits, Commercial Interiors and Furniture Design. I have a studio in Alphabet City, Manhattan, where I work with a lot of talented artists and assistants whose varied skills, dedication and quirks enhance my life and my art every single day. I hope that if I’ve learned nothing else all of these years, I’ve learned how to be a good boss and colleague. This is a fun business, and I love it. I’m grateful every day.

It’s been an interesting journey since I started at the MET. I used to arrive at Lincoln Center at about six every morning and drink my coffee on the empty stage, looking out at the house, wondering if I would ever get a job or make a career out of all this fabulousness. It was hard to know where to go from the top, but it filled me with the sense that anything was possible if I worked really hard and stayed humble.

I hope you are enjoying the ride as much as I am.