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ANW Lobby Redesign: Q&A with Kari Kroll & Francisco Chacin

By A Noise Within
September 22, 2021

We have re-opened our doors for the 2021-2022 fall season at A Noise Within! As patrons return to the theater, they will be greeted with a new lobby to make them feel at home, courtesy of interior designer Francisco Chacin (he/him/his) and artist Kari Kroll (she/her/hers). Lobby renovations were funded by the Ahmanson Foundation, as part of a larger grant to help us create a more welcoming space for our audiences.

How long have you been doing creative work? What’s your design background?  

Kari: I’ve done creative work for as long as I can remember. I always wanted to be an artist. I got a degree from the Manhattan School of Visual Arts in Fine Art, where my area was illustration. I worked freelance as an illustrator for many years, first in editorial and then as a resident artist at my sister’s high-end staging company. I started creating these canvases that were a combination of collage and painting to big success. So, I decided to start that venture out here in Los Angeles.  

Francisco: Since I was a kid in Venezuela, I was WAY too interested when my mom was deciding on a new sofa or what color to use on a wall. I made sure to give my opinion, LOUDLY—always too loudly—and luckily my mom listened sometimes. When I quit my corporate TV job in Toronto and moved to LA, I started working at a high-end interior design store. My favorite part of the job was to be able to solve the interior designer’s problems with custom furniture, fabrics and wallpapers—every project was different, so every solution had to be. After a few years working with designers from all over the world, I decided it was time to be on my own and started Chacin Designs & Consulting at the end of 2019, and I’ve been at it ever since.  

How did your partnership with ANW begin? 

Kari: That’s a funny story! There are two shops here in Pasadena, next door to each other: Tuck, a clothing boutique and Southern Roots, a gift boutique and plant shop. The owners of both shops have some of my pieces in their stores as decor. Julia Rodriguez-Elliott went shopping one day at both places, was exposed to my art, and fell in love with it. She ended up purchasing some pieces for her home. And that was how my connection began with A Noise Within! It was through Julia. 

Francisco: I don’t know if you know but, I’m married to one of ANW’s Resident Artists—his name is Kasey Mahaffy—so I guess you could say, nepotism? Kidding, of course! Someone at an opening night party for a show heard that I had started my own design business and they mentioned it to Julia; then she came to me and asked if I would pitch some ideas to her and I screamed YESSSSSSSSSS!!! And she hasn’t been able to get rid of me ever since. 

How did you develop your vision for the front lobby? 

Kari: I got to sit down with Francisco and Julia and we had a meeting on site. I love the space; I’m a huge fan of mid-century modern design. I got a good feel for the space and the architecture. We found 3 pieces on my Instagram that really spoke to Julia and Francisco, that they could envision in the lobby space, and I used them as a jumping off point. It was a collaboration between the 3 of us: Julia, Francisco, and me. 

Francisco: I kept thinking about how the lobby of a theater always has so much energy: friends and families are gathering, and there’s always conversations, laughter and excitement in the air. A lobby is a space that transports you from the real world, to wherever else you are heading into—it should make you forget about where you just were and excite you about what’s to come. After our initial meeting, and a ton of research, I came across a small painting in a vintage shop in Palm Springs. It stopped me in my tracks. It was so colorful and elegant; it felt so loud and restrained at the same time. It was the perfect inspiration. From that point onwards, everything came into focus.   

Tell me more about your process to create ANW’s lobby. 

Kari: I had the palettes from Francisco for the colors that he used for the wall and the detail work. So, I went and got sample pots of those specific paint colors and created my own palette off of those colors. And I typically sketch right onto the canvas, especially with collages. I do the collage elements first and then the paint is applied on top of that. 

Francisco: The space itself is a DREAM; I mean, where else do you have a bona fide mid-century gem to work with? I felt like as long as I respected it, everything would work out; and the best way to do it is to highlight what makes it so special. The process was super collaborative, and I’m so happy that Julia and the whole team at ANW were always on board with all I kept throwing at them. Because of the pandemic, we had to work remotely a lot, so we relied on boards with pictures of each single piece that was coming into the mix—making sure that it was all coherent and appropriate for the room. I’m so excited it’s finally ready for sharing. 

Were there any unexpected challenges when working on our lobby? 

Kari: No, but I will say it was the first time I worked in such an extreme dimension. It wasn’t a negative challenge. It was more of a positive challenge to paint in a dimension I hadn’t before, and it was really cool. I really enjoyed it. 

Francisco: The floor plan! It was hard to add more seating in a way that didn’t overwhelm the space. Once we relocated the bar / concession stand—which brought on another set of issues—it felt like the whole room took a deep breath and everything flowed from there. 

What was your favorite part of working on our lobby? 

Kari: This whole project was marked with joy. There was great anticipation and excitement from Julia and Francisco on that first meeting. So, the whole thing is stamped with playfulness. It was a complete thrill to have this opportunity. ANW happens to be one of the coolest architectural gems in Pasadena. That is the cream for me. I get chills thinking that I got to work in such a space.  

Francisco: Too many to count really, but one particular highlight was collaborating with Kari Kroll, she’s a breath of fresh air and so much fun to work with. She instinctively understood what the lobby needed and made some GORGEOUS pieces.  

Another one is the land acknowledgement that is prominently featured in the space—I’m so impressed by ANW’s push for more diversity and inclusion and their commitment to making theater accessible to students from all over Southern California—it made me so proud to be part of the process to make this lobby shine. And my THIRD favorite part is this: It’s not done yet, there are more surprises coming down the line! 

What should ANW audiences look forward to in the new lobby?  

Kari: Wow! It’s really cool! Francisco really pulled it together to make a playful vibe. It really sets the tone for having a fabulous evening at the theater. It’s a very comfortable space without being pretentious. It’s going to welcome you. It’s going to be alive. I can’t think of a better word to use, alive.  

Francisco: I hope they are looking forward to many nights at ANW, filling the chic and inviting space with the special sound of loved ones coming together to experience the magic of this theater. 

Follow Kari Kroll (@kari.kroll) and Francisco Chacin (@franciscochu) on Instagram to keep up with what they’re doing next!

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