In a unified new studio space, the nonprofit continues its mission of training people with HIV/AIDS to work as artisans
Creating beauty and changing lives: It’s the guiding mission of the Alpha Workshops, an innovative Manhattan-based nonprofit that Kenneth Wampler—who once designed custom fabrics for Mary McFadden and Parish-Hadley—founded in 1995 to train men and women with HIV/AIDS in the decorative arts. “I had been working in housing for homeless people with HIV/AIDS and thought, What’s next?” Wampler recalls, realizing that many of those living with the disease needed jobs. “I firmly believe that it’s healthier to focus your energy on your creativity than on your illness.”
Two decades on, the Alpha Workshops is a thriving part of the American design scene. The latest development is its new headquarters, in the Chelsea-area building that has housed the studio from the beginning. Designed pro bono by the New York architecture and interiors firm Coffinier Ku, managed gratis by A-list contractor Stephen Fanuka, and incorporating products donated by Waterworks, Kohler, Caesarstone, Krups, and other manufacturers, the project consolidated on one floor a previously scattered group of classrooms and ateliers. While the studio school teaches HIV-positive students luxe decorative finishes such as gilding and Venetian plaster, the ateliers employ about 20 artisans—all of them studio-school graduates—who craft wallpapers, furniture, lighting, and more for top architects and decorators. The workshops’ designs are also translated into textiles and carpets for leading furnishings companies, among them Pollack and Edward Fields.
“I try to involve the Alpha Workshops in every interior I do,” says AD100 decorator Jamie Drake, who fell head over heels for its lively wallpapers 18 years ago and so enthusiastically embraced the organization’s talents and philosophy that he became chairman of its board of directors. “I love that you can commission one-of-a-kind works or adapt their designs to make them bespoke. And it’s exciting to see the never-ending array of unique things they create.”