Ron Pizzuti chats about art and design while giving a tour of his Miranova penthouse.
On the 26th floor of the Miranova residential tower, the Pizzuti penthouse is long thought to be the best-designed modern living space Downtown. Developer Ron Pizzuti and his wife of 50 years, Ann, live here quietly, opening their private home to family, friends and occasional philanthropic events.
The Pizzutis are pioneers of Downtown living. Seventeen years after moving into their home atop Miranova, Pizzuti says he still has to pinch himself when it comes to this place. Both he and his wife grew up in modest settings. The young Pizzuti moved nine times between kindergarten and his senior year of high school due to his father's real estate investments in Kent, Ohio.
But he has come far from those days in Kent. Aside from being one of the city's most noted developers and a globally recognized art collector, his home in Downtown Columbus was once presented in Architectural Digest by its New York-based architect, the late Charles Gwathmey (the architect who said he strived for serenity when designing the white-walled, 12,000-square-foot home in the sky).
On this rainy Thursday morning, Ron Pizzuti ushers us into the main living space. (Ann is not at home.) As we enter, he seems oblivious to the fact that first-time visitors are gasping at the oversized artwork and the panoramic views that the voluminous space offers. Some walls here soar to 40 feet high—to accommodate the renowned Pizzuti art collection—and expansive windows offer a view of the Columbus skyline and the bustling building sites situated several stories below. The LeVeque Tower looms large and statuesque, as it centers into view.
That dramatic visual impact was important when this space was designed. The Pizzutis have been among the top 200 art buyers and collectors in the world each year since 1994, according to annual lists created by ARTNews. Their home, when coupled with their art, is awe-inspiring. When he designed the penthouse home, Gwathmey saw to it that the Pizzuti abode would accommodate the couple's growing art collection.
Yet, this space also has a sense of playfulness and modern order—ceilings soar and light pours in through wide windows and a long skylight. Tables, chairs—nearly every piece of furniture—seem perfectly positioned, proportionately designed for the space. Many pieces, including the dining room table, were created specifically for this home.
Pizzuti once told a writer for Forbes magazine that buying art purely as investment was the wrong approach. “Art is a passion,” he says today.
This space reflects his passion for contemporary art. The sheer size of the art on display cannot be underestimated. One metal sculpture had to be lifted by crane to the top of this building. Another, a colorful statue of a youngster, was flown in by helicopter after Pizzuti purchased it from the Japanese artist called, simply, Mr.
This morning Pizzuti seems happy to be our tour guide. He's wearing casual black trousers and a polo shirt, though the ensemble includes a matching black sling for an arm injury he suffered after a fall when leaving a Short North restaurant five weeks earlier.
It's only 10 a.m., but Pizzuti explains that his appointments started at 7 that morning—with the physical therapist and a few others. Passing through the living room, he stops briefly to explain only one piece of art. Hanging over the fireplace is a huge portrait of the British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare, painted by another artist, Kehinde Wiley. This was one painting in a series presented at the Sean Kelly Gallery in New York.
Pizzuti leads us into the library, where ladders climb up layers of bookshelves and a circular staircase winds upward to a reading loft. We stop at the door, and he apologizes for the disarray. They are in the process of rearranging their books, he explains. He and his wife are working together to reorganize the room.
Art books are on that wall, he says, waving toward the west side of the room. On the north wall there are sections for history, fiction and more. Later, he points to a series of red bindings on a top shelf: bound collections of Columbus Monthly, dating back to this magazine's first issues in 1975. We settle into comfortable chairs.
Pizzuti sets down a book he has been carrying. It's Dan Brown's recent release, “Origin.” When asked, he tells the story of hosting Brown and his father, in town during Pelotonia to honor OSU's—The James Hospital, where the author's mother was treated for cancer.
It's clear, as Pizzuti talks throughout this conversation, that their Miranova home is frequently filled with important guests, including their children and grandchildren. Yet, he says, when Ann's not in town, he stays in this library, a comfortable space when he's home alone.
There was a time in this city when Pizzuti and Les Wexner, the billionaire founder of L Brands, were roommates. It's difficult to imagine, these two poor souls—before they became successful entrepreneurs, art collectors and philanthropists—sowing their wild oats together in their 20s.
After graduating from Kent State University in 1962, Pizzuti skipped a job offer at Goodyear. He arrived in Columbus to work at the Downtown Lazarus department store in yard goods, the vintage term for the fabric department. There, he oversaw the custom creation of the wardrobe for Miss Ohio, 1964.
Today, from his penthouse high above the city, Pizzuti can likely see the building where his career began. This morning he recalls his first days working at Lazarus. He had no money. Coffee was available on an honor system, and he swiped a few cups until his first payday. The same goes for the crackers that were offered there. Eventually, he bought his first lunch at the old Buckeye Room and, with a full stomach, went on to build a bigger career at the department store over the next six-and-a-half years.
When Lazarus transferred him to a job in Dallas, he didn't stay long, returning to Columbus to work for his old friend Wexner. For another six-and-a-half years he worked for The Limited, Wexner's first venture, traveling frequently to New York. It was during that time that he began learning about art.
Eventually, he started traveling to Paris on business with Wexner. Tired of pubs and visiting cathedrals, he walked into an art gallery. There, he caught a glimpse of a Frank Stella painting priced at $10,000. He returned home without it and researched the artist.
“It was my first exposure to contemporary art,” he says.
Today he and Stella are friends, and the artist has been in this Miranova home. A much larger rendition of that first work Pizzuti saw in Paris now hangs perfectly over the library's fireplace.
The Pizzutis have been collecting art for 40 years, and Ron sits on the board of trustees for the Wexner Center Foundation, which his old friend chairs. Pizzuti also is an honorary trustee of the Columbus Museum of Art and has been involved on committees for the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.
Several years ago, when the Pizzutis' home could no longer contain their passion for art, it spilled out to a “very secure warehouse,” he says. (“We build warehouses for a living,” Pizzuti adds, greatly understating his company's development work.) Calls come in from museums around the world, and the family accommodates requests to loan out pieces for exhibition.
As years passed, and more art was purchased, the couple decided it was time to share more of their collection. “We had put together a pretty strong contemporary collection and we weren't able to show it,” he says. “It was time to share what we've done.”
That's when Pizzuti bought a 90-year-old former insurance building in the Short North, facing Goodale Park, and refurbished it into the Pizzuti Collection, Columbus's first private art museum. It opened in 2015. More of the family's collection is displayed nearby at Le Méridien Columbus, The Joseph, a luxury boutique hotel that opened on High Street in 2015, another Pizzuti project, this one named for Ron's father.
These days, Pizzuti talks a lot more about art than he does the development business he founded in 1976. Building Miranova—Downtown's first residential high-rise—and an adjacent corporate building was obviously not an easy task. Initially, the site involved a furniture store and an art shop situated on a brownfield that needed an environmental cleanup. But our
conversation about building Miranova quickly turns to art again. Pizzuti says he still owns the 63 pieces of African art that he agreed to take as part of the Miranova property purchase.
The couple was living in Bexley as he was pondering the Miranova project. “People were screaming for a [residential] alternative,” he recalls of his Bexley neighbors, many of whom had become empty nesters.
It took “about two years” to convince his wife that Downtown was a viable living option. That's because their Bexley place had all the right accoutrements—a big lawn, a swimming pool and a tennis court, he says. In the end, Ann agreed to move Downtown, and the couple donated their large Bexley residence to serve as the home of the president of Ohio State University.
Pizzuti chuckles as he recalls the early days of designing the Miranova complex. He fired Miranova's first architect, Gwathmey, of the New York-based Gwathmey, Siegel & Associates. The architect had designed condos with “New York-size [small] kitchens and soaking bathtubs,” explains Pizzuti. He then hired a firm from Miami called Arquitectonica, to complete the building's design. (Bigger kitchens were then installed.)
Eventually, he rehired the first architect, he says, to design their top-floor home. Gwathmey made a statement, though, when he redesigned the entire top of the building. Pizzuti laughs; the two remained good friends until the architect's death a few years ago.
“We probably overbuilt and overdesigned,” he says, in retrospect.
The developer's hunch about Downtown living was correct, though. Miranova was an immediate splash. “This was an easy sale,” he recalls, remembering back to the days of recruiting his suburban peers to move their homes to the high-rise. Once the three “Johns” purchased their units sales went well, he explains. The “Johns” he refers to are former Dispatch publisher John F. Wolfe, Worthington Industries founder John H. McConnell and the astronaut and U.S. Senator John Glenn. (All three have since died.)
“Now I get in the elevator and I hardly know anyone,” he adds.
Looking out a window, Pizzuti briefly complains that the view includes a lot of rooftops of other Downtown buildings. He and his wife spend leisure hours people-watching those using the refurbished Scioto Greenway below. “We started a renaissance,” he says, of Downtown's revitalization.
Back in his library, Pizzuti looks up. Ceilings are 22- or 24-feet high here, depending on where they are measured. It's this space, on the building's west side, that creates the rounded edges that can be seen at the top of Miranova. A circular, steel staircase winds its way from the library to private guest quarters above.
“I always wanted a library with a bar,” the developer says, smiling. There is one right behind him.
Being at Home
Even though his company's projects take him all over the country and he still enjoys global travel for pleasure, Pizzuti claims Columbus as his home.
“I moved here because I had a job here,” he says. “It's a good place to raise a business and a family.”
Like others, he's become one of the city's biggest cheerleaders. “In the last few years, I jump up and down and talk about it,” he adds. From his high perch, Pizzuti has witnessed mega changes in the city, including the nearby Franklinton neighborhood—an eyesore-turned-hotspot—that once concerned early residents of his tower.
This morning, more than two hours into the conversation and after reluctantly posing for a few photos, Pizzuti offers a whirlwind tour of the rest of his home.
“I don't work from home,” he says, emphatically. Yet, we know the mind of this entrepreneurial developer and collector is always at work, even though there's not an office space apparent. Much of his time these days is spent at the 18,000-square-foot Pizzuti Collection or working with his son, Joel, who is now president of The Pizzuti Companies.
We pass through the expansive living room, with two conversational groups of four chairs each, surrounding modern coffee tables. We note the exquisite modern design of all and, later, Pizzuti promises there will be an exhibit of chairs at his museum next year. At the far side of the room, a grand stairway ascends to the second floor master suite.
There, in the living room, is a sculpture of auto parts by John Chamberlain. Nearby, high in a doorway is a web created by New York installation artist Jim Hodges that took 12 hours to hang. Even though there have been requests to loan it for museum exhibits, the manpower behind its installation and the fragility of shipping the wire pieces, have forced the couple to say “no.”
The Pizzuti kitchen is a cozy space, central to this vast home and it is well equipped for the cooking that Ann planned for Thanksgiving and that he will do for Christmas when their family gathers here. (A daughter and a son-in-law live in New Albany with their five children, another daughter is in England with her husband and two children, and son Joel resides with his wife in a neighborhood near Downtown.)
At the rear of the kitchen, there's a wine closet—Pizzuti says it's also being reorganized. He swears he's not buying more wine, but space is at a premium after an autumn tour of Italy's vineyards. Around the kitchen is the true Pizzuti family collection—more than a dozen family photos that are exquisitely framed and arranged on countertops.
Beyond, the dining room hosts furnishings created by the architect Gwathmey, perfectly designed consoles and an expansive dining room table. There's a painting sitting atop a console here, recently purchased from a local artist. Pizzuti waves toward another piece as we pass it, noting that it soon will be prepared to ship for loan to a museum. On a nearby wall is a piece by Rob Wynne, which Ann chose, that shows champagne bubbles floating from a glass.
We walk down a 70-foot gallery, a curator's delight, as Pizzuti points to each piece and tells the story of the artist behind it. Artists' names and stories come so quickly at this point that it's difficult to grasp the enormity of the collection in this space alone.
Most prominent, perhaps, is a series of a dozen—maybe more—bells hanging from the ceiling, created by Hodges. There's a chess set called “Good verses Evil” by the artist Maurizio Cattelan, in which each piece represents a person. Pizzuti ponders why fashion designer Donatella Versace stars on the evil team here.
Throughout the home, works by modern masters abound—Frank Gehry, Alexander Calder, KAWS, Willem de Kooning, Fred Wilson, El Anatsui and others.
“I have no talent,” Pizzuti responds when asked if he creates art himself.
Our tour lands at the far east side of the penthouse, in guest quarters, complete with a den and an ensuite bedroom. This area is separated from the main living quarters by the gallery and a large exterior patio that overlooks the city. Spinning around, we go back down the gallery hallway toward the elevators, noting artwork in a windowed space above—it's the master suite.
Still, there is one last thing to see, he says.
Pizzuti heads toward a small corner space dedicated to children's works. “Gallery 2600,” he says, referring to the artwork of his seven grandchildren. He's obviously pleased with their talent, so much that he also installed “PC Kids” gallery at the Pizzuti Collection. He points to a granddaughter's photo showing her near perfect reproduction of a Picasso painting.
As I focus on the picture of the child and her work, he adds: “And here's the painting.”
His granddaughter's framed replica of the Picasso painting hangs proudly nearby.