Architect a jack of all artistic trades


By Claire Harlin

When John Nalevanko was in his 20s and in love, he used to draw pictures and mail them to his sweetheart. They had met in Hawaii and she had to move to New York to attend college, so he would draw pictures of the Hawaiian flowers she missed so much. He also drew pictures of lips — “smooches” — too. That soon turned into drawing of plants, the flower replaced with a big, red “smooch.”

“We called it a ‘smoochplant’ and that’s still what it is today,” said Nalevanko, who expanded the smoochplant into a series of greeting cards, which he tucked away until he was in his mid-30s and living in San Diego.

“Then I had a new girlfriend and I showed her my drawings and we thought about marketing them,” said the local resident.

Smoochplant is now a very new trademarked company that sells “smoochcards,” decorative gift boxes and stuffed smoochplants — a romantic gift that combines the elements of stuffed animals and live flowers.

“It lasts longer than flowers. You can keep it forever,” said Nalevanko, who is working toward the product or entire concept getting picked up by a major retailer.

That would be quite an achievement for the artist, especially considering that Smoochplant is only a side gig — Nalevanko is a distinguished architect and designer who has worked out of his Del Mar office for more than 20 years.

When you are a self-described “creative machine” like Nalevanko, it’s not out of the ordinary to be a jack of all artistic trades.

“Creativity is the basis of my life,” said Nalevanko, who has mastered the art of painting in addition to his thriving business, Nollo Furniture Company, and practice as an award-winning architect. He also delves into organic gardening and has a knack for highly artistic landscaping — “artscape,” as he calls it.

“I don’t feel as if it’s a good day unless I created something that day, whether it be work on an architectural project, work on a new idea for a product, or paint,” he said.

Nalevanko has been featured more than 70 times in newspapers, magazines and books, and his designs were recently accepted by, the acclaimed online catalog company representing juried fine art and crafts from North American artists. He’s even produced two pieces of furniture — the Nollo Chair and the Nollo Swing — that have won American Institute of Architects awards and been called design “classics.”

“My main practice is architecture,” said Nalevanko. “Doing furniture helps keep my name out there.”

Creating building designs — mainly residential — in parallel with designing furniture sets him apart from others in his field. Further, he said he is the only person he knows of who does just that.

“With furniture, I can explore design language and sometimes that language can find itself into an architecture project,” Nalevanko said, adding that a design “language” is like a particular style.

He describes his furniture style as being “pure and honest,” using domestic materials and local woods, not tricky craftsmanship.

“It’s sturdily built without a lot of ornamentation,” he said.

When it comes to his residential architecture style, he said people who are very familiar with his work might recognize it, but he generally likes to come up with an original idea every time. He also said he likes to concentrate heavily on only a few projects a year so he can focus on quality and good service.

“Instead of coming in and saying ‘I’m doing a modern flat roof house,’ I let it develop from the design process,” he said. “All the houses look different because they adapt to the scale of the neighborhood, climate and parameters of the site.”

For more information on Nalevanko’s furniture business, visit To see his new Smoochplant product line, visit His architecture company website is and his office is located at 1049 Camino Del Mar, Suite E.