Designer turns NHL locker room into Dalai Lama's lounge
Published Saturday, July 16, 2011 8:39PM EDT
WASHINGTON - Crowded on the Capitol steps, a family of women in brightly colored Tibetan robes stand on tip-toe and use each others' shoulders for leverage, straining to catch a glimpse of the man on stage.
"You can disagree on someone's viewpoint or philosophy," the Dalai Lama said. "But you must still respect that person as an individual."
Thousands of others from all over the world gathered on the West Lawn, under the sweltering sun, to hear His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, speak about world peace. In his signature slow, deliberate way he emphasized the importance of a "calm mind," "compassionate heart," and "inner beauty."
And while His Holiness addressed the masses, touching on everything from marriage advice to violence in the 21st century, Canadian designer Kevin Fitzsimons was working behind the scenes nearby.
"This is the NHL players' locker room. This is what I was given for His Holiness's residences," Fitzsimons said as he pointed to a "before" photo of the cement-grey room. "So I had to do a living room, dining room, a room for his monks, a bathroom. He eats here, rests here, has private meetings here."
The Dalai Lama was in Washington to perform an important Buddhist ritual, a complex 10-day ceremony called the Kalachakra, most of which takes place at the Verizon Center, an arena usually used for hockey games and rock concerts. Fitzsimons, charged with transforming the space into His Holiness's private daytime quarters, had just 30 hours to do the job.
"We put in walls, crown molding, lights, wainscoting, carpet," he said. "We put in everything you can imagine."
After meeting His Holiness in Toronto 30 years ago, Fitzsimons became a practicing Buddhist. Between trips to Asia and design projects in Toronto, he now donates much of his time and money to feed monks and nuns in Nepal.
"We have so much wealth in the Western world that I think its part of our responsibility to take care of others. You don't need two or three cars…Buddha says you don't need material wealth to be happy," he said.
Fitzsimons also did the interior design for the ongoing renovation of the Tibetan Canadian Cultural Centre, a project the Canadian government has helped finance.
These projects, Fitzsimons explained, are not just professional achievements.
"If I can help with his peace, when he's talking to 20,000 people a day, and coming here and having a nice lunch, having a rest, that's pretty great, for me as a gift to give to him."
And, as the Dalai Lama said in his Talk for World Peace, comfort is essential. "Try to create a calm mind, peaceful mind," he said. "And that creates it within our own family, in our own community. That's the way to change our society."