Tour of Nottingham-Spirk Innovation Center Highlight of Recent Access to the Arts Event

Submitted by Evelyn Kiefer on Mon, 04/25/2005 - 16:28.

The Access to the Arts “Arts on the Air� program Tuesday, April 19th
featuring John Nottingham and John Spirk of Nottingham and Spirk Design
Association Inc.
was a sell out. The event offered not only the usual
interview, luncheon and musical entertainment, but also a tour of
Nottingham-Spirk’s new headquarters. Nottingham-Spirk is perhaps
Cleveland’s most often told success story – a story many audience
members probably already knew well. Many seemed most interested in
getting a look inside the former First Church of Christ Scientist,
which Nottingham-Spirk are renovating and transforming into their new
“Innovation Center.�

The interview and Luncheon took place at the College Club of Cleveland on Overlook Road in Cleveland Heights. The College Club of Cleveland was formed in 1898 to provide cultural and social programs for women graduates of four-year universities. Recently the by-laws were changed to admit men and those who have completed two years of college or professional training. Since 1951 The Club has occupied the former Alexander House, designed by Franklin Meade and Abram Garfield (son of the President) and built in 1905 for W.D. B. Alexander. The house has some remarkable Art Nouveau details such as the gilded wood tiles in the style of Charles Rennie MacKintosh found in the lower hall.


David Deming, Director of the Cleveland Institute of Art interviewed the two Johns – both 1972 graduates of CIA. The interview was very focused, emphasizing their remarkable 40-year friendship and partnership that began at CIA. As freshmen they discovered that it was more productive working together than competing. In the course of answering Deming’s questions, the partners recounted anecdotes from the past 4 decades that underscored their consistent talent for collaboration.

Nottingham and Spirk’s early collaborations led to some unconventional school projects. A painting they created together (with both artists’ signatures) was featured in The May Show. At the end of their senior year, they competed jointly and won a shared scholarship to study in Europe.

Upon graduation they both received highly desirable job offers – John Nottingham received an offer from Chrysler and John Spirk received an offer from Huffy; however, they decided to turn down the offers and start their own company. They designed their company logo on a napkin in a cafe in Milan.

Nottingham-Spirk’s first major client was Little Tikes. The plastic toys Nottingham-Spirk designed for them turned Little Tikes into a 600 million-dollar company. Dirt Devil/Royal Appliance was another important early client. It was Nottingham-Spirk’s idea to create bright red vacuum cleaners with onboard tools. More recently, the Dutch Boy Twist & Pour paint container Nottingham-Spirk created has received international praise. John Nottingham also designed a humorous demonstration that sold the product to Sherwin-Williams.

The Crest SpinBrush is probably Nottingham-Spirk’s best-known design. It is a $5 electric toothbrush that has become the best selling toothbrush in the world – manual or electric. In 1998 Nottingham-Spirk created a company called Dr. Johns Products with 1 million-dollars in start-up capital to produce the SpinBrush. It was immediately successful with retailers like Wal-Mart. In 2001 Procter & Gamble bought the company for $475 million and renamed the product the Crest SpinBrush.

Graham Grund, executive director of Access to the Arts made the closing remarks. A remarkable coincidence, in 1972 she was head of the Cleveland Institute of Art and signed John Nottingham and John Spirk’s Diplomas. Viktor Schreckengost was named Honorary Chairman of this Access to the Arts event, though unfortunately he was unable to attend. He was head of the industrial design department at the time Nottingham and Spirk were CIA students. It was Schreckengost who had arranged Nottingham’s interview with Chrysler.


The new Nottingham-Spirk Innovation Center is just down the street from the College Club, so many audience members walked there and enjoyed the sunny, warm weather. John Nottingham and John Spirk both gave guided tours to groups that informally gathered around them, but visitors were welcome to explore the building on their own. The construction crew also answered questions about the building. A massive organ shrouded in plastic played Dvorak’s New World Symphony. It was truly a unique atmosphere.

The First Church of Christ Scientist sat vacant on Overlook Road, perched on the ridge above Little Italy, for many years. It has been the fantasy of many CASE students and others who pass by to sneak in an open door and see the interior of the elegant and slightly enigmatic building designed by the prestigious Cleveland architectural firm of Walker & Weeks. One of the finest church buildings in Cleveland, the First Church of Christ Scientist was originally intended to be a more modest structure located on the site of Severance Hall at the corner of East Boulevard and Euclid. The congregation’s plans and fortunes changed however, when John L. Severance decided he wanted the site for the concert hall he planned to dedicate to the memory of his wife. He offered the congregation a sum so generous they could not refuse. The money Severance paid for the site allowed them to build a much grander structure than what they previously could have afforded in a location that many would say is more dramatic than their first choice.

The Nottingham-Spirk Innovation Center is nearly complete. The exterior of the building has been cleaned. The new sign has been inserted in the pediment over the main entrance. Every space has been assigned – even the tower, which is home to a family of falcons. The project manager explained that the building was in excellent condition when Nottingham-Spirk purchased it. The large room on first floor where the congregation used to gather has been divided by partitions into offices and meeting spaces. The soaring ceiling, painted to look like sky and the tall windows that surround the room flooding it with natural light create an inspiring work environment. Brass chandeliers hang from the ceiling, covered in plastic to protect them from the construction dust. All original lighting fixtures have been rewired and restored. In the basement, where the Sunday school was located, offices for engineers surround a spacious area for building models and prototypes.

The Nottingham-Spirk Innovation Center plan includes space for approximately 70 employees – including many CIA interns. In addition to the economic impact their designs have had on the local economy, they have been very supportive to their Alma Mater, hiring many CIA graduates and interns. Both Johns are on the CIA board. Though they have already experienced phenomenal success, Nottingham-Spirk’s Innovation Center is a unique and inspiring place that seems a natural source for creativity. Clevelanders – and the world – will be watching closely as they enter this new and exciting phase of their exceptional partnership.

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Nottingham Spirk recieve Cleveland Arts Prize

John Nottingham & John Spirk: Established artists, Design

Their most recognized inventions include the spin brush which they sold to Proctor & Gamble and the redesign of the paint can from round to square which they sold to Sherwin-Williams. Their innovation programs have produced dramatic results for Fortune 500 clients as well as fast growth entrepreneurial firms. They have successfully created over 400 commercialized patents.


In the words of David Deming: “John plus John equals more than two guys having fun making stuff that makes our lives better. Their combined brainpower, their thirst for thinking out of the box through their business mode, their ongoing commitment of employing designers from the Cleveland Institute of Art and engineers from Case, and their ability to grow wealth for investors makes this duo poster boys for success.”

Come down to congratulate John and John July 7 at Public Square.

Check out their work at