John J. Nelson, Sr.
January 21, 1938 – July 17, 2023
It is with profound sadness that we share the news that John J. Nelson Sr., our firm’s Founder and a Design Principal, has died.
As commercial interior design became more prevalent in the 1960s and 1970s, Mr. Nelson was a pioneer. In 1977, he left his position as head of design and sales for John Wanamaker’s contract division to found what was then Nelson & Associates. In the ensuing years, he would be awarded some of the highest profile projects in the city of Philadelphia, including the headquarters of then Fidelity Bank (now Wells Fargo), SmithKline Beecham (GlaxoSmithKline), and Cigna Insurance, located on the very top floors of One Liberty Place, the building famous for breaking the previous height restriction in Philadelphia.
Growing his influence, his talents took him to a host of high-profile projects in New York, Chicago, and soon after, nationally. His progressive approach to design was both architectural and sculptural, often recognizable for its seamless integration with lighting. Mr. Nelson’s work was both award-winning and aligned closely to client need and program. Collaborating with manufacturers including Conwed, ASI, and Tuohy Furniture, he also designed products and furniture. Mr. Nelson began the firm’s tradition of maintaining long-term relationships with clients, a practice that continues to this day.
As an extremely proud Philadelphian, Mr. Nelson not only loved design, but all things Philadelphia…literally to his dying days. He was complex man who came from humble beginnings, and he NEVER forgot the underdog. He was testament and inspiration to the notion that passion and hard work can take you as far in life as you desire. The IIDA John J. Nelson Sr. Legacy Scholarship Fund and Scholarship is just one example of his many efforts to pay his success forward. Another was his commitment to making himself available to mentor, or just chat, with NELSON teammates of any level.
Finally, Mr. Nelson was a devoted family man. Married to his wife Gen for 62 years and father to his two sons, he was also a grandfather of three and, one week before his death, became a great grandfather for the first time. He will be greatly missed by all.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made in Mr. Nelson’s name to the IIDA John J. Nelson Sr. Legacy Scholarship Fund.