The stars at night are big and bright, deep in the heart of Texas—or at least that’s what the song tells us. But when it comes to those stars, one of the brightest the state has to offer is certainly jewelry designer Nak Armstrong. Known for designs that explore the balance between shadow and light, Armstrong uses hammered metals and tiled gemstones to craft architectural jewelry with a modern edge. We tapped the proud Austinite to get his take on all the best that Austin has to offer.
The Window: Why did you originally move to Austin?
Nak Armstrong: I first moved to Austin to attend college at UT. I immediately fell in love with the independent and creative vibe of the city, so after my first few years in fashion in NYC, I knew that Austin was the place I wanted to start my business.
What do you love about the city?
Austin is carving its own path and making a mark while doing it. It’s a vibrant place with a very unique mix of people that make it a dynamic place to live—not to mention that it’s centrally located to both coasts! With so much of my work hinging on my travel schedule, that’s very helpful for my business.
When you are away, what do you miss most?
Austin’s chill atmosphere—and of course our two dogs, Billy and Georgie.
What’s the first thing a visitor should do in Austin once they’ve settled in?
Hit South Congress for funky shopping and people watching. Take a stroll on the new boardwalk that borders Lady Bird Lake along the South side of our downtown. The walk gives excellent views of downtown and gives you a first hand look at one of the reasons Austin is so livable: abundant trees and parks. And don’t forget the East Side of Austin which is continuously evolving, and provides an eclectic mix of both low-key and upscale interests.
What is your favorite under-the-radar restaurant?
There are so many. But if had to pick one, it’d be Gardner on the very cool East Side of Austin’s downtown. The decor is simple yet very sophisticated, and the food is amazing. Another new place with a distinctly Austin look and feel is Launderette.
Favorite night on the town spots?
Check out the new South Congress Hotel. Grab a drink in the lobby or eat something at Café No Se. Then head to the ACL theater downtown, which has excellent acts regularly. End the night with drinks at Austin’s coolest French restaurant, Justine’s. For the most interesting mix of people, go to The White Horse, grab some drinks, and watch a hipster band play country music—I mean, what?? Nowhere else does this happen!
Best place to catch live music?
During the first two weekends in October, THE place to be is Zilker Park, where Austin City Limits brings the hottest lineup of bands to Austin—everyone should experience it. It’s a more contained Lollapalooza, and with the city views as backdrop, the experience is incredible!
Aside from the festival season, I tend to enjoy more underground shows during the week. The Gallery above The Continental Club continues to serve up amazing talent as an iconic music venue. A more modern option, Empire Control Room and Garage has quickly captivated the live music scene in the Red River District, as many of their shows are formatted to meld music and visuals together.
Favorite peaceful spot?
Our newly landscaped home and backyard in Travis Heights—our house sits up 3 stories from the street, so it feels like a tree house. We finished just in time for the cooler fall weather and it is a dream! We love it, and equally important, our dogs love it. If we do venture out, you can find us lounging on the patio of Hotel San Jose.
Favorite museum art destination?
So many new ones have sprung up, but I like the redo of The Contemporary Austin, which rotates new exhibits on a regular basis and has one of the best rooftop views of the city. While I’ve lived in Austin for quite some time, a recent find came via the exhibits nestled within UT’s campus such as the Blanton Museum of Art. Our favorite was James Turrell’s permanent installation, The Color Inside.
Are there any spots in the city that inspire you or your work?
Austin inspires my work in an indirect way, in that my heartbeat slows down when I return home and allows me to immerse myself in creating and inventing.
Where would a woman go in Austin, wearing your jewelry?
I like to think that I design for the modern woman whose life is not fussy. Austin is not a dressy place, but if you want a more uptown experience, try Jeffery’s for dinner in Old West Austin near downtown, where they serve martinis from a rolling martini cart.