Arts Desk

Gee, That Toolbox Sign in Dupont Looks Familiar


The old Toolbox DC logo, as seen in late 2011

Between 1998 and 2004, a somewhat decrepit building in a Dupont alley housed a bustling creative space: the headquarters of Brian Liu's design studio, Toolbox DC. It was a humble spot, to be sure, but also something of an artistic epicenter during an era when artists could still find cheap space near Dupont Circle.

"There's a lot of history in that space," says Liu. Tucked away just east of Connecticut Avenue between Q and R streets NW, the second floor of the carriage house at what was then 1621 Connecticut Ave. NW was known as a party venue, shared studio, and occasional employer of D.C. musicians. Liu started working there around 1998, after he relocated from another space he shared nearby with artist Treiops Treyfid. He subleased the second-floor studio to fellow creatives like Tuscadero's Jack Hornady and Rob Myers from Thievery Corporation. Out of work and between bands, a lot of Liu's friends had nothing else going on—"so we all became graphic designers," he says.

It was in the carriage house that Toolbox hit its stride. While under the management of Paul Weil, one of the founding members of D.C.'s The Apes, Liu's studio became Toolbox Design LLC. But after 9/11, business began to dry up. Liu moved out of the alley in 2004 and re-established his business in his house on V Street NW. When he departed, he left one of his signs on the building.

Nearly 10 years later, Toolbox has returned to the carriage house with a new street number: 1623. But it's not Liu's business moving in. In the next couple of weeks, a combined pilates and art studio is slated to officially open in Liu's old space. It, too, is called Toolbox.


Toolbox, the pilates studio, as it looks now with a new entrance

When Liu heard about the new Toolbox, he was confused. Not only was the pilates studio using his business' name, but its entrance and website also bore a logo that looked very similar to his: the word "Toolbox" with a little wrench. Liu posted about the similarity on Facebook, and it generated nearly 100 responses, many of them outraged on Liu's behalf. Some advised him to lawyer up and drop a cease-and-desist letter on the new tenants.

Alex Gotzev and his wife, Iva, are the new tenants. Gotzev says he just stumbled across the Toolbox name printed on a sign when he was looking around the space. Taking a suggestion from his architect, he says, Gotzev decided to keep the name. "Usually in a toolbox, you have the means to fix anything, you have every tool for it," Gotzev says. At his studio, "you fix your body, you fix your soul, you have a little bit of art, you can go and do some workout."

The couple dramatically rehabbed the building, registered the name "Toolbox LLC" with DCRA, and recently installed the new but strangely familiar sign above a new entryway they built. It wasn't until he went to build a website for his studio, Gotzev says, that he found Liu's website,, and realized Toolbox was still a functioning business.

Gotzev says he consulted an attorney, and the attorney said he wasn't stepping on any toes with the name, and he'd be in the clear on the logo as long as he tweaked it a little bit. So Gotzev says his graphic designer pulled together a modified version of the logo he found, putting the little wrench inside the word "Toolbox," not outside, like Liu's.

But why keep the name and logo at all? Why not just find a new one that couldn't possibly be confused with those of another business? "First off, we love it, and this is what we want to have," Gotzev says. "And second... the two studios are so far apart from one another in the things that they actually offer... you can't even confuse Toolbox graphic design with Toolbox pilates. It has nothing to do with one another."

toolbox1The Toolbox logo on Liu's website

toolbox2The pilates studio's logo

Gotzev says he's open to a compromise on the logo, however, if it comes to that. He repeatedly says he wants to meet up with Liu to introduce himself and talk things over. Liu says that as of Thursday afternoon, he hadn't heard from Gotzev.

The rehabilitated carriage house still has the same landlord: longtime Dupont property owner Michael Kain. Despite the fact that Toolbox is easy to find online—it ranks high in Google searches for "Toolbox DC"—Kain sounds surprised to hear that Liu was still trading under the name Toolbox. He wonders whether Liu may be flattered by the Gotzevs' use of the name.

"I'm definitely not psyched about it," Liu says. He later adds, "It's fascinating to me that somebody would come to a space and just see signage ... that was hanging up, and just kinda appropriate the company name and the logo. It makes no sense to me."

Top photo by Nick Pimentel; bottom photo by Ally Schweitzer

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  • mary

    the gotzev's sound like tools. why not come up with something original?

  • Dan

    Like how about "Cool Disco Toolbox"

  • Mike

    "Tool Disco Dan." Fixed.

  • Mike

    Eh, lot's of places used the name of a former building occupant (bars and restaurants do it often). It would seem pretty difficult to mix up a Pilates studio and a graphic design firm. If anything, the Pilates studio is probably generating web traffic for the firm. And for what it's worth, both logos ape another local business logo from around the time the design firm was in the building.

  • NotSurprised

    It's about brand integrity. No, you won't confuse a Pilates studio with a graphic design firm, but do I trust a place where "you fix your body, you fix your soul..." that would blatantly swiped someone else's brand? Probably not.

  • jimbo

    Gotzev's sure do sound like tools, so this is rather fitting I guess.