Stepping through the front door of the home Karyn Giss and David Pitlik share is like walking into a copy editor’s fantasy world.
Six enormous punctuation marks–including an eight-foot tall exclamation point–are suspended from the vaulted ceilings, adorning the 20-foot tall walls of the foyer. Each punctuation mark is a cleverly assembled collage, comprised of close up photographs of flowers.
Karyn, 56, is both the photographer and the artist behind these collages, and other pieces of her multimedia work can be found in various homes across Hollywood, including those of actress Lolita Davidovich and the late Ed McMahon.
The grammatically-inspired art in her own home pays homage to her husband David’s career as a freelance author and corporate marketing communications writer for Fortune 500 companies.
Photos by Sean Hazen
Neither Karen nor David has plans to retire anytime soon.
“There’s absolutely no reason why I would ever retire,” Karyn, who generates most of her income as a freelance photographer specializing in candid photography and individual portraits, explains. “I can do this until I die.”
David shares his wife’s philosophy: “I’ve always assumed I’m going to work until my last breath.”
That would have been quite a fitting Hollywood ending for David, who worked as a screenwriter and producer for a number of notable Tinseltown productions, including popular TV series like Doogie Howser, M.D. and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.
Back in his heyday, which spanned the 80s and 90s, David envisioned one mammoth check from a blockbuster movie or breakout TV series would fund him for life.
“I had some sort of illusion that I was going to make an enormous amount of money in the entertainment business,” David recalls. “That pacified the nagging feeling that I always had, that I should do something about saving for retirement.”
Better late than never
While that life-changing paycheck never arrived, David and Karyn each carved out successful careers in their respective fields. What the didn’t do much of–until about five years ago– was invest with retirement in mind.
As their businesses grew larger and more lucrative, Act 2 of their “Build a Nest Egg” plan began. With an eye toward accumulating sufficient wealth for retirement, they finally began saving in earnest in IRA and SEP accounts.
More recently, the couple worked with a financial adviser from their brokerage firm, undergoing a rigorous retirement planning process, which included a thorough assessment of their resources, assets, capability to save, investment style, and future plans. Without children in the mix, they only need to think about themselves, but that hasn’t made the assignment any less daunting for Karyn.
“I felt panic when we began, but I’m more comfortable now,” she explains. “We may have started late, but I think we’re getting to a good place now.”
“We previously saved by the seat of our pants, and now we have a carefully scripted plan. Our advisor said we’re doing great; if we keep it up, we’re on a great path.”
With plenty of work still on the horizon and their late-life nest egg in progress, David and Karyn can pursue their many off-hours pursuits with clean consciences. David plays tennis on a regular basis, and Karyn enjoys taking lengthy walks, provided there is an ocean view.
The couples most passionate endeavor is their ongoing quest for the perfect meal and bottle of wine pairing, which has continued to bring them back to their beloved Napa Valley more than 15 times.
While perfection may continue to elude them, they are more than happy to trek from winery to winery and bistro to bistro in search of new experiences.
One of their favorite adventures was a private barrel tasting, in which a winemaker took them on a two-person tour through a stately Napa winery. From cask to cask they strode, accepting samples of budding cabernet that the winemaker dispensed into their glasses with a giant syringe.
“That was an incredible experience, “ David says. “We have to do it again.”
Other joys are their nieces–7-year old twins Hayden and Briley. The sisters are the only offspring in their immediate families, which motivated the couple to move to Santa Monica from Orange County a few years ago. They enjoy Saturday evening dinners and game nights with the girls and David’s 89-year-old father, a retired engineer.
With respect to their varied pursuits, David and Karyn agree that the conventional timeline around retirement just isn’t for them. Now that they have their financial plan in place, they hope nothing will interfere with their beloved lifestyle.
“We love working, and we love the lifestyle we’ve chosen,” David explains. “Maybe we’ll never retire. But I’m confident that we’ll be ready if the time comes.”