Orlando Diaz-Azcuy conjures an impeccable work space for his San Francisco design firm
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 3/1/2005 12:00:00 AM
"Everyone has a different idea of what I do," says Orlando Diaz-Azcuy. "Some think I'm only a furniture designer, others, a commercial designer." The Cuban-born Diaz-Azcuy is all that and more. Add residential interiors, architecture, landscape design, and urban planning for a complete picture. Yet ask the designing multitasker what his greatest skill is, and he refers to another field entirely. "I can perfectly read a person and a situation."
Consummate professional and astute psychologist, the president of Orlando Diaz-Azcuy Design Associates celebrates his San Francisco firm's 20th anniversary next year. The party, to be held in the headquarters he and his 14-person staff have occupied since June 2003, will be terrific. Until then, the atelier, located in an early-20th-century, 12-story office building in Union Square, is strictly a workplace. The reigning theme of the 5,750-square-foot, ninth-floor office is precision. Devoid of any clutter, it's a laboratory for clean contemporary living—an analogy further reinforced by the trademark white lab coats that are ODADA's mandatory uniform.
The office is, coincidentally, around the corner from ODADA's former home. The current quarters, though, are light years removed from the firm's previous space, which was cobbled together from a trio of three-story brick buildings. "The new office is the truest representation of what I want," says Diaz-Azcuy—and of how his firm works.
In the large main studio, the walls and ceiling of white-painted drywall and the floors of bleached oak form a pristine background that rein-forces Diaz-Azcuy's disdain for gimmicky architecture. "I like substantial work where I can see the bones," he says. Not that he discounts decoration, "but it's the last step in the process." Nor is he averse to drama. The elevator lobby, its walls painted a deep charcoal, provides a chiaroscuro prologue to the sunlit spaces beyond.
In the entry area, an antique Indonesian mahogany bench, mixed-media panels by Tom Czarnopys, and an oak wall sculpture by David Nash create a distinctive mise-en-scene. It could be the vestibule of an elegant apartment or, given the arresting artwork, a gallery, but with the conspicuous absence of a reception desk, it hardly seems like the entrance to an office. "Someone comes out to meet you," Diaz-Azcuy explains. "You arrive as you would at a house."
From this chicly residential foyer, clients are typically ushered into the conference room. On one side of the 600-square-foot space, a long, white-laminate Parsons table surrounded by six of Diaz-Azcuy's armchairs with 'Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's Brno armchairs at the ends, is set for presentations. On the other, the mood is less formal, with Diaz-Azcuy's tufted mohair lounge chairs gathered around Gae Aulenti's Jumbo marble coffee table, where tea is often served. Art and antiques contribute to the salonlike atmosphere. A haunting oil, 2 Sisters by Lordan Bunch, hangs above an 18th-century Chinese altar table, while a white-lacquer console holds a 19th-century carved-stone bust and French tole drawing forms.
The conference room anchors a plan predicated on openness. A single circulation spine, softened by a custom wool runner, spans the floor's 120-foot length. It leads from reception directly back to Diaz-Azcuy's own work area and provides an unobstructed view of the main studio. "Clients can absorb the whole office and what it's about: cleanliness, organization, discipline, and the feeling of being at home," remarks the designer.
The studio, which is the heart of ODADA, hugs the east elevation, where the light is best. Despite San Francisco's infamous fog, the overhead fluorescents are rarely used. There's little distinction between architects and designers here; everybody works at white-painted MDF stations. Likewise, they all share a central 25-foot-long project table with built-in drawers and shelves. Surprisingly, Diaz-Azcuy tolerates some disarray on desks, but not along the public corridor. "I'm a policeman," he jokes.
Diaz-Azcuy occupies an office in a slightly separate corner, guarded by an intriguing 1850 wood model of a cathedral in Antwerp, Belgium, by G.J. Nauwens. "I'm at the back so I can observe people." By removing himself he is also facilitating a recent rite of passage: David Oldroyd and Greg Stewart, both 14-year ODADA veterans, became coprincipals three years ago.
Although Diaz-Azcuy shares his semiprivate domain with two administrative staffers, it's as fastidiously kempt as the rest of the premises. His work surface, a 1970's Tobia Scarpa glass-top table, is a still life of order and calm. The standing screen behind it, a leather-and-brass antique previously owned by furniture magnate John McGuire, is a treasured possession. "I bought it before I even dreamed of designing for McGuire," says Diaz-Azcuy, who is currently working on the third furniture collection and second showroom for the company. More evidence of a connoisseur's eye appears in the form of such disparate pieces as a cardboard sculpture cast in bronze by Yoshitomo Saito, a 19th-century French copper beehive, and a lacquered chair frame attributed to Billy Haines.
The remainder of the office comprises two sequestered corners for meetings, a generous kitchen, and an intimate library. The last is art-filled, too: A pair of towering wood-and-glass constructivist-like objects are actually hourglasses; they perfectly complement Diaz-Azcuy's glass-top reading table. Could the impeccably dressed designer see himself in another field? "I'd love to design men's fashion."