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Andrew Stone | February 17, 2012
Benjamin Noriega Ortiz sat down with us to discuss bold color choices, his evolving aesthetic, and daring yet sensible clients.
ID: You're known for infusing a fantasy element into your environments. How do you negotiate that line between classic comfort and boundary-pushing beauty?
BNO: We first resolve the comfort and the practical issues. The room has to work and the client needs to be comfortable first before we infuse a level of fantasy. The story is what ties the entire design together. Sometimes the story is an internal tool that we don't present to the client, especially in residential projects. In commercial projects is a different story because our stories become very useful for marketing purposes.
ID: You're certainly not shy when it comes to employing bold colors. What's your philosophy for integrating a powerful color into a refined setting?
BNO: Color is the first element of the interior that we select because color is what elicits the most powerful emotional response. Saturation of color makes you feel the interior more than pretty furniture. As a matter of fact, the furniture is the last element that we select, after layout and lighting.
ID: What is the bottom line when it comes to taking on a new project? What are the essential elements that must take precedence?
BNO: The project must have an element of fun and so does the client. Life is too short to waste your time with annoying and boring projects. The more interesting the project program or the client is, the more creative we can be. Maybe the location is amazing, maybe the client is just great to work with, but something has to make the project exciting. And it has nothing to do with the size or the budget allocated for the project. Some of our best and most published projects have been small or limited budget ones. Money can impair a project, as Albert Hadley famously said, not exactly in those words.
ID: Are there any widely accepted rules that you love to dispense with?
BNO: Yes, I would like to dispense with all the accepted rules. As designers our job is to think differently, to forget everything that they teach you in grade school and look at life with open eyes. Everything can serve as inspiration, from a pair of shoes to the color scheme in a flower.
ID: What are some of places that have always visually inspired you, and continue to stand out for you today?
BNO: The beach is a constant place for inspiration to me. Everything about it, from the color of the water, the constant changes, the vegetation around it, the scents, everything feels soothing and wonderful. Or course, as an urban designer, all cities are great inspirations for interiors. I have always said that urban design is closer to interior design that architecture. In interiors, we are concerned with what we see, the space, the textures. I have the hardest time in my office training architects to see like interiors designers. We are not concerned with what is behind the walls, who cares? I want to feel what I see, what I smell, what I can touch.
ID: How have your aesthetic choices changed since you began your career?
BNO: When I started my independent professional career after having worked with the great John Saladino for nice years, it took me years to shed the look of his interiors. I still follow some of his design principles but our aesthetics are different. I love whimsical interiors, fun and seductive interiors and I am not afraid of mixing technology with craftsmanship. When I started my career, most of the work was elegantly safe. The key to finding my own voice was to practice with my own residences. There is where I started to work with color saturation, with white interiors, with feathers, with fur, with art furniture, with the fact that not everything has to be "functional."
ID: What is the most satisfying moment of a project?
BNO: The most satisfying moment of a project is when we are shooting the project, when we are capturing the soul of the interior. How to communicate how the room feels in a simple picture is a totally rewarding experience. I have worked with the most amazing photographers throughout my career and it always intrigues me how they can understand what I am trying to communicate in my art by simply placing the camera in the right spot.
ID: What's your process for conceiving a space for a commercial project, such as those with the Morgans Hotel Group?
BNO: Working for a brand such as Morgans Hotel Group, we have to try to follow their design history, their philosophy, their program..., should there be one. More times than none, we have to start designing and let them react in order to see where they are and what they really want. It is just like a residential project but there a more opinions, a lot more. That is why a strong unifying story helps guide design decisions.
ID: What kind of private clients are the most fun for you to work with?
BNO: The clients that are the most fun are the ones who enjoy the process and understand that they should be having fun with this. It's not about the money to spend, it's about how this room will make you feel when you come home to relax, when you have a party with your friends, when you want to watch TV and each chocolates. You will be interacting with what we are creating and your involvement is crucial. Those are the fun clients.
ID: What are the most exciting projects on your plate these days?
BNO: The most exciting project on my plate is the one that I am working on today! Plus my life, which is always a work in progress...