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People Profiles

Final Take

Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz reflects on his artfull life.

I get inspiration from movies, art, and fashion in no particular order. Lately, fashion has been changing and becoming more and more ethereal with houses like Martin Margiela, Walter Van Beirendonck, and Thom Brown, among others who really create art. Patricia Fields and her Art Fashion artists have influenced my view of interiors. They create one-of-a-kind clothing, which I collect and wear, only thinking of the emotion that the clothes will convey. This view has modified the approach to my interiors lately pushing me to create environments that are unique and more like a “walking still life.” Movies are a huge source of inspiration not only for the visuals but also for the organization. I learned how to design and organize a project in architecture school but it wasn’t until I worked with John Saladino that I learned to create true environments that manipulate your senses. Movies do that. A well put together fashion show does that. A well-crafted dress or sofa also does that.

I learned composition from Caravaggio, color from Saladino and visual drama from movies by David Lynch, Visconti, Almodóvar, Fritz Lang, and so many others. Dune and of course, 2001: A Space Odyssey are particular favorites.

For me, the most important first step in designing any room is to know the client and the function. From there I learn the space, the proportions, the vistas, the scent, the lighting, and all senses. These elements help you immensely in the design process.

In my first book, Emotional Rooms, I wrote, “The four elements of design for interiors are architecture, color, furniture selection, and lighting. Architecture is the space itself. Color brings emotions to the space and is of primary importance. Then you select the objects. The pedigree of furniture is not the key to success, as many would believe. The key is, rather, what the furniture will provide to the space and inhabitants. Finally, lighting—this is when everything gets revealed. The right choice will either highlight or obscure an object.”

I sketch every project by hand. I can produce architectural drawings and details by hand and my sketches are my favorite way to convey an idea. Sometimes I draw them right in front of the client, which seems to amuse them a lot. I see the rooms in my head instantly and I love to translate it into a realistic-looking sketch so everyone else can see it too. Of course, my staff uses all sorts of digital programs which are crucial to complete the exact specifications and measurements.

There is a new design trend of using art furniture and art lighting in every room. But I think it makes interiors feel empty and more like gallery installations. There has to be a balance. What happened to furniture and lighting designed by trained designers?

The trend I’d like to see come back is comfort— I’m trying to bring it back, believe me!

A room sketch by Noriega-Ortiz

My favorite project is always our apartment, which right now is going through a slight renovation, strengthening the “shite” concept to the max. My personal style is all about the purity of design and staying true to a strong concept. My husband, Steven, and I always dream up new ideas. I’m not interested in having what everyone else has.

Another favorite project is Lenny Kravitz’s New York apartment which I did in 2001, and right down the street, the Mondrian Soho.

We have also done a series of projects for passionate art collectors. They allowed us to create “art” interiors. The challenge was to create a cozy interior in an expansive Florida apartment utilizing one of the largest art collections we’ve ever handled. Solution? Don’t ask about the cost of the art until you have placed and styled everything. Treat valuable art and furniture just the same way they interact with their family and friends, with a sense of humor, fun and congeniality.

My favorite projects all have something in common— a sense of whimsy and magic that we try to bring to all of our work.

A bedroom in Noriega-Ortiz’s own apartment in Rockaway Beach.