Interview with Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz : design elements


Interview with Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz

categories Designer, Interviews    

“When you open the door and see a room for the first time, your breath should be taken away. You should not be able to identify particular pieces of furniture or art, the room should be art in itself. And a strong sight should say it all.”

Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz, “Emotional Rooms

photo: Sara Krulwich for The New York Times

Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz, principal designer at BNO Design, is one of my favorite designers. He is the extraordinary mind behind various Mondrian hotels and also has produced projects for Lenny Kravitz, Sean “Diddy” Combs and Mark Seliger, among others. Named by House Beautiful as one of America’s Most Brilliant Decorators for 10 consecutive years, Benjamin is recognized as one today’s most stylish and influential interior designers. I like his color-rich interiors and his book “Emotional Rooms”. I remember looking through it even some hours before my bar exam…

Tracie Martyn Salon in New York, photo: Antoine Bootz

How would you describe your own style?

My own personal style is comfortable yet theatrical. I don’t like interiors that are just nice, they have to have something else which makes them unique. I love to introduce whimsical elements that make you smile however, my rooms must be calm and serene.

When did you first realize that you wanted to be an interior designer?

As far as I remember I wanted to become an architect. It was not until I finished my second Master in Architecture and started working as an architect that I realized that interior design would suit me better.

Looking back at your first project what decorating knowledge do you wish you had back then designing the interiors?

I didn’t professionally designed interiors until I was an architect so the main tool that I had to learn was furniture history and fabrics! They don’t teach that in architecture.

Please talk us through your design process – how do you complete a project from start to finish?

I can actually quote you from my book, Emotional Rooms: “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…. Finally, lighting- this is when everything gets revealed. The right choice will either highlight or obscure an object.”

Apartment in Paris, photo: Antoine Bootz

Some designers believe that the first piece for any room is the rug or a painting that sets up the colors palette. What is your first source of inspiration?

The first piece of the puzzle that I select is the color, which comes to me naturally by being in the room or studying what I want it to become. The color can come from a feeling that you are trying to convey, from the view or from the inhabitant (their favorite color usually is the color that makes them look better).

What do you do if you want the room to feel calm and serene?

I use one color almost exclusively, that’s the key in my case. Using one color in abundance makes you feel the colors rather than the objects. I try to then combine visually active pieces like chairs with visually quite pieces such as full upholstered sofa.

Why would you prefer a neutral color scheme in a room?

I don’t’ prefer a neutral color. I make any color feel neutral by using it in abundance. An entire red room can feel neutral because you cannot compare it to any other color in the room.

“Furniture placement is an art in itself”(Emotional Rooms). How do you achieve that the furniture looks as art?

I look at furniture for their shape and form and not for their function. If you do that, it will make it easier to mix different styles. For example, soft rounded pieces go together very well and give the room a sensual air. Hard edge pieces feel dangerous therefore making you feel agitated. Its just like a sculpture or a painting.

Jaharis / Ledes Residence in New York, photo: Antoine Bootz

What’s your one best piece of advice on lighting?

Diversify. Try to combine at least three or four types of lighting in each room (natural, task, ambient, whimsical) and never shy away from using two or three lamps on one table, they do different things so there is no reason to just have one!

How do you achieve a good scale? Scale is a really interesting and difficult topic.

Scale is something that you really have to feel and experience really tells you a lot. Always imagine a room as it was a painting. Nowadays you can take a quick iPhone photo which will reveal a lot. By taking photos you will train your eye to see scale and perceive what is too large or too small.

What do you love to do when you are not designing?

I love watching old movies when at home and I love to travel. Traveling is a requirement to all designers, you must travel.

What are your favorite books?

I really have not favorites but the ones that fit on my coffee table and bookshelves. I do love my Kindle and iPad.

Mondrian Soho Hotel in New York

What does success mean to you?

Doing what you like doing.

Who will be the Andrew Martin International Designer of 2011?

The one who deserves it.

My signature Design Elements question – what are the most important design elements?

Your eyes…


67 Kommentare zu “Interview with Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz”

  1. Tim am 18.05.2011 um 11:58 Uhr 

    Great interview again, Maria! A wealth of knowledge in some answered questions…

  2. meenal @ maison marigold am 18.05.2011 um 12:17 Uhr 

    i loved the interview today, maria..very insightful…but most of all the quote at the begining of does apply completely to the interiors designed by mr. ortiz. have a lovely day xx meenal

  3. Pratishtha am 18.05.2011 um 12:21 Uhr 

    I gasped when I saw the designs. Great interview. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Tim am 18.05.2011 um 12:42 Uhr 


  5. Josie am 18.05.2011 um 13:31 Uhr 

    oh I would love to be an interior designer. Thankfully I get to do quite a lot of styling with my job which is pretty cool :)

  6. ahhhlala am 18.05.2011 um 13:56 Uhr 

    Es diferente, me gusta!!!

  7. cabbagerose am 18.05.2011 um 14:28 Uhr 

    Magic. Absolutely superb interview. I am so excited that Benjamin mentions ‘whimsy.’ I can’t resist adding a touch of whimsy to every space. I also like his theory on the use of color…great tip. Thank you, Maria! xo

  8. Alexa am 18.05.2011 um 15:52 Uhr 

    what a great interview! love the idea of “emotional rooms.” he has done some stunning work!

  9. vl am 18.05.2011 um 15:55 Uhr 

    What a great interview with such a talented designer! You asked him a lot of great questions and he gave a lot of great answers! How can a lawyer ask all these questions?

  10. Naomi@DesignManifest am 18.05.2011 um 16:31 Uhr 

    So glad I read this! Love that opening quote. Great questions, and I really enjoyed his four elements. Must save this one :)

  11. Connie @ Sogni e Sorrisi am 18.05.2011 um 16:43 Uhr 

    Great quote! Love the look of that bar.

  12. Kate @ Travelmoon am 18.05.2011 um 16:49 Uhr 

    Great interview! Very informative and interesting…I especially enjoyed getting a look into his design process and his concept of what comprises a neutral room.

  13. classiq am 18.05.2011 um 18:09 Uhr 

    What a great interview again, Maria! And what a great advice from an expert on how you can train your eye for perceiving the right scale by taking photos. I’ll remember this: architecture, color, furniture and lighting, yes, the lighting is so important. :)

  14. SizzleandZoom am 18.05.2011 um 18:27 Uhr 

    Wonderful interview. I learned so much.

  15. La Boheme am 18.05.2011 um 18:27 Uhr 

    Maria, you were right that I would love your designer today! He is one of my favorites too and your questions were so good. Lighting, scale, color…all must be considered for good design. Thank you for yet another great insight interview! big hugs to you

  16. Mid-Century Home am 18.05.2011 um 18:43 Uhr 

    I so agree with Benjamin, specially when it comes to the design process and lightning!
    I followed exactly the same steps when I had to decorate my own house…maybe I should have been an interior decorator as well :D

    Thank you very much for the inspiring interview.


  17. Cez am 18.05.2011 um 20:08 Uhr 

    great interview and great question…bravo!!!!!

  18. Tula Malcriada am 18.05.2011 um 20:13 Uhr 

    Uau! I didn’t this designer, but I like very much. His works are amazing! Thank you!

  19. KREASOLI am 18.05.2011 um 21:11 Uhr 

    Beim Fotografieren sind es auch die AUGEN, nicht der Fotoapparat!


  20. Marianne am 18.05.2011 um 21:37 Uhr 


  21. Jessie am 18.05.2011 um 22:28 Uhr 

    Great interview and answers. Very insightful and lots of wonderful advice.

    By the way, I like the white room in Paris, so beautiful and calm.


  22. Juliana am 18.05.2011 um 23:39 Uhr 

    OMG this is the best interview I’ve ever read. It’s better than all the Architectural Digest interviews. Thank you, Mr. Ortiz! Thank you, Maria! I’ve learned so much. I feel so inspired. I’m going to read it again and again.

    kisses from Italy

  23. Tereza am 18.05.2011 um 23:48 Uhr 

    Hi, Maria!
    As always, fantastic interview.
    He is a genius, the images are great and I can clearly see why his work constantly appears on international “Best” list.
    Big hugs to you.

  24. Jasmin am 19.05.2011 um 02:40 Uhr 

    Great interview, I love the paris apartment living room, so gorgeous! Thank you for your comment on my blog, have a lovely day xx

  25. designchic am 19.05.2011 um 03:40 Uhr 

    What a talent…fantastic interview!!

  26. Katie*Belle am 19.05.2011 um 03:48 Uhr 

    These rooms are incredible. Great interview!

  27. George am 19.05.2011 um 05:25 Uhr 

    Thanks for an interesting interview. I have to agree that each of these rooms is a work of art.

  28. Lilia@Intrigue and Inspire am 19.05.2011 um 05:55 Uhr 

    What a great interview. I like what he thinks about success. While we obviously want to make money from being a Designer, there is success in doing what we love doing.

  29. Tereza am 19.05.2011 um 07:56 Uhr 

    Absolutely superb! very insightful! My fav designer gave my fav answer about success. Love Emotional Rooms. It’s one of the reason why I study design. THANK YOU!!!

  30. Kifus am 19.05.2011 um 10:45 Uhr 

    Thanks for posting such an interesting interview. Very enjoyable!

  31. MD Interior Design am 19.05.2011 um 11:42 Uhr 

    Wow! I really enjoyed this post. I love Benjamin’s style and I love how he thinks.
    Thanks so much for sharing.

  32. Shelly Gregory am 19.05.2011 um 17:06 Uhr 

    I fully agree with Benjamin–”the room should be art in itself”. I wil have to purchase his book “Emotional Rooms”! Love his work!

  33. Kristin am 19.05.2011 um 19:01 Uhr 

    Note to self…NEED more lamps!

  34. mary jo am 19.05.2011 um 19:13 Uhr 

    Maria, I think you’ve introduced me to my design soul mate! I love the way his mind works and that Paris apartment image you featured is perfection! Thank you for this wonderful interview!

    xo Mary Jo

  35. Kristin am 19.05.2011 um 19:34 Uhr 

    There was a lot to like here today! The quote is amazing and I so agree!!! The colors in that last hotel makes me want to go right away!!! Hope you’re having a fantastic Thursday!

    Smiles from Kristin

  36. Molliee am 19.05.2011 um 20:03 Uhr 

    love his style. The bright pops on that neutral rug are amazing

  37. Dawn {The Alternative Wife} am 19.05.2011 um 21:27 Uhr 

    Fabulous interview, sweetie! He’s spectacular, isn’t he? LOVE the Tracie Martyn Salon and the Mondrian Soho :) xoxo

  38. Pia am 19.05.2011 um 23:11 Uhr 

    Very gorgeous interior! I would say the interior designer really has a good taste with colors, lighting and the seating. Makes every project he does lovely, gorgeous and stunning! great post!!!

  39. Tereza am 19.05.2011 um 23:26 Uhr 

    Hi, Maria!
    I’m curious, you learned a new word – what’s the word?

  40. Kathy @ Creative Home Expressions am 20.05.2011 um 01:47 Uhr 

    Beautiful rooms! I especially love the last room {before the hotel pic}. I could see myself very comfortably hanging out in that room.

  41. Stacey am 20.05.2011 um 04:40 Uhr 

    Great interview! He’s one of my faves! Plus, he’s so handsome too:-)

  42. Julia Falci am 20.05.2011 um 05:18 Uhr 

    What a great interview! Gave me some insights in regards to setting the color/ mood of a room, which I’m actually doing right now for my new condo.:)

  43. MartineLouiseDesign am 20.05.2011 um 13:30 Uhr 

    Great interview! I love his work and agree on design and travel – they go hand in hand. martine xo

  44. whitney am 20.05.2011 um 15:00 Uhr 

    i love that quote of his! there is nothing better than walking into a room and not being able to pinpoint why you love it so much, because it all just works. beautiful interiors!


    ps-thank you for the compliment!!

  45. Splendid Willow am 20.05.2011 um 15:15 Uhr 

    Hi my friend,

    Interview time! I must stop by before I hop on the plane for Sweden! Yet another insightful and fabulous conversation, Maria!

    And I just got a designer tip I have never thought off. To put more than 1 lamp on a table! I am so going to try that!

    Warm hugs,


  46. Kris am 20.05.2011 um 17:37 Uhr 


    I read your post with Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz and find it to be extremely interesting. I am always curious about interior designers and how they approach their design projects…each one so different.

    This was a fascinating interview and a valuable resource for future design projects.

    Have a great weekend!


  47. Amanda @ Modvi am 20.05.2011 um 18:32 Uhr 

    I love those green and orange chairs!

  48. Teresa am 20.05.2011 um 23:37 Uhr 

    I Love his last answer. We should use it in several aspects of our lives – professional and personal.
    He seems a man full of (good) energy and with that eye shine that implies he’s having the best of times enjoying what he does.
    Thank you for bringing this charming people.

    Enjoy your weekend!

  49. Style Maniac am 20.05.2011 um 23:39 Uhr 

    Masterful work, wise words. I especially like the first and last photos.

    Maria, your interviews give such insight they are like mini-classes on design.

  50. Stephie am 21.05.2011 um 02:44 Uhr 

    I love this interview Maria! What a great quote and I love the answer to the “Design Elements” question too! Happy weekend to you, Stephie x

  51. Nancy@marcusdesign am 21.05.2011 um 03:38 Uhr 

    Wow, these interiors are GORGEOUS! And a wonderful interview too, thank you for sharing this :) Have a wonderful weekend, hugs to you!
    Nancy xo

  52. Beach Vintage am 21.05.2011 um 04:16 Uhr 

    That Soho bar is amazing!

  53. Julie am 21.05.2011 um 06:37 Uhr 

    Hi Maria
    Great interview and fabulous designs.. Although I love my colour, I’m loving this white room.. seems happy and content!!

    I do like his opinion on how a room should feel at first sighting… it should be an overall feeling.. not a breakdown of the individual pieces… must check out his book.. ‘Emotional Rooms’..

    Hope you have a lovely weekend.. ciao xxx Julie

  54. Malena am 21.05.2011 um 08:15 Uhr 

    What a perfect way to start off my Saturday. I never heard of him before. Now his book is on top of my wish list! Thank you for this brilliant interview! Lovely Saturday to you :-)

  55. Bristol Parenting Cafe am 21.05.2011 um 10:00 Uhr 

    I love that people’s favourite colour is the ‘one that makes them look better’. Beautiful photos and inspiration.

  56. Malena am 21.05.2011 um 13:57 Uhr 


    Just to let you know that I have linked and recomended this interview to my readers :D

    This is too god not to share!

    Hope you dont mind.

    Love from Oslo

  57. Amanda Burdge am 21.05.2011 um 16:41 Uhr 

    Oh my the Tracie Martyn salon is gorgeous! Im working on a project now that could really use that color palette!

    BTW-fixed my link. Sorry that it didn’t work when you came over. Have a great weekend!

  58. Laura Ingalls Gunn am 21.05.2011 um 17:36 Uhr 

    Oh my! What talent this man possesses!

    I favor more of his light filled designs, but they are all lovely.

  59. Lisa am 21.05.2011 um 23:17 Uhr 

    Wonderful interview…Thank you for introducing me to such talent…

    Take Care…

  60. karen@strictlysimplestyle am 22.05.2011 um 01:19 Uhr 

    It’s always so interesting to hear how a designer works and their personal ideas about bringing a room together. Thanks for sharing this wonderful interview.

  61. Heather @ Interior Groupie am 22.05.2011 um 15:41 Uhr 

    Wow – what a feature. That apartment in Paris is phenomenal. Thank you for your comment on my blog – just discovering your blog now and it’s absolutely gorgeous. Can’t wait to read more.

  62. Meera @ firstsense am 23.05.2011 um 08:38 Uhr 

    That is an AMAZING interview, well done!! What a charmer he is… YOUR EYES! How sweet :)

    Happy week to you, lovely!

    Meera xx

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