“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?