Designer of the Month - March - Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz

1 March 2008

Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz

Named by House Beautiful as one of "America's Most Brilliant Decorators", Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz is recognized as one of today’s most stylish and influential interior designers.

Noriega-Ortiz holds two Master’s Degrees in architecture and urban design, from Columbia University and the University of Puerto Rico and began his professional career with John Saladino. His firm, Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz LLC was established in 1992 and has produced residential projects worldwide for such clients as rock superstar Lenny Kravitz, bestselling author Laura Esquivel, and celebrity photographer Mark Seliger.

The firm has also designed commercial projects, most recently the acclaimed Hotel Mondrian in Scottsdale. His second and third projects for the Morgans Hotel Group, Mondrian Los Angeles and Mondrian SoHo, are in construction.

Featured in AD France, House & Garden South Africa, Departures, Vogue Brazil, InStyle Home, Metropolitan Home, Elle Décor, Interior Design, Architcktur & Wohnen, Caras de Puerto Rico and Konishiwa Japan, Noriega-Ortiz has also appeared on HGTV, Style, E!, and Fine Living Network. Simon & Schuster’s Atria division recently published his first book, Emotional Rooms: The Sensual Interiors of Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz, where "…sensuous, glamorous, and ethereal work captures an unusual sense of openness and light through the use of color, materials, architecture, and the unexpected integration of fashion.”

Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz's website:

Frette Q&A - Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz

1. Your interiors have a light, airy, dreamy and sometimes humorous quality about them. They sort of transport you from the grit of reality. Is this intentional or accidental?

Designing to elicit such responses is the premise of my book Emotional Rooms and it is pretty much intentional. I believe in creating rooms that transport you to a world that is both sensual and whimsical. In order to do that, we developed ways of "calming" the room visually so the human "theater" can happen. We deal with all the senses to create one unified response. "Not that reality is bad, but fantasy is better".

2. In addition to being glamorous, there is a sense of flow and fluidity in your interiors. Are you a believer in the art of feng shui?

I have worked with a few Feng-Shui masters through the years and I have developed a natural sense of organization that is very much my own. What this ancient Chinese science provides you is a way to logically organize a space to get the best for your own self. It is not that I follow everything but you know, a lot of it is common sense.

3. You also believe in color's ability to transform not just an environment but also one's mood. When do you find yourself being drawn to certain colors or deciding if a particular room should be all blue or all white?

I love color but I prefer to use it in abundance. And don't get me wrong, white is a color too! I find that the use of color can affect your state of mind and it can also enhance or "fix" the architecture of the room by distracting your sight. I have always been a great admirer of monochromatic schemes such as in Louise Nevelson sculptures. When you use one color in abundance, you are in essence using the color not so much as a color but to provoke an emotion, to define shapes. Compare this to fashion; if you wear a black dress, don't your legs look better with black stockings and black shoes? The reason is because you define the silhouette, and this is what I like to do in interiors. I love to define the silhouette in the rooms rather than the provenance. That's sexy and romantic at the same time.

4. How key is achieving serenity when designing a bedroom?

Serenity in a room is my number one goal. No one wants to arrive at a party when the action has happened; everyone wants to be there to experience the "storm". When a room is visually agitated it makes me feel as if I missed the action. Now, when you enter a room that is totally serene.... that is sensual. You know that something will be happening, and soon!

5. How does your design approach differ when designing for residences vs. hotels? Is it a challenge knowing your commercial interiors will be a home to thousands vs a single client?

I approach my hotel work with a bit more fantasy than at home for the reason that I do believe in Ian Schrager's motto of Hotel as Entertainment. When I am away from home I want something that I don't have at home. I don't care to feel as if I was at home; for that I stay home. I want fun, I want extravagance, I want fantasy. However, that doesn't mean that we cannot have a bit of that at home as well. In my residential projects as well in my hotel projects, there is always a story that drives the design, the concept. And that concept can be as whimsical as the Undersea World of Neptune or as ethereal as The Passage of Time.

6. With all your successes and recognition to date, what keeps you most excited and motivated in your career?

What keeps me motivated is working with my team in a variety of projects from product design to marketing to residential and hospitality and therefore creating new and exciting solutions. I hold two master degrees in what seems to be opposite disciplines: Architecture and Urban Design. And here I am creating interiors and products. However, the goal is always the same. I want people to see my work and become speechless.