October 18, 2015
Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz Creates Model Apartments in 400 Park Avenue South
In two unusually shaped model apartments in the Christian de Portzamparc-designed 400 Park Avenue South, New York-based interior designer Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz makes a dazzling display of pure design.
by Judith Nasatir interior designer Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz photographer Antoine Bootz
Scratch the glam surface of the best rooms and the interior problem solving becomes clear. Sure, the pretty stuff captivates the eye. But if the elements of decor are ill organized for living graciously, then, well, discomfort overwhelms. Design wizards like Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz regularly prove that practicality and functionality, well decorated and fun, trump visual tricks every time. For Noriega-Ortiz, every decision comes from and answers to "place, place, place." His first principle of design? "Not to fight the architectural concept of a room." In other words, if it's dark, turn the focus inward. If it's light, airy, and spacious, make the most of it. That's partly why he was so intrigued recently by the commission to do two model apartments—one inherently dark and brick-wall facing, one all windowed expanse, both eccentric in floor plan—in Christian de Portzamparc's faceted Park Avenue South tower.
Eccentric is actually a bit of an understatement as far as the interior architecture goes. "There were not two parallel walls in the entire place," says the ebullient designer. "And at this stage in my career, I like interesting things to do. The chance of working in an odd space is a challenge. It's an opportunity to do something different, almost like going back to school." And what did he learn? To look at the interior in a different way, and not to "get bogged down with shape. We're always trying to fix the architecture." When that's not possible, as it wasn't here, he says that a designer is forced, literally, to think outside the box—to experience the space as sculpture, to find a way to make that sculpture livable.
How to furnish the spaces? Specifically. For the darker space, Noriega-Ortiz imagined someone who works hard, plays harder, and is home mostly to sleep; for the lighter, a "beautiful, ethereal couple that do yoga." Then, he says, think "scale, like we do about clothing with the body. If the room is crooked, you can float things in the interior, like acrylic pieces that you can see through so you don't feel boxed in." And putting pieces against the wall helps to avoid a furniture-as-obstacle-course aesthetic. When there are budget constraints, as here—"It's not the Baccarat Hotel"—he stays away from antiques or anything extravagant. But he always includes some whimsy, and some serious, glamorous fun—crystals, feathers, stencils—because, as he says: "Life is too short to be boring."
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