Ben Noriega Ortiz consistently transforms spaces into works of art. While fashion can be seen as wearable art, Ortiz creates works of art that we can live inside of. His design firm, BNOdesign, is responsible for iconic spaces such as Mondrian Hotel in New York, Los Angeles & Miami, and Barneys New York. His aesthetic is a perfect combination of modern and classical, and he manages to stick to a simple vision while also taking the stories’ and backgrounds of his clients into consideration. Ortiz started out creating spaces for household names such as Lenny Kravitz, Michael Fuchs and Sean “Diddy” Combs, and has recently moved into hotels. We can’t help but hope that this incredible designer continues into restaurants, a progression The New Potato is waiting on. To our delight, we were able to sit down with the visionary himself to talk aesthetic, inspiration and details on Mondrian SoHo NYC — an elevated floating space in the skies of SoHo that we’ve all fallen in love with.
TNP:What would you say are some of your favorite classic places?
"My favorite interior space in New York is the Four Seasons Restaurant, designed by Phillip Johnson, at the Seagram’s Building. The proportions and the details make it a timeless interior that works well for every occasion. But if we are talking older places, the Palazzo del Te by Giulio Romano in Mantua is a magnificent building that is both classical and whimsical. That is what I try to do with my interiors."
TNP: Where do you go for inspiration?
"I get inspired by everything from fashion to the city. I am always looking at details, at how things are made and how emotions are drawn for doing a particular thing."
TNP: Could you take me through your process a bit?
"If you mean the way I design, the process changes according to the project. In residential work, I relate to the client’s particular and specific needs. In hospitality work, we start by developing a story from which the entire design will be inspired. Once we develop a strong story, everything else falls in place. Color is the first element of design that we select, then we work out layouts, lighting and furniture accordingly. The idea is to create an interior that is cohesive but theatrical enough to make you enjoy while you are there and also makes you want to come back."
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TNP: What was your goal in designing the Mondrian SoHo? What did you want people to take away from the aesthetic?
"I want to take the guest to a magical world that is not their usual reality. We want to take you to a special place that is both comfortable and familiar, and new and exciting."
TNP: How does the story behind a hotel or restaurant inform the design?
"For Mondrian SoHo which is in New York City, it has been called a beast in many occasions. You hear that the city is strong and tough on you in the beginning but then as you learn more about it, you fall in love with it and after finally surrendering to the charms of the city, the city turns beautiful. That is exactly the story that we used for inspiration, Jean Cocteau’s."
TNP: What are the most important elements when designing a space?
"Of course, after the functions are resolved, color is the most important element, in my opinion. Then lighting."
TNP: How much of the hotelier’s vision do you take into consideration?
"The hotelier establishes the program and the functions — the brand aesthetics if you will — but we provide the vision and the story."
TNP: What in your mind makes or breaks the aesthetic of a space and how people feel when in that space?
"Bad lighting can ruin everything. It’s kind of like wearing a fabulous outfit and having the wrong makeup and hair — and I mean artificial as well as natural light. When a space is not illuminated properly, you just don’t 'see it.'"
TNP: How important is color?
"Color is the most important element to convey a feeling. For me, color saturation is essential to create a mood."
TNP: How important is lighting?
"As I said before, lighting can ruin an interior. The same way that color makes you feel; lighting makes you see."
TNP: Where do you travel for inspiration?
"I travel everywhere and as often as I can. I just came back from 10 days in Paris, Lyon and Versailles. Then I went to Boston and Martha’s Vineyard, stopped in NY and spent three days in the Bahamas. I travel somewhere every month, and I take vacation every time I can."
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TNP: Where haven’t you been, that you’d like to go to?
"I would like to visit the Orient."
TNP: What restaurants/hotels (besides ones you’ve designed) do you go to for the atmosphere? What are your favorite hotels?
"I don’t have a favorite hotel or restaurant. I discover new ones constantly. One thing about hotels is that I love room service!"
TNP: How does the city inform the design of the hotel?
"The hotels that we design are a direct result of studying the city or location. From living in New York for over 30 years, I know the city very well and, as you can see, the story that we used to design the hotel matches perfectly with the mood of the city."
TNP: What keeps a space ‘timeless?’
"We like to design furniture and interiors that are one of kind so the rooms cannot be identified for a particular period. We try to stay away from trends. That keeps the interior timeless and unique."