Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz' personality is so effervescent it seemed to trail behind him recently when, dressed in floral Doc Martens and a straw hat, he led a group of journalists on a detailed tour of the Mondrian SoHo, his latest and third installment for the luxury hotel brand. Greeting each hotel employee he came across with a genuine smile, Noriega-Ortiz' warmth and generosity spills over, coming through in the interiors he designs as well. In the case of the NYC location, the industry vet took a more whimsical approach than the sober-hued Los Angeles and Scottsdale properties. Rooms splashed in blue paint and fantastical furniture inspired by John Cocteau's highly-visual film "La Belle et Le Bête" give the high rise's interiors a sense of enchantment.
To lend even more magic to the atmosphere, Noriega Ortiz also custom designed over 60 pieces of furniture. In part because furniture provenance bores him, the designer (who holds Masters degrees in both architecture and urban design) prefers to design his own whenever he can.
Treating his own home as a place for experimentation, when it comes to clients Noriega-Ortiz bases his decisions on intuition and years of experience, studying the location to start generating ideas about what the experience should be like. "I develop a storyline that guides the design," he explains. "It's kind of like a script for a movie." Once he's settled on plot, color comes next to set the mood.
While the Puerto Rican-born designer feels color is extremely important in making a space feel theatrical—such as the Mondrian Soho's seductive French blue—sometimes the absence of color elevates interiors into "living works of art." Treating each space as a painting, Noriega-Ortiz says he creates "backgrounds for life to flourish in" and they are not the star, but that "the entire environment, which includes the user, is art."
Whether designing Lenny Kravitz's downtown pad or swanky Parisian boutiques, Noriega-Ortiz prefers to work within a compact urban environment, and tends to leave his signature touch in the form of feathers. Passing by one of his feather lamps on the tour with a giggle, he later offered, "I love the way they move with the air as you walk by, it makes me smile. I use them almost exclusively with lighting because light travels so smoothly through the material."
The feathers are also a spot-on metaphor for Noriega-Ortiz; calm and breezy, functional yet playful, he continues to surprise clients and guests with his surreal environments. His real talent could be simply summarized in his explanation of his design background, "In architecture you learn to create and design an object; in urban design you create and design a space (the void) and the textures around it. That is why the combination of the two really becomes interior design."