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Emotional Rooms: The Sensual Interiors of Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz
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Emotional Rooms: The Sensual Interiors of Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz

by Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz


the sensual interiors of benjamin noriega-ortiz

Named by House Beautiful as one of "America's Most Brilliant Decorators" for ten consecutive years, Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz is recognized as one of the most stylish and influential of today's interior designers. His sensuous, glamorous, and ethereal work



the sensual interiors of benjamin noriega-ortiz

Named by House Beautiful as one of "America's Most Brilliant Decorators" for ten consecutive years, Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz is recognized as one of the most stylish and influential of today's interior designers. His 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. Noriega-Ortiz has traveled the world to design spaces for such clients as rock superstar Lenny Kravitz, bestselling author Laura Esquivel, and celebrity photographer Mark Seliger. Now, with Emotional Rooms, he shares his process with anyone who may not have access to a high-end designer but wants a home or workspace that is at once beautiful and true to themselves.

Noriega-Ortiz brings together in this book not only photographs of his interiors but personal images that will inspire and evoke the designer within us all. With stunning full-color photographs and clear, concise essays, he guides readers through the essential principles of design — color, architecture, furniture, and lighting — and gives advice on how homeowners can prevent common mistakes. He shows them how to break the rules, ignore trends and labels, stop pleasing others, and decorate their homes to reflect their own true desires.

For those influenced by passing fads and fashions, Noriega-Ortiz's essential advice is: Emotion is always a better guide than intellect when it comes to creating a richly satisfying environment. Home truly is where the heart is, and this famous designer has what it takes to help readers put the heart back into their homes.

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Atria Books
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Emotional Rooms

The Sensual Interiors of Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz
By Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz


Copyright © 2007 Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780743285049


Interior design books typically fall into two categories. The "how-to"

book is the one that "walks" the reader through every step of how to

create, say, a feather-covered lamp or a bedroom that feels like the

ocean. It would teach them how to install a gauzy curtain to give an

office alcove a hint of dreaminess. It would tell them what kind of

material to use, where to order it, where to buy the track lighting and

how to attach it to the ceiling. The other type of interior design book

is for inspiration. This is the idea behind Emotional Rooms:

inspiration. I'll show you the sources behind my inspiration to produce

my interior design work. I'll encourage and provoke you to look into

your own experiences in life to find what will inspire you to produce

interiors that you can call your own. I believe that by showing what and

how I see, you will come to understand how to use your own experiences.

That is the best reference you can use to determine and drive your own

design. Often clients become so preoccupied with buying what they think

is the perfect sink, just the right sofa, and so on, that they fail to

breathe and think about what's best for he space. The most important and

first thing to decide ishow you want the room to "feel." When I decide

on a strong emotional concept such as serenity, everything else falls

into place. Too many instructions can confine creativity, and my designs

are about freedom, not confinement. I treat interior design as an art,

not a craft. There is no "correct" way to design a room. In fact, the

first thing one has to do is to forget the "correct" way.

To accomplish serenity, for instance, consistency of color is extremely

important. When you look at furniture as objects with form and color,

you remove some of their reality. The objects become individual

sculptures that you arrange in space. The shape, color, and feel of an

object -- rather than preconceptions about its purpose -- are what tell an

artist where to place it. As the reality goes away, one is able to see

things one could not see before, such as the negative space between the

objects, which is as important as the objects themselves. One also

begins to see that every object has a color, and one starts to treat

color as another "object." Once reality -- the intellectual idea of what a

room is for -- goes away, the emotions are free to arrange the room. The

result is a space that elicits an emotional response. Therefore becoming

what I call emotional rooms.

A room can make you feel calm and serene or agitated and uncomfortable.

People are often uncomfortable in their own homes because they choose a

variety of furniture and objects that they believe others would accept

and be impressed by, rather than what would truly make them happy. They

settle for pleasing others and denying themselves the satisfaction of

self-indulgence. Life in New York City, where I have been living for

more than twenty-five years, is inherently stressful. As a consequence,

it's extremely important to come home to a shelter that takes me away

from the outside hustle and bustle. When a person gets home, he or she

should step into his fantasy, her peace.


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. The pedigree of furniture is not the key to success --

as many would believe. The key is, rather, what the furniture will provide

to the space and the inhabitants. Finally, lighting -- this is when

everything gets revealed. The right choice will either highlight or

obscure an object.


After meeting with a client and establishing the program, it is important

to look at the architecture of the space: the structure that defines the

void that people fill. Alignment as well as outside vistas are extremely

important and should be defined early on. Ask yourself where you will most

likely spend your time in the room. And what you see from the room, out

the window or door, is almost as important as what you see in the room.

The color and feel of the landscape, urban or rural, affects the

perception of every interior space. Look at the way the elements in

Nature relate to one another. Look at the way the vegetation grows and

what direction the sun sets. Imagine that you are in the wild and you

have to establish camp. Most likely you will choose the most beautiful

view for your sitting area. You will choose to rest where the smells and

the sounds are best for you. The freedom that you experience in the wild

should be adapted to your needs at home.


If you want the room to feel calm and serene, which is my favorite emotion

for a room, make sure you repeat one color as much as possible. My favorite

color is blue-green. In Spanish I call it bruma. This is the color

of water at the wave crest when it hits the seashore. It is also the word

used to represent haze, mist, or fog. In my experience, abundance of one

color produces serenity. Think of how you feel when you are looking at the

vast ocean while on a cruise ship. The serenity that you feel is mostly a

result of the abundance of one color: blue, green, or blue-green. When the

color gets interrupted with too much white, let's say waves, the view is

not as serene. This also happens when you look at mountains covered in

vegetation. The abundance of green in the lush mountains of Puerto Rico

generates a profound calmness.

When choosing a color, remember that color is in everything you see, and

that the way you perceive color has a lot to do with lighting. Not only

is the lighting that the color provides important but also the way

colors reflect one another. John Saladino, my mentor in interior design

and a marvelous colorist, always reminded me of Joseph Albers's famous

theory that you can only see color against color. In applying color I

use a basic principle, darker rooms should have darker colors, and

lighter rooms should have lighter colors. Consider how people look -- you

included -- inhabiting such a room. The result is what will render the

environment comfortable for you.

It is important to remember that materials have color and that they help

you create a mood. Wood is a color, as well as metal and plastic and so

on. If you cover a dark wood chair in blue fabric, the chair is not

blue. However, if you paint the wood to match the fabric, the color

enhances the expression of the shape, and the object therefore becomes

the expression of an emotion. I use translucent fabrics and materials to

separate rooms, for window coverings, and even for slipcovers and

bedspreads. Translucent fabrics cast a "fog" over the view, which helps

in diffusing reality. (Women have known this fact for years and they

implement it by the use of hosiery.) These types of fabrics silence

colors and form, delivering them to you virtually out of focus. I've

heard that in the early days of film, Hollywood studios used to require

that a "gauze" or "gel" be placed on the camera lens during close-ups in

order to remove imperfections from the actors' faces. That is what I

like to do, veil reality's imperfections.

furniture selection

Think of furniture as sculpture and you will open your mind to an

infinite world of possibilities. Furniture is no longer a chair or a

table, but a combination of shapes and colors. Again, the pedigree of a

furniture piece is not what should lead your decision-making. The piece

may be rare, expensive, fabulous yet not serve the space. The history of

an object, its age or previous famous owner, is not even visible to the

eye. This history must be learned and therefore does not exist in the

world of emotions. As a result, I dispose of it very early on in the

design process. Combining styles is easy. Again, the intellect may

object, but if you isolate styles by shape, color, and scale, you will

find that they have more in common than you first thought. For example,

if you have a collection of furniture from different periods and you

upholster them in the same fabric, they definitely will be at ease in

the same room. The same if your furniture has curves or angles. The

shapes will "talk" to each other. Two very different curved lamps, for

example, will find harmony if placed so that the attribute they share in

common -- their curves -- is what is most striking to the eye.

The furniture layout is part of the architecture of the space. Furniture

is no more than buildings within an interior urban landscape anyway. When

I studied urban design, I learned that the shape of a void is as important

as the textures and colors surrounding it, and that what is behind a

building is not as important as what you see in front of your eyes. The

same principle applies to interior design. When you look at a floor plan,

you have to remember that this is not how you experience a layout. You do

not experience every room at once, from above. You experience it room by

room, from the inside. While your intellect might tell you that all the

rooms must agree with one another, what is behind the walls or in other

rooms should not concern you -- unless you find a way of being in more than

one room at a time!

Furniture placement is an art in itself. I like to approach it in two

ways: (a) creating conversation groups (the practical way), and (b)

creating beautiful sets (the camera-ready way). Depending on the

function of the room, you can decide if it's meant to be lived in or

seen. Transitional spaces uch as corridors and vestibules can afford to

be overtly dramatic. But one needs tranquillity in a bedroom. Often,

when I see pictures of beautiful interiors, I know that the room has

been created for the camera. It does not mean that everything has been

changed. What it means is that, because the camera sees the room in a

different way than the human eye, the room has to be composed to reflect

what it really looks like in person. By trying my best to see a room the

way a camera sees it, I learned to edit and keep only what I consider

necessary. When I am designing, I "place" the camera in the room and it

tells me if the room is going to be a "wow" room, a cover, or just a

footnote room. All the rooms in a house should have a little bit of "wow

factor." 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.


The human eye cannot see without light. Lighting influences the way

colors are perceived and therefore is crucial in finishing a room. A

successful lighting design uses natural and artificial lighting sources,

including fabrics and other materials which themselves provide their own

light. When I am determining the way I'll illuminate a space I try to

combine at least three kinds of lighting: task, ambient, and whimsical. I

have been very successful with the latter -- in part with the help of my

partner, Steven Wine, and his business partner Michael Landon's company,

...And Bob's Your Uncle. They have been creating one-of-a-kind light

sources for our projects using a variety of materials -- feathers, glass,

leather, fabric, sequins, and crystals to mention a few. Therefore,

interesting lighting fixtures have become an indispensable part of my

interior spaces.

Whenever possible, I like to work with a lighting designer. A good

lighting designer will make your interiors come alive by highlighting

materials and furniture that otherwise would stay behind the scenes. A

combination of lighting types is best: halogen with incandescent,

up-light with down-light, sconces with overhead, and so on. Lighting

should not only make the interiors look good but the people, too. There

is no sense having a bedroom that inspires calmness and serenity if your

face looks terrible in the mirror.


My goal is to help you to see and edit your interiors. Real seeing --

seeing not with reality but with emotions and imagination -- is the key

to creating a space that is in harmony with your own emotions. When I was

a student of architecture in Puerto Rico, I spent my summers teaching

design through ceramics to children at the art gallery Casa Candina. My

students' ages ranged from four to about ten. The younger students were

always the best because their imaginations had not been hampered by the

school system or society. I "learned" to be a child again by just seeing

through their eyes. It is my hope that you will come away from perusing

this book inspired to design your spaces based on who you are. To do this,

many of you will create something that I would never make myself --

spaces that agitate, that are frenzied, that induce confusion. However,

those will truly be your spaces, a world with a little more fantasy --

not that reality is bad, but fantasy is better.

Copyright © 2006 by Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz


Excerpted from Emotional Rooms by Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz Copyright © 2007 by Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz started his career at the world-renowned design studio of John F. Saladino, Inc. Noriega-Ortiz is currently head of his own firm in New York City.

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