“This is the house that Jack built, y’all. Remember this house! This was the land that he worked by hand. This was the dream of an upright man. This was the room that was filled with love,” croons R&B icon Aretha Franklin from her 1968 hit by the same title.
Master builder Andres Escobar just like the character in “This Is the House that Jack Built” pours lots of love and dedication into his craft. Moved more by what his heart dictates than financial gain, Escobar has created a phenomenal portfolio of work that illustrates his passion and creative genius. From designing the New York Times Building interior to the Guess Flagship store in Toronto to the newly renovated and renamed Noir (originally Nikki Beach) in Midtown East, Escobar is riding high on an astonishing list of accomplishments. Still, Escobar approaches each new project as an opportunity to evolve and test the limits of his ingenuity.
Andres Escobar took time out of his busy schedule to talk to Fashion Reverie about his trajectory, his philosophy of life, and the thing that brings him so much joy.
Fashion Reverie: You moved from Colombia to Montreal to study engineering. During your studies you switched from engineering to architecture/interior design, why?
Andres Escobar: I have always been a creative person, and in my youth I would make model buildings and automobiles. I started out as an engineer major because my family thought that a creative career was too risky. I decided to move to designing spaces and it had taken a long time for me to obtain what I wanted to achieve.
FR: What were you trying to obtain?
Andres Escobar: I wanted to have a portfolio of a diversity of projects. Obviously, you have to make enough money to support yourself, but it is more about the challenge of designing different venues. Working on a new project is like starting a new love affair. It is fun for me and I don’t feel like I go to work.
It is very important as a designer to work on a diversity of projects that have a different aesthetic. In this industry it is very easy to get stereotyped. For a while I was thought of a designer that only designed very edgy, downtown spaces with a minimalistic aesthetic. But with this new project, Noir, I have been able to show a wider range of my talents, combining Art Deco with neoclassicism, mixed in with Hollywood glamour and modern elements. This space also gives the feeling of the old supper clubs, but modernized.
FR: When you opened your company in 1989 what were some of your first projects?
Andres Escobar: Early on I was designing large supermarkets that had very specialized departments with their own personalities within the food store, like a boucherie, boulangerie or chacuterie. Early on we had clients in Halifax, Montreal, and even some European clients. That morphed into designing restaurants and later retail stores like Timbaland and sportswear stores.
FR: What sets your firm apart from other architectural/interior design firms?
Andres Escobar: I am able to understand what people are looking for. I am great listener. When I am meeting with my clients I let them talk and I am able to discern what they want, even if they are not clear or so sure themselves. My firm is very good at understanding markets and what works best for that particular market. We are good at not letting the design overwhelm the product.
FR: Your job requires a lot of hands-on knowledge. How do you do the research needed to stay competitive?
Andres Escobar: I am very fortunate to do a lot of traveling. I love meeting people and different cultures, and I infuse all those experiences into my work. One common quality among all people and cultures is that there is beauty among all people and all cultures. The media would have us to believe that beauty comes in a very specific package, but that is not so.
I make it a point to see what is going on in different cultures. I go outside of the packaged tourist areas. I visit different types of restaurants and hotels. I always look at what people are wearing, how they accessorize; how the men and the women are beautifying themselves.
FR: What is your design aesthetic or signature look?
Andres Escobar: I try to create a place that has its own unique look. For long time it was very linear, and that was a part of my learning and growing. You know, sometimes it is more difficult to create a clever, minimalistic space than a Baroque-inspired space. You can hide imperfections in more busy or Baroque spaces. Having said that, you have to understand what is going on right now, but you also have to understand different periods, from Baroque to Bauhaus, etc. This knowledge really enriches you and you can use those historical references in your work designed with your particular point of view.
FR: How do you select your projects?
Andres Escobar: Most of the projects come by word of mouth, so the more projects we work on, the more people are aware of my firm’s work. I also have to feel that I have the right chemistry with my clients to have a successful relationship. I can usually tell within five minutes if it is going to work out.
FR: What has been your most challenging, and why?
Andres Escobar: We worked on a hotel a while back, and I knew early on that it would be difficult. I followed my financial necessity and not my heart. I did the project to honor the commitment, but I hated the project. I promised myself to never do to that again.
FR: You designed the New York Times Building, Noir, and other significant spaces in NYC. What is it about NYC that lends itself to your design aesthetic?
Andres Escobar: I believe personality is very important. Once people get to know me they understand that I am probably the easiest guy to work with. There are a lot of prima donnas out there that are very hard to work with. New Yorkers like to get down to brass tacks without a lot of fuss and muss. So my personality lends itself to getting things done and meeting deadlines without a lot of drama. I believe also that New Yorkers appreciate when a designer can bring in different elements from different cultures and periods and make the design look like one seamless expression of beauty and functionality. My firm is able to accomplish that.
FR: Could you talk about how Noir and how that project came about?
Andres Escobar: I met the owner George Giordano in Florida and he mentioned that he had a club/restaurant, Nikki Beach in New York City. He contacted me when he wanted Nikki Beach to be renovated. When I looked at the space I immediately wanted to make the space different from other similar spaces in NYC. Most marquees in NYC are square, so we wanted to differentiate Noir’s marquee from the others. I decided to bring a little bit of the Champs Elysees to the space, so that is what we did. We built in a beautiful spiral staircase, padded walls and banquettes.
FR: There has been a trend in NYC and other major cities to move toward upscale lounges and away from large clubs and dance spaces. What to you contribute this to?
Andres Escobar: There has been a very big generational shift in populations that desire a night life. The baby boomers want to go out and have a relaxing time in environments that not too crowded and noisy. The clubbing scene is too loud and you cannot have a conversation in those spaces. Also, designers are bored with being asked to always create cutting edge, Jetson-like environments; it is too linear with hard edges. If you notice a lot of beauty comes in soft, round, smooth-edged packages. The Renaissance was all about round edges, and architecture and interior design is having a renaissance of sorts.
People want to go back to the basics. You want all the innovation and accessibility that comes with technology, but you want the beauty of the basics and the quality of great design.
FR: That said; what are the current trends in architecture?
Andres Escobar: Design is becoming a lot more fluid because of access to a wider variety of building materials. In my case, which is mainly interiors, technology has come a long, long way. Through media, like the Internet, consumers are exposed to everything and they have a certain amount of sophistication. Advancements in lighting have changed the industry. LED and longevity of the product is now the order of the day. However, with the new technologies we are losing the craftsmen. Because everything now is done through machines, craftsmen are becoming almost obsolete and with that loss we are losing some of the romance of their artistry. Through machines we can do an interpretation of an engraved wall, but it is not the same.
The retail industry everyone is trying to follow the leaders in terms of personality and branding a interior design look in the store. Each store will have its own individual look. Prada started this, now everyone is trying to copy that. Unfortunately, the branding looks similar.
Andres Escobar: I want to keep evolving and doing the romantic, evocative designs. I want to keep doing what I am doing, and that is always fun and fulfilling.
—William S. Gooch