Andres Escobar is the best designer you’ve never heard of. Until now. The Colombian-born design guru hit New York running, garnering almost a dozen local projects since he won a contest to design a Williamsburg condo slightly more than five years ago.
Since then, Escobar designed the interiors for the Manhattan nightclub Duvet, the hotel le bleu (which opened this past week on the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn) and the interiors, common spaces and kitchen and baths for The Olcott and Harsen House on the upper West Side. He’s also worked on 50 Columbus in Jersey City, 92 Greene St. in SoHo, the Gretsch Building in Williamsburg, the PowerHouse in Long Island City and The District, Wall Street’s newest residential building, where nightclub owner Amy Sacco is the lifestyle director. Sacco is also a homeowner there, buying a penthouse in the building.
“This will be the best rooftop in New York by far,” says Sacco, owner of New York’s celebrity hot spot Bungalow 8. ” I took the leopard-print kitchen that Escobar designed. It’s an incredibly rich feel. I can’t wait to cook and entertain.”
That’s exactly what Escobar intended when he chose the Macassar Ebony leopard stripe-shaped wood paneling for one of the kitchen finishes.
“I think people in the Financial District are stressed from working hard all day with numbers,” says Escobar, who speaks fluent Spanish, French, English and Portuguese. “They need a way out. I want these apartments to make them feel like they have their own club, bar or lounge. The behavior of people dictates my designs. I am very market-geared.”
Escobar thinks fast, walks fast, talks fast and designs fast. Everywhere he goes, he sees and thinks in design parameters. When in New York, he stays at 60 Thompson, eats at Balthazar, drinks at Cipriani’s and talks to everyone he meets.
“I network, network, network,” he says. “That’s my style. I become friends with everyone.” On the streets of SoHo, his eyes dart back and forth, up and down, from store windows to people’s shoes.
“I look at everything,” says Escobar, whose favorite New York neighborhood is SoHo, by far. “I can’t help it. I have to take it all in. I look at tablecloths, flower arrangements, distressed walls and all fashion. Interior design is progression of all that.”
Escobar’s start in interior design came from a film he saw when he was 11. It’s why, he says, he joined the profession.
“I went to see ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ when I was a kid,” says Escobar. “I went right home and told my mom, ‘I want to look like that.’ I never wanted to be conventional or do things that people thought they had to do to be normal.”
But the Montreal-based Escobar, who has a four-person office in Tribeca, says breaking into New York wasn’t easy.
“After I won that contest in Brooklyn to do the Gretsch Building, I thought, ‘Okay, I did my New York thing,'” says Escobar, who wears all black from head to toe. “New York can be impenetrable if you don’t live here. It’s a city that categorizes people.”
Escobar talks from experience. While being courted by local developers looking to do a building on the upper West Side, he was told he was too downtown.
“I said, ‘Guys, you got it all wrong,'” says Escobar, smiling. “A guy playing piano in a rock band could have started as a great classical musician. In design, to do minimalist well, you have to know neo-classical, too.”
Escobar got the job and designed the lobby, common spaces and interiors of The Olcott, at 27 W. 72nd St. The lobby combines prewar bones like wood moldings with Hollywood-glam black marble columns and carved brass elevators. “I took the opportunity to show people we were capable of jumping from one style to another,” says Escobar.
Whether in SoHo, the Financial District or Jersey City, Escobar has a high hit ratio of getting jobs. “I always talk to the person making the decision,” he says. “I don’t talk to a go-between who can mix up messages. And I can see what the other person wants. I get in their heads. I know exactly what they want. And my ideas come right at the first meeting.”
For a corporate headquarters for Canadian retailer Point Zero, the owner of the company told Escobar he wanted something “Gucci-esque” and contemporary with a walk-through experience.
“After hearing that, I said, ‘Okay, thank you, that is all I need,'” says Escobar. “I went back to my office, drew up some visuals and e-mailed my ideas. He responded back immediately and said, ‘Right on.’ That kind of thing happens a lot.”
Unlike Philippe Starck, who some think has become predictably outlandish, Escobar designs livable environments. There are no dwarf stools or giant faucets. With Escobar, in his own words, you get “noble materials.” Strong lines and hard woods go with an edgy tiled flooring. His designs work as strongly in Tel Aviv as they do in Turkey.
“I’m global,” he says. “I love wine, travel, food, people and spaces. That’s why I have so much fun putting them together.”