We already knew Orlando had a fantastic sense of humor but were even more delighted to discover how well his design sensibility and philosophies mirror our own. Read on to learn how this resourceful and artistic designer puts his stamp on everything!
What is your background? How did you get into design? Have you always been aesthetically minded?
My career path kind of wove and wound all over the place before it led me to interior design. I studied art in school and thought I wanted to be an art professor before HATING art grad school (and most of my professors) so much that I decided against a career in academia. I was in a super underfunded program and the professors all hated their jobs and the school and thus resented all their students. When I graduated I looked around and went “OH MY GOD WHAT DID I JUST DO? WHY DID I JUST GET INTO 100K OF DEBT?”
I got a job working as a graphic designer, only to be laid off a year later (this was 2008, during the great recession). No job presented so I just started working as a freelance set designer/production designer for whatever lame/cheap student film I could get staffed on. Eventually this led me to apply for an assistant role on an HGTV series called “Secrets from a Stylist” which was, unbeknownst to me, an on-camera role. That show lasted two seasons then after it ended I helped the show’s host Emily Henderson start a design business. We did that for a few years and then I found my way to Homepolish to work as their Creative Director for the West Coast.
It’s a super long story but I like telling it because I think it’s good for people to hear that things aren’t as easy as they look on Instagram. I was pretty destitute for most of my twenties but the years that I spent being penniless, investing in pursuing a creative career, have given me a lot more skills and made me a lot more humble about the success I’m having now. And if there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s someone successful who isn’t humble. So much of accomplishment, and I’m including myself in this, is related to chance and privilege that is innate. And I’m not saying this to discourage people. Rather saying it to let people who aren’t instantly successful know that’s totally okay and normal, and not to get discouraged if success takes time.
I’ve always been aesthetically minded. When I was little I used to draw dresses and wanted to be a cartoonist. As soon as I learned that being an animator was totally boring I decided I wanted to be an artist. I still do want to be an artist to be honest. Like the kind that paints. As far as interior design goes, I never really knew I wanted to do it professionally but I’ve always done it. It’s just something that came naturally to me. I redecorated my room, paint and all, when I was seven and did it over and over again throughout high school and college. All my years of having no money made me really resourceful and creative.
Your work is so clean, how do you achieve that without it seeming too precious or overdone?
Something I’ve learned in my lifetime of designing is that loving something doesn’t necessarily mean you should put it in your space. You have to think about how everything will work together as an overall composition. So even if you love hanging mobiles and vintage landscape paintings in gold frames that doesn’t mean those two things will look good together. If you truly respect art and design you’ll give an object the space it needs to exude its true beauty. Kind of the way an art museum might. Design is a lot about practicing restraint and figuring out what your priorities are. I think most people struggle with this. Maybe they see a pair of crazy chairs and a statement coffee table and love both of them so much they can’t live without them. In reality, those distinctive chairs might look better with a more subdued coffee table that allows their distinctive style to shine.
If someone is working within a strict budget where do you encourage them to spend and save?
Number one, don’t be a princess, do your own labor. Painting yourself or doing simple DIYs can save you a ton of money. A few years ago, I couldn’t afford an electrician so I installed my own chandelier. I just went on youtube and figured it out. It was semi-terrifying but totally satisfying. Number two, mix and match. If you have an Ikea dresser with hardware from Anthropologie, people will probably react to the hardware from Anthropologie and not even notice the inexpensive dresser. Three, scour every flea market and thrift shop for unique items that will make your house look luxe. If you look at the fancy magazines, what makes a home look “expensive” is seeing stuff in it you don’t see everywhere. I recently bought a weird rattan lion stool at the flea market for $40 only to get home and find out it was worth $7000. That kind of thing doesn’t happen often, but you can definitely find interesting items that will make your home look distinctively like you if you’re willing to get dirty shopping for vintage.
What are your favorite resources for a splurge? For a steal?
I’m gonna be perfectly honest, I still can’t really afford the fancy brands that most high end interior designers love. My splurges tend to be on pieces of pottery I source from people like Ben Medansky or Michele Quan. If I could buy out any store, it would probably be Lawson-Fenning, which has an outlet around the corner from my condo in Silver Lake where I can be found salivating quite often. For a steal, I like to hit up Shopclass in Highland Park. They find the best vintage stuff from estate sales and Palm Springs thrift stores and resell it at a marginal markup (I’m constantly wondering how they turn a profit – their prices are that good!).
Do you tend to have tried and true favorites that find themselves into every job?
I have a thing for agate coasters, I’ve used those a million times. Same goes for Ben Medansky pottery. I’ve used that stuff over and over again.
What is your favorite recent project and what made it special?
My favorite project by far has been the condo I renovated with my boyfriend this past year. It was just incredibly satisfying because we completely gutted it and it looks COMPLETELY different than it did before. It was 80s construction that had original everything. Brown tiles, grey industrial carpet, parquet floors, beige formica cabinetry. Just plain nasty. And now it’s just lovely and white and fresh. I did my best to give it a makeover that felt timeless. But I did add in some details that make it really fun. I used some gorgeous tile from Fireclay (a gorgeous, made in California brand) that give the kitchen and the bathrooms some beautiful monochromatic pattern. I also worked with a lighting company based in LA called Park Studio, who worked with me to create custom lighting everywhere. It was so much fun to work with them to create the exact fixtures I wanted!
Is there a type of project you fantasize about doing some day?
Though I’m known for a kind of minimalist, modern look, I’m really interested in doing a historic renovation someday soon. I love Spanish revival homes and craftsmen homes, so I’d love to do something with a little more innate detail where I could incorporate more traditional elements. California has some great architecture, I love the old neighborhoods in Pasadena, Angeleno Heights, Silver Lake. So I’d love to do a project in a space that has a little more inherent detail and showcases a type of architecture that is prevalent in this region.
Do you have a signature and does it find its way into every project?
I don’t know about a signature, but these are some of my philosophies… Don’t paint a dark room white. It will just make it look dingy. Do swap out drawer pulls and faucets for a small makeover. Don’t chop pillows. I hate that (it’s when you chop the top of your pillow with your hand so it looks like a bunny with ears). Do find real art made by people you know or from flea markets to mix in with reproductions or photos if you’re doing a gallery wall. Don’t think you’re going to do a gallery wall without making a million holes in your wall. Do experiment with moving your furniture over and over until it stops feeling weird. Don’t buy sets of things (like a sofa that matches chairs that matches the coffee table). Do consider custom drapery/window treatments if you can afford it. It’ll save you time and headache trying to hang your own stupid drapes. Don’t think the job is ever over. Your home is a living space that should constantly be evolving and changing, making way for new objects and furnishings.
Is there a current trend that you love and think will endure?
I like brass and it’s been around for a while so I think it might be here to stay this time. The last time it reared it’s ugly head was in the 80s but all the finishes were cheap and faux (think ugly yellow metallic faucets). I don’t know how brass came to overtake chrome as the go-to metal finish, but I’m glad it did and hoping that lasts.
What are your favorite pieces on Previously Owned by a Gay man and how would you use them in a project?
I love this geometric art piece:
I love these little vases. They’d be perfect for shelf styling: