Orlando & Lisette Rodriguez on post-opulence & patience

The husband and wife team behind new practice Rodriguez Design Studio explain how to achieve timeless interiors – and why flexibility is the key to attracting buyers in the current climate…

The husband and wife team behind new practice Rodriguez Design Studio explain how to achieve timeless interiors – and why flexibility is the key to attracting buyers in the current climate…

You both worked for high-profile design houses, including Northacre, Linley, Helen Green and Laura Hammett, before setting up your own studio together; what made you decide to go it alone, and how have you found the transition?

Orlando Rodriguez, Northacre’s longstanding former design director, and his wife Lisette, a former lead interior designer at Linley, Helen Green and Laura Hammett, joined forces last year as Rodriguez Design Studio

It all comes down to relationships. Being part of a high-profile design house and developer meant we both worked very closely with suppliers, end users and clients over many years. Their encouragement, combined with our years of experience, gave us the confidence to start our own business, along with a clear idea of how we wanted that business to look.

Correspondingly, we had also built up very good personal ‘black-book’ of suppliers, which is an essential part of our offer and success.

We have really enjoyed the transition. In a way it’s very similar to what we have always done but it feels great to be in control of our own destiny – but now wholly under the Rodriguez Design Studio name, which is very satisfying.

You launched Rodriguez Design Studio amid a period of intense political and economic uncertainty; has this affected how you are approaching the business and planning for the future?

A particular strength of Rodriguez Design Studio is our proven ability to understand how to create real value for our clients. That skill has come to the fore more than ever during the current time, when value for money is one of the top priorities for many, whether they be private investors or developers.

Our background in working for a developer means we understand about creating good design but importantly, creating good design for a budget. With our ‘developer hat’ on, we ensure we keep the prices very reasonable for our clients but still offer our brand of exclusive design. That way our clients keep coming back. Being a small company means we can also pass on our low overheads to our clients.

Do you have a house style or particular aesthetic; what sets you apart from other interior design houses?

Yes, we do have a particular style….we call it ‘Sophisticated Simplicity’.

It’s a sophisticated contemporary-classic style which is serene, simple and elegant and applies both to thearchitecture, as well as FF&E.  Lisette’s work is distinguished by her refined Scandinavian take on design,focusing on subtle layering creating uncluttered interiors with timeless elegance. So we complement each other perfectly; the architecture and building working WITH the interior, and vice-versa.

Our Private Clients want ‘uber-unique’ with designs that reflect their personality and tell their story. The fact that we design a lot of our furniture and fittings bespoke means we can provide highly-crafted, unusual materials meticulously featured in furnishings and architecture. This in itself is very unusual.

“Timeless” is one of the watchwords of luxury design; how do you ensure an interior scheme will remain in fashion in a fast-moving world?

Certain elements will never go out of style…symmetry is so important to both the architecture and the interiors.

The human eye is drawn to symmetry and balance which means no matter what the style, the room will be pleasant to look at and just feel right. Having doors centred on windows when you walk in a room instantly gives you a view, light and creates an entrance.

Similarly, a focal point. Just like symmetry, timeless rooms are never without them. We create these in rooms by reinstating the fireplaces where possible or adding in a new focal point like a joinery unit or an amazing piece of artwork.

It also helps to hide the technology (AV/IT) and the lighting (downlights in particular). The technology changes so fast that often you can tell the age of the last remodelling of a house or apartment with these items on view.

Quality materials, furniture, fabrics and accessories all contribute to a scheme that will stand the test of time.

Are there any key design trends that you are tipping for the high-end sector in the post-pandemic era?

We see a trend towards ‘post-opulence’. This is a shift towards making fewer more conscious purchases to create a more refined, simple and timeless design. Less grandeur and fuss; clients want something pure and clean.

Even Rolls Royce’s new Ghost due out later this year is being designed with this new simplified philosophy that clients are demanding.

Along the same lines, sustainability is increasingly becoming more and more important. Clients are becoming more self aware, moving away from the ‘throwaway’ culture of re-designing their houses or apartments every few years. They are opting for more timeless, well-made pieces that will last a long time, so that these can be recycled for future generations.

There seems to be growing appreciation of artisan crafts amongst high net worth property owners and tenants; how do you go about sourcing the best, but not necessarily the most well-known, specialist craftspeople?

This is where our little black books come in! It’s about using the best. Not necessarily if they are a brand or well known.

It’s a combination of good prices for our clients but just as important is delivering our projects on time for them. We only use companies that always deliver for us no matter what the obstacles that arise. 

We are recommending these companies, so our names and reputations are at stake.

Where do you tend to look for – and find – inspiration?

We have found inspiration from everything, from nature to fashion!

We both love travelling a lot and find inspiration in cities around the world but particularly in classical and modern architecture. We live in an amazing city (London) but our heritage is from Sweden and Spain, so have an interesting mix of influences to call upon too.

Selling a luxury property can be hard work right now; do you have any quick design tips for developers or homeowners looking to make theirs stand out from the crowd?

One word – Flexibility.

With more clients working from home, buyers or potential clients might want one or possibly two studies, or separate flexible areas to work from (the kitchen, spare bedroom etc).

Clients are also asking about larger gyms that the whole family can use, not just the usual two or three machines.

We are currently working with a couple of luxury developers to help design these ‘flexible’ layouts and maximise their value and saleability. It’s all about this flexibility and enticing a buyer during the current situation.

It’s what I used to do for 12 years at Northacre anyway, so it’s familiar territory to me.

What practical advice would you have for other designers starting their own practices – is there anything you wish you had known at the start?

Be patient. We waited a long time until we felt we had the experience and contacts to make Rodriguez Design Studio work. This experience really counts in the current period. If we had started this 10 years ago, we might have struggled….As a result we had the good fortune to be able to start with projects that are some of the best apartments and addresses to be found in London and abroad.

We knew it would be hard work….but we thought it would be rewarding….and it is!

As a husband and wife operation, how do you balance the business with family life? Is it tempting to take your work home or are you able to keep some definition between the two?

Every morning one of us takes our daughter to nursery and then its straight to work. We are completely focused on our projects and what we need to do for each project depending at what stage they are at.

In the evenings we focus on spending some quality time with the little one.

We believe that separating time each day for yourself, your work and your family is so important to a balanced life.

Our passion for the job makes it difficult to stop talking about work at home. Sometimes ideas or solutions can come out of nowhere and at any time! We met through our work, so it feels natural to be in business together.

You’ve been able to deliver your first projects in lightning-fast time – how did you achieve this, and are you still able to access all the materials you need amid the current crisis? Which other practical challenges did the Covid-19 lockdown present?

As a result of having worked with the very best suppliers for over 20 years on projects of scale, we are able to offer private clients access to some of the UK’s finest craftsmen and suppliers with total confidence. It’s not uncommon for us to have tight deadlines because our clients are demanding and they know what we can do. 

The owner of the apartment we did at 20 Grosvenor Square, for example, wanted it installed in just three weeks for a tenant. This included all the AV/IT, bespoke joinery and FF&E but we made it happen and is a perfect example of these key relationships at work. That’s where your experience and Project Management skills become just as important as being a designer.

During lockdown, our office was at home where we have all our samples, so materials and access to existing suppliers was not a major problem for us. Meeting suppliers for new materials was more difficult and we had to get used to quite a few ‘Zoom’ client presentations which I am sure we can all agree are never as good as ‘face to face’ meetings, especially when showing materials but everyone was in the same situation. We just had to adapt.

Are there any specific materials that you are particularly enjoying working with right now?

We love using tactile finishes and are currently enjoying working on new finishes and products like ribbed glass, tactile and sustainable wallpapers and different plastered wall finishes.

Can you give us a flavour of the kind of projects you are working on at the moment?

We are currently about to start on-site on a penthouse in Mayfair right next to Claridge’s Hotel for an investor client. We’ve completely remodelled the interior to create a much more valuable and sellable apartment than before and the layout has been designed to provide a lot of flexibility, so the rooms can have various uses without much change needed.  This not only saves time later on but money for the Investor.

We are also working on some of the very best developments in London including No. 1 Palace Street for a private client. Having designed the development for Northacre originally, its going to be extra special to go back and add our signature design to the ‘base build’.

Where would you like to see Rodriguez Design Studio in five years time?

We’d like to take our exclusivity and work on the very best developments, apartments and houses around the world – New York, Los Angeles, Paris, Monaco, Hong Kong etc. for private clients.

We would also like to get into the development side. Create really special boutique developments of say five to ten apartments. Watch this space!

Further Reading

Super-prime design duo launch new studio; unveil debut project at Twenty Grosvenor Square March 2020