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How The Hard Work of a Young Designer Has Paid Off

Marked by a flair for color, pattern, and whimsy, Erick Espinoza’s unrestrained design approach has skyrocketed his career

Though he is only 28, interior design phenom Erick Espinoza, creative director at New York–based firm Anthony Baratta, distinguishes himself from his contemp­oraries. “There are so many millennials who have a sense of entitlement or feel like they don’t have to work as hard to achieve the same amount of acclaim as somebody older than them,” he says. “But if you can get over that, work really, really hard and stay late and study and learn, that’s what it takes to become great.”

And Espinoza would know, given his accelerated ascent into the interior design stratosphere. From humble beginnings growing up in Miami as a first-generation American (his mother is from Honduras), getting into the prestigious Design and Architecture Senior High, and earning a full-ride scholarship to the New York School of Interior Design to working at a New York design firm while still in college and becoming a creative director at 24 years old, Espinoza’s dedication enabled him to rise through the ranks at an expedited pace.

As a sophomore at the New York School of Design, he secured an internship at Diamond Baratta Design, then Anthony Baratta hired Espinoza to work full time at his newly formed namesake firm. “And the rest is history,” Espinoza says. “It just snowballed from there. After school ended, it was really full throttle. And soon I became the creative director [in 2015].”

In his current role, he not only works on designing and decorating interiors, but he and Baratta also design all custom items for their projects in-house—from sofas, chairs, and tables to wallcoverings, rugs, and fabrics, down to the trim on the pillows. “Nobody realizes the amount of work and thought that has to go into every single piece of furniture and accessory,” Espinoza says. “Seeing it all come together at installation is most fulfilling.”

Inspired by design books from every era and vintage House Beautiful and The World of Interiors magazines, Espinoza feels that his signature style, including his penchant for intense color can be traced back to his mentor: Baratta is known for his unabashed use of color and pattern. Espinoza’s work melds vivid hues with punchy patterns and energetic prints in a harmonious way that only someone with a trained eye could make work. Take for example, a recent project in Quogue, New York, in which a husband-and-wife client challenged him to design their home around a sofa clad in 14 different Missoni fabrics.

“They wanted everything to be equally as patterned and as intensely colored as the Missoni fabrics,” Espinoza says. “So we took it there but had to keep it from looking like a fun house or circus. There is a certain amount of restraint but tons of color and patterns. It’s interesting to play with the balance.”

For that same project, they took a painting (“Rainbow Love Mountain Ranch, New Mexico [2007]” by Polly Apfelbaum) and translated it to a custom-designed rug for the entryway. “It’s quirky and unique and inventive,” he says, noting that his team—consisting of Baratta, himself, and designer Jaime Magoon, who all work in tandem—approaches projects by filtering everything through an eye of history. “We pay attention to all the great designers, decorators, and architects and put that to play in real life. We’re not afraid to take what’s worked in the past and try it again.”

Espinoza’s firm was commissioned to redecorate a Fifth Avenue apartment that Diamond Baratta designed 10 years ago. “This new client said, ‘I want what they had, but better and to a more elevated and even more intensely decorated level,’” Espinoza explains. “That was a really intensely involved project, and it was fun.” He adds: “These clients that challenge you force you to evolve. You don’t really have a choice. It really pushes the boundaries in your head. That’s really cool.”

Erick’s top five design tips:

1. Work with the architecture.
“Look at the architecture first. Focus on the proportion. If you’re not able to do construction to move or manipulate walls or to open up a ceiling to make it higher, figure out how you can fake it. For example, if you’re in a pre-war building and every door is a different height, find ways to trick the eye and make it make sense.”

2. Consider the light.
“Pay attention to how the light comes into the space. If it’s a really dark space, stay away from using colors, textures, and fabrics that will make it darker—unless it’s your intent to try to make a dark, cozy den.”

3. Start from the ground up.
“We design the rug first 90 percent of the time. That’s literally what grounds the whole room. Everything has to relate and work well together—the rug, fabrics, trim, accessories—and it’s harder to plug in a rug after all the decorating has been done.”

4. Cover the floor.
“I have a pet peeve about rugs that are like a postage stamp on the floor because they don’t make the room feel big. If you cover most of the floor, your room will look twice as large because it gives you more opportunity for furniture placement. Find the biggest possible rug you can fit into that room, and cover the floor. It elevates the style immediately.”

5. Pay attention to scale.
“If you don’t get the scale right, it throws off the whole room. Big, giant rooms need big, giant furniture. Otherwise, it doesn’t make sense to the eye. And with a smaller room, you obviously need to use caution to make sure the furniture fits. Also, make sure you can get the furniture up the stairs and into elevators. I learned that lesson the hard way: Be very careful, and measure all your elevators and stairways beforehand.”