10 Questions With… Antrobus + Ramirez
Miami-based interior architecture and design firm Antrobus + Ramirez brings a fashion-forward brand of South Florida design to both residential and hospitality projects, including the Palazzo Del Sol condomiums on Fisher Island—the first new build on the island in more than seven years. The firm was founded by Yoo Ltd. alums Alison Antrobus and Ruby Ramirez, who met at Yoo in 2006 when they first began working together on a number of highly regarded projects in Central, South, and Latin America. In 2008, Ramirez moved to London, continuing her work with Yoo, while Antrobus struck out on her own. Four years later, Ramirez rejoined Antrobus in Miami as a partner at their young firm.
Since then, they’ve brought a distinct sense of lushness and vibrancy to the hotspot Prime Italian , the common rooms of the forthcoming Muse condominium (with architect Carlos Ott ), and the Palazzo Del Sol project. They each pursue fashion aspirations, as well—Antrobus has patented an eponymous handbag while Ramirez is set to launch a jewelry collection later in the year. Together they’ve launched an in-office design lab, with the intention of discovering new potential in building materials.
Interior Design: What has come from your design lab, thus far?
Ruby Ramirez: The creation of the lab was a response to our desire to innovate, to look at surface materials in a completely different light. We’re exploring different methods to engage the wall, floor, and ceiling plane, and to go beyond the conventional wood, stone, or metal—while making sure that our conclusions maintain a sense of timelessness. We design with longevity in mind and try to stay away from details that timestamp our projects.
Alison Antrobus: The more we explore, the more we discover. The more we discover, the more we can contribute to design. We began with a focus on surface materials, as they are one of the primary building blocks for finished interiors. Innovation is key to keeping ourselves relevant as designers.
RR: Currently we’re in “play mode”—researching different artisanal methods and experimenting with methodologies The best part so far has been relishing in the unknown.
ID: What’s at the heart of your collaboration?
AA: Someone once observed that we approach design from two different angles, and when combined it becomes a full circle of exploration. Ruby and I are an interesting cocktail—there’s deep respect and admiration for one another at the core. That’s mixed with compassion and a shared drive, topped off with a bit of healthy competition. It’s actually the perfect marriage.
RR: What makes our collaboration special is this undefinable synergy in mind and creative thinking. We push each other, to limits of apprehension, because at the root of it all we are innovators. If the slight doubt and fear of the unknown isn’t there, then we haven’t pushed far enough. It keeps things interesting.
ID: What are some of the most challenging and inspiring elements of your current projects?
AA: A few years ago, the Philip Stein watch brand reached out to me to design their first store and participate in the creation of a few of their watch collections. We recently reconnected to oversee their marketing products and the design of their global outposts. There’s definitely strength in being creatively involved with a mixture of design perspectives. Designing a watch can take clues from designing a hotel, and visa versa.
RR: And one of the most exciting projects we are currently working on is the new tower on Fisher Island, Palazzo Del Sol. This is our first project on Fisher Island. The prestige and exclusivity weighs heavily on our design consciousness! The residents of Fisher Island have travelled the world and have seen it all, so our design strategy needed to feel unique yet contextual. One of our most exciting challenges was figuring out how to blur the lines between indoor and outdoor living in a way that hadn’t been done before in a residential tower. We want residents to feel that this area is an extension of their home, and the challenge was creating privacy in a public space. We are most excited about the north lobby, which has a fully moveable wall system that opens up the interior space in full expanse. With the walls fully retracted, you achieve the true connection of the inside to the outside.
ID: You have a unique history as collaborators ?first coming together with YOO. What did you see in one another back then that suggested you’d work as cofounders of your firm, and what did that time teach you both?
AA: When I opened the Miami office for YOO, I was flying solo and had been for years prior with my own practice. My skill of delegating with team members was a bit rusty. When Ruby arrived, I basically gave her the reins and let her run with it. What I witnessed was an incredibly talented woman with immeasurable dedication, drive, stamina, and wisdom. I realized instantly that Ruby and I not only shared the same vocabulary of design—as well as work ethic—but we inspired each other. It was very clear to me that I wanted to share this path with someone like her.
RR: Partnerships are challenging, particularly creative partnerships. I knew the synergy was there with Alison during our first work trip together while working with YOO. It was seemingly an “open and close” project installation as explained to us by our boss… yet upon arrival, we realized quickly that it was not as simple as we thought. We were both thrown into the trenches, tasked with a near-impossible mission. We had no choice but to rally together and think outside the box and just get it done, which we did just in the nick of time. Just as we were fastening our seat belts on our plane ride back to Miami, we looked at each other and knew our pairing was something extraordinary. How we’d foster the bond was uncertain, but we knew that no matter what there would be no other person we would rather be down in the trenches with than one another.
ID: How key has mentorship been to you, and in what ways do you like to pass on your knowledge and perspective?
RR: Mentorship has been vital in my development as a designer. It wasn’t until I first left Miami and continued on with [YOO] in London that my skills as a designer were really honed. Designing projects internationally with cultural and language barriers as an extra layer of complexity changed me forever. Our skills as visual communicators were as vital as ever, and for the first time I realized design is an international language that can transcend borders. Learning how to design and build in areas of the world where they don’t have the same accessibilities as we do in America is difficult. I learned how to and to this day it’s one of the most valuable lessons I’ve ever learned. That taught me how to be a problem solver. On a daily basis I share these insights with my team because it makes us stronger as a whole.
AA: Mentoring is a constant. I believe that you have an opportunity to lead by example in everything that you do. We especially understand the importance of mentoring within our team in an effort to make each designer more independent of us, but more importantly to foster growth amongst us. As we teach, they grow. As they grow, we grow. After an article on me was printed in a Caribbean publication, I received an overwhelming number of emails from young West Indian designers inspired by my career path from Jamaica to Miami. From that moment onward, I felt a sense of responsibility to inspire, encourage, and guide.
RR: In growing a company such as ours, the toughest thing is letting go. Little by little I am, and by imparting these small doses of wisdom, I’m helping the members of the team become better all-around designers. That makes the letting go process a little easier.
ID: What responsibilities and opportunities do you feel members of the industry have today?
AA: We’ve never been freer to venture down creative avenues than we are today. If you can dream it, you can create it, film it, produce it, publish it, and build it. There are no limitations. For this reason, now more than ever, we as a design community need to understand the impact we have on every corner of society. Access to our creative works is open to all, via social media. If you’re a leader in the industry, people will be looking up to you for guidance and inspiration. You have to understand the social impact of any product you put out there, especially the product of “self.” I’m very uncomfortable with seeing myself as a brand but I have to respect the fact that “being out there” comes with the territory. There’s a need to conduct ourselves responsibly.
RR: We have a huge sense of responsibility to create spaces that feel timeless, that will endure for years to come. We don’t compromise on our design? We just think deeper about durability and design, with longevity in mind. Design opportunities are plentiful in Miami, but with opportunities come the big challenges. All eyes are turned to a level of design sophistication that Miami has never seen before. Clients have a more discerning eye and are more informed about what makes design great. Our current project, Palazzo Del Sol, is a great example. We were tasked with creating a modern day palazzo. This type of vernacular was completely foreign to us so we went back to basics. We researched the principles of palazzo design to help carve out the interior architecture of the common areas and studied the materials and textures of classic palazzos.
ID: What are your clients asking for, now more than ever?
AA: Over the past 18 years I’ve definitely seen a more informed client evolve in tandem with the growth of design hubs online. As a result, I don’t need to depend upon my telepathic skills as much as I did before to figure out what their style is. Despite an easier and quicker translation of style, the human element of temperament remains a constant. You’ll always have some clients with more challenging personalities than others. It has therefore become my mission to shoot for trust first. Once you’ve gained a client’s trust, the rest of the process is easier and more enjoyable.
RR: Clients are just simply asking for more when it comes to design. People are travelling more and seeing more, so their perspective on design is far-reaching. Design is sensory, so when clients travel the world, they respond to their surroundings. Inevitably it’s those moments they want to bring back with them. The developers of Palazzo Del Sol are of European descent, so I knew their sensibilities would be quite different and our team would be pushed to new challenges. Add in the prestige of a project on Fisher Island and the excitement begins.
ID: What are the greatest and most challenging components of designing from Miami?
AA: Miami is on fire right now. It has never been this creatively charged with the amount of commissioned buildings by world-renowned architects, and the multitude of art galleries popping up all over the city. With this exposure comes a much more design-savvy resident, developer, and client. This is fantastic for us in that we’re inspired to constantly push our design on an international level. The challenge therefore becomes exactly that?.
RR: I think one of the challenging components of designing from Miami is breaking the quintessential and typical Miami design sensibilities. Miami is slowly becoming a world-class city. For those of us who live and design here we want to evolve into a more sophisticated city, style-wise. More and more, we¹re starting to see an emphasis on design that can only lead to great things for Miami.
ID: You each have exciting ventures within the fashion world. How are your various disciplines working in unison?
AA: Design is a perpetual state of mind that knows no boundaries within one discipline. Keeping a mixed bag of design ideas definitely helps to avoid creative stagnation. To translate all of these ideas into a business, however, is challenging. The design of my patented handbag definitely stands out as the one extracurricular idea that I pushed the furthest. While it has become challenging to maintain the demands of the fashion industry while running our practice, it was the journey of taking it from sketchbook to market that has proven to be an invaluable experience.
RR: The balance between large-scale building and the minutiae allows me to train my eyes to look at everything big and small. I enjoy the lens-adjustment and the shifting gears. Often times the work between the interior architecture and the jewelry design feeds each other.
ID: What and where most inspires you?
RR: I often turn to art to inspire me in both my interior architecture and jewelry design endeavors. The processes and the methodologies are so foreign to my own discipline and that excites me. The piecing together of the abstract and the real keeps me inspired because there is no right or wrong way. It’s all hinged on my interpretation and once I get that tingly feeling in my gut I know I’m onto something. It’s all instinctual. At times, a little bit of deep house music playing in the background helps, too.
AA: For me, it’s flying. There’s something quite profound for me when I observe the world from 30 to 30,000 feet through the lens of an airplane window. As land disappears and appears, it becomes more of a blanket of patterns, shapes, and textures. It humbles me to think that these elements that we deal with everyday in design are the result of nature, and cultures of people. When I’m humbled, I’m inspired.