To Create Memorable Interiors, Studio O+A Thinks Outside the Box

Authentic design stretches beyond the products and details within a space, it starts with the very concept of a given interior, asserts Primo Orpilla, cofounder and principal of Studio O+A. “We try to have an open mind when we start out with any project—we don’t want to fall on past projects or concepts in developing a story,” he shares. Rather, the team at Studio O+A aims to rewrite the script, developing fresh ideas for each space they take on. “I think being original is exactly that—it’s original. It’s the job of the designer to tell the story in a meaningful way.”

And that story usually originates in unexpected ways, from a striking leaf to a memorable film. “People have to get used to not jumping into a [web] search of things and instead use their own algorithm, own brains, and take their own pictures,” asserts Orpilla, recommending that designers look for processes that enable them to work in a “manual, more analogue way.” One approach involves looking to other industries, examining, for example, the process of a symphony conductor or a cinematographer. “They’re always fighting for something new—something they want to test. I feel design is like that,” he continues. “Those experiences that are rich, you remember; those that are not, you don’t.”

Primo Orpilla of Studio O+A wearing a black jacket and black frame glasses against a white background.
Primo Orpilla, cofounder and principal of Studio O+A.

One space that left a lasting impression on Orpilla is the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive in California, a concrete structure with a futuristic form that he first encountered as a child. “You go in there and you just go, wow! It’s an original thought,” he shares. “The buildings around there don’t look anything like it.” That element of surprise continues to inform his design ethos today, always searching for ideas to create unique narratives for interiors. In fact, narrative often drives the firm’s designs. “We don’t even look at drawings, we look at writing—we look at how people are talking about space in visual ways.”

Given Studio O+A’s innovative approach to design, it’s not surprising the firm was the first to support Be Original Americas, a nonprofit that spotlights the value of original craftsmanship with the help of committed partners. The group, cofounded by Beth Dickstein of BDE along with David Rosenkvist, chief commercial and creative officer at Louis Poulsen, works to protect authentic designs and actively stop the spread of knockoffs while enabling members, from designers and architects to newly established makers, to connect.

An office kitchen with an island and a high top table with two stools near a conference room.
In the ARTIS Ventures office, a glass-walled conference room near the airy kitchen. Photography by Garrett Rowland.

“I think there needs to be somebody who is carrying the torch for original product. There’s a lot of uninspired, plain plagiarism out there,” notes Orpilla, who says designed spaces are often copied by those who don’t understand the intent behind them. “You can’t really use [a design] unless you know what the impetus behind the design is and Be Original Americas stresses that,” he says. “Maybe it should expand into the interior design industry further,” he adds, pointing out opportunities to protect original ideas for interiors that stretch beyond product design.

When it comes to weaving authentic design into every aspect of a space, Orpilla says discipline is key–making the effort to thoroughly examine what the product is and where it’s coming from and evaluating the work on many levels, from environmental impact to the inclusivity of the design. “Understand what these pieces are, they’re not just objects,” he shares. “Be original. Be original in your thought, be original in your process, be original in your thoroughness.”

A u-shaped brown leather couch curves around itself, offering plenty of space for collaboration.
The Barbary Coast neighborhood, where ARTIS Ventures now lives, rests on a historic landfill. O+A wrapped the interior brick with wood to suggest the old sailing ships and waterfront debris from which San Francisco’s prosperity grew. Photography by Garrett Rowland.
An office reception area with black and white marble reception desks covered by a black wall and canopy with a green plush sofa nearby.
Blockchain office by Studio O+A. The space retains the character of classic Mayfair design: herringbone floors, sculpted molding, textures of wood and stone. Photography by Oliver Pohlram.
A pair of brown leather lounge chairs near a velvet light blue armchair and a black oval coffee table in front of a conference room.
Blockchain office by Studio O+A. Photography by Oliver Pohlram.

read more

recent stories