Erick Espinoza was the first ever recipient of the full Albert Hadley Scholarship at the New York School of Interior Design so he wasted no time in packing his bags to move from Miami to the city. He’s never looked back. From an initial internship with Diamond and Baratta, he has since rocketed upwards from junior designer to creative director. He has stayed living in the same apartment in Queens that, in his early days in the city, he once shared with three other high school friends who were also college students. The living room was given over to a large design work table and the sole bedroom was a dorm—beds in a U-shape around the room. He now has the place to himself, or at least shared with his partner, Justin, and a rambunctious rescue pit bull named Quinn.
I kept reading about how you’re a rising star and you shot through the ranks, working with Anthony Baratta and so on—what drives you, would you say?
What drives me? I don’t know. I mean had a burning desire because I’m first generation here. My parents are from Central America. They came seeking asylum and they were here illegally for a long time. My mother is from Honduras and my dad is from Nicaragua.
Does it feel almost like an obligation to do well for you?
Maybe … partly—because I know what they’ve been through to get here and to give us this life. So, a big part of it is trying to get to a point where I can help my mother. My parents divorced when I was two.
Are you an only child?
No, I’m the youngest and I’m the only boy. I have two older sisters.
So your mom brought up three kids on her own. It’s interesting to see that this whole “American dream” thing is still alive with respect to you.
Oh yeah. I mean she brought up and fed three kids on less than $20 000 a year, with minimal child support. That made me … well I learned how to be very industrious.
What was your very first job?
I worked at the henna shop at an outside mall called Bayside when I was 14. I did the hand drawn tattoos. The lady that worked there kind of just said, show me what you got and had me copy some of the designs in the book. Then she hired me. I would do it after school and one day out of the weekend.
That’s a great first job! What did you draw?
Oh, everything! You should see the things that people want on their bodies!
Why did you decide to leave Miami?
Oh I couldn’t stay there. I couldn’t hack it.
It was just too … um … I don’t want to say bland but it was not active enough. It wasn’t giving me enough options. And for what I do, that’s here in New York City. Like here they’re known for being unconventional, the most avantgarde. In Miami, it’s limited. It’s like one style across the board.
What do you think Anthony Baratta saw you in you when you first applied to the internship there?
It’s kind of a funny story because back in high school days when we would sneak out and go off with your friends to party, there was this club promoter whose name was Rudy. Everybody knew him. Rudy knew I was in design and he said, “Well, do you know Diamond and Baratta?” He mentioned that to me like a year before I graduated high school. Then a year into college, I was up for an internship, I just remembered that name out of nowhere. It sounded like the cheese (burrata) to me … I looked him up and wrote an email. I mentioned Rudy and I interviewed. I said to them that I was leaving for London for two weeks but I was available to start after that and when I came back, I just kind of showed up. I just assumed it was a done deal! I think they were so busy and preoccupied, they probably didn’t even know I was there!
So Anthony Baratta’s style is very exuberant—what is it about that that appeals to you? It’s a very specific style unlike many other designers.
It was that attention to detail. They would spend as much money on the trim for the chair as they would for the chair. I so gravitated towards that level of attention. They could take one thing and just transform it. Also, I had never seen anything like that color and pattern play. It’s one thing to make a room livable and comfortable but it’s another thing to turn it into a piece of art—and they really do that.
How about personality wise—how do you complement each other?
I think we’re pretty similar. We love the same things. We look at things and we just automatically know that the other person would like it. It’s ping pong, it’s back and forth. We inspire each other.
Tell us about the Max Mara fashion line. How did that come about?
It was a funny thing because they have been doing capsule collections with different artists and photographers. Somebody said, “What about an interior designer?” They had us do a little capsule collection. They’ve sold out a couple of times. We created big inspiration boards for them based on the idea of summer in Nantucket. We picked out fabrics, like chintzes and collaged everything.
I would assume that the clients coming to you know what they’re getting into—is that true?
Usually – but some of them play games and pretend that they don’t. They’re relatively afraid of color, for example. We have our ways of convincing them.
How about the idea of going on your own—how does that strike you?
I mean I’ve entertained it many times but we just have such an interesting dynamic. Tony relies on me to make certain decisions and I’m always there to fall back on.
How do the clients take the fact that you’re young?
A lot of them surprisingly take me very seriously, which is not something I grew up having two older sisters. [laughs]
How would you describe this particular and very distinct style?
Our style? At work? In five words?
Okay … but this isn’t a quiz show.
Certainly exuberant; certainly colorful; we like to play with scale a lot—that’s a big thing. We’ll blow things up. Color on color. And we try to make everything we do happy. Happy, happy. It can’t be drab.
Are you happy people yourselves?
[laughs] I think so.
Do you have a fantasy project that you’d love to do?
I’d love to decorate a house for my mom. She’s never had that. She’s never had a home that was remotely close to being decorated … so.