By Sarah Trefethen
Andres Escobar is hard to categorize, and that’s the way he likes it.
The Columbian-born Canadian designer has made his mark on the city, from Chelsea condos to Upper West Side rentals and a Brooklyn hotel. Escobar shuns the idea of a signature style, preferring to fit his designs to the client — or the neighborhood.
“New York City is a little different from everywhere else,” he says. “You live in New York and you learn how divided the island is. People downtown have a different asthetic from in Chelsea or the Flatiron.”
But while Escobar prides himself on his ability to match the mood of a neighborhood, he also likes to play with expectations. He describes the Corner, a rental he designed at 200 West 72nd Street, as “upper west side with undertones of downtown.”
Escobar’s design firm is based in Montreal, but has worked on projects around the world, from a resort in the Sychelles to New Dehli hotels.
He has had an office in New York for nine years. At the height of the market, he employed five people in the city, but now his local staff is down to one project manager.
The creative work is done in Canada, but on most weeks Escobar spends several days in New York.
“I’m here to gather information and deliver the vision,” he says.
Escobar likes to design the entire building, creating a continuous living experience between the apartments and common areas.
“If I’m not able to do the lobby and corridors and common areas, I may not do the project,” he says.
At the Chelsea Club condos on West 19th Street, the apartments feature bathrooms with dual-headed showers for couples to share, and the common areas have a nightclub-like feel, Escobar says.
“Why not give people the opportunity to live in a space where they feel like they’re on vacation?” But he also redesigned the Olcott, a stately pre-war condo on the Upper West Side.
“When people have a signature style, it works for them and against them,” he says. “They become restricted because everything looks the same.”
Escobar lives in Montreal in a house he renovated with his wife Bela. The couple has two sons who, at 23 and 19, still live at home. Escobar designed the furniture in the house himself, and when he’s home he enjoys cooking for his family. He grew up in Columbia, 200 miles outside of Bogata, where his father was a vice president for a steel manufacturing company.In spite of the amount of time he spends in the city, he doesn’t have an apartment here.
“I love hotels,” he says. “You arrive whenever you want. If you’re hungry, you can eat whenever you want.”
One of his long-term goals is to work on a hotel project that would incorporate technology into in visitor’s experience, but he’s hesitatant to discuss the details of his vision.
“We’ve been conditioned that technology is cold and antiseptic and not nice, but there is all kinds of technology that is not being utilized. We have the means to re-invent what we are accustomed to,” he says. “Unfortunately, technology is still expensive.”
Currently, Escobar is working on two ground-up condominiums, three hotels and four private residences in Manhattan as well as two rental buildings in Brooklyn. In the near future, he says, he hopes to take on a student housing project.
“There are things you can do to take a place that could look like a jailhouse and make it beautiful, and it doesn’t have to cost a lot of money,” he says. “There’s no reason someone has to live in a white painted box.”