Messana O'Rorke

Malin+Goetz recently opened their ninth freestanding store in New York’s Nolita. Our editor at large Jane Larkworthy sat down with Brian Messana and Toby O’Rorke, the architects who designed the store to discuss dream houses, dream clients and the benefits of a clutter-free world.

J: Your firm Messana O’Rorke recently celebrated 21 years in business. Who was your first client?
T: Donna Karan. Her stores. We started with a DKNY in Santiago, Chile. We went on to do 19 of her stores worldwide. All our work in the beginning was retail. People were always saying, “You can’t do residential” Now it’s 90% of what we do and it wasn’t really a conscious choice. That’s just what has come to us.

J: Do you favor one over the other?
T: No. In theory, commercial requires less personal input, but it’s not true. Especially with Malin and Goetz. It’s a family thing, so they have the same demands as a residential client. Also, their interests aren’t purely commercial, if you were doing a really commercial project where everything would be
driven by and based on the commercial bottom line, you’d be doing Duane Reade.
B: One of the reasons we enjoy working with Matthew and Andrew is that every space is different. I personally think that’s incredibly important, especially in today’s retail world. Very few retail companies are site specific like theirs are.

J: What are some of the notable elements of your work?
B: Juxtaposition is a big one-- whether it’s all modern or some juxtaposed element that’s either problematically or spatially worked in through materials. For me, visual noise is just sensory overload. Also, we’re not big consumers—we don’t need to constantly buy the newest thing. The only new thing I really purchase is my iphone or my computer. And why is that? Because they run faster. We place more importance on the things we have. There’s less of them, but what we do have is more intimate and more precious to us.
T: Also, we’re not decorators. Our feeling is: you keep the space empty until you find the thing you want to put in the space. Don’t fill it from the get-go with things you think you should have, but might not resonate with you. We’ve had clients who’ve sold everything they’ve owned after they initially believed they were going to keep it all, and this is because of the new space we created for them. That happens more often than not.

B: We’re always looking at optimistic ways to make the space look as bright and big as possible.

J: What are your “forms?”

T: We create forms that become the architecture of the environment clients are living in. We call it “interior urbanism.”
B: They define the space. For example, a lot of our projects don’t have traditional doors.
T: This way, the space becomes more continuous. The only definite room is the one with the toilet. That has a door on it.

J: Speaking of spaces, tell me about the amazing house you share, Ten Broek Cottage in New York’s Columbia County. How do you spend your time up there?

B: Toby prefers gardening; I cook I’ll spend the entire weekend cooking—a vodka sauce, turkey meatballs, split pea soup. I’ll have four things going on simultaneously.
T: We tend to go up on different weekends. I don’t cook, but we’ve got this great shop in Hudson, Talbott and Arding that sells all this pre-cooked food. The women who run it are fantastic.

J: Have you been to Bartlett House in Ghent? It’s so chic and so good. I highly recommend their cacio e pepe croissants. But back to you. What’s the best part about being an architect?
T: The constant change. We never get bored. We’ve always got something else to think about and have to deal with. If anything, I wish we had more time to deal with things.
B: We don’t have much time anymore. Time seems to have disappeared.
J: Well, that’s a sign of success, I would think.
T: Or bad time management...

written by: Jane Larkworthy