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Fast Learner: Lessons From A Top Name, Bit Of Luck Kickstart Young Designer's Own Company
BY MADELEINE MARR
January 30, 2005
CLOCKWORK ORANGE: Jorge Rosso Ubarri added dramatic color to his grandfather's former office on Brickell Bay Drive, now his condo home.
The clouds begin to rumble and roll out over the bay in downtown Miami, but one puny fleck of sun makes its way onto a patch of poolside table at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. It is occupied by a crisp-looking young man sipping a fancy cocktail. It's like a scene out of that baseball movie The Natural.
Head cleanly shaved and dressed in a coral buttondown and khakis, the man looks up at a visitor and flashes a high wattage, GoSmile-ad grin.
Talk with Jorge Rosso Ubarri for just one round of Americanos and you'll learn the weather phenomenon just witnessed was a metaphor for this kid's life. The sun's been shining on him for years.
ON THE RISE
Luck or good timing? A sublime mix of both might account for his station in life: an on-the-rise, 30-year-old interior designer-architect just starting his own company, who at 25 worked with one of the hottest names in the biz, Alison Spear. By 27, he had already gutted, tinkered with and revamped homes built by the likes of Lester Pancoast and owned by the Maytag family.
That he absorbed a lot in his five years with Spear is evident in his own self-designed home, a 1,000-square-foot, 11th-floor condo overlooking miles of blue on Brickell Bay Drive. Formerly Grandpa's stuffy office, the passed-down pad is now Boy Wonder Meets Big Time: dramatic color, homey touches and sleek lines.
''Alison taught me to look at a space in a clinical fashion and to not be afraid to make what sometimes seem to be drastic moves in order to enhance a space,'' he says. ``Good design is not a cookie-cutter solution but a thought-out resolution to a set of challenges.''
Retaining various heirlooms and big, bold furniture from the '30s and '40s ('I had to keep Grandma's dresser!''), Rosso went to work merging his grandparents' possessions and style with his take on interiors: tangerine and royal blue walls, Mongolian lambs' wool pillows and Navajo throw rugs over wall-to-wall cream carpet. Even a circa 1970s steel kitchen got the warm and fuzzy overhaul -- he installed heavy wool drapes as a partition to the living room.
''It was difficult to decide what to jettison and what to keep,'' he says. ``There was an attachment to things.''
The attachments are obvious. His clan is close. Born in San Juan, Rosso moved to Miami in 1983 with his family -- financial consultant dad, homemaker mom and two sisters, now 26 and 27 -- to ``be closer to relatives.''
His aspirations were becoming apparent while he was attending Gulliver Prep in South Miami. ''At about 11, I started rearranging my room, moving around pictures and putting holes in the wall,'' he says, laughing. ``My mom used to get pretty mad.''
His good fortune started early: The bachelor's degree in architecture he received in 1997 from Tulane was reclassified a master's. ''The school reviewed our course load after I graduated and changed it,'' he says. ``Amazing.''
The first stop on his resume: Moor & Associates, Vero Beach, an architecture firm focusing on residential projects, Rosso's preferred medium. It was a fertile learning ground.
''They taught me how to obsess about the quality of the work, obsess how things are put together,'' he says. After figuring out a slight case of obsessive compulsive disorder could come in handy one day, he started plotting his escape. ''Vero Beach was dull'' and Miami nightlife was calling.
GOT A JOB
Two years of weekend getaways later, he landed a job in Miami at with a bold-faced name -- local architect/interior designer Spear.
Over five years, he faced as many challenges as rewards (those hardest-won he won't discuss). Like any savvy ingenue, Rosso kept his eyes wide open, always looking to the masters for inspiration -- from audacious trendsetters like Dorothy Draper and Billy Baldwin to I.M. Pei (Louvre pyramid) and local hero Morris Lapidus.
''The Fontainebleau Hotel's a masterpiece in that it expressed the optimism of the postwar '50s,'' he says. ``It's perfectly suited to Miami Beach in its glossy whiteness, openness and silly touches, like the grand stair to nowhere and bubble windows.''
What he admires most about Lapidus' famed building: It refuses to take itself too seriously.
''Good architecture is not contrived, where people don't sense anything wrong, that no one's had a hand in it. Like fashion,'' he says, extending a sleeve on his Etro shirt. ``Look at the cuff. It's got patterns under there only I can see. I'm hypersensitive to details like that.''
After his second Americano -- part Campari, part sweet Vermouth -- Rosso shows off his new palmOne Treo. But it's not the PDA he cares so much about; it's what it's kept in -- a black leather Louis Vuitton cigarette case. If you look carefully, you can see stitches. ''I brought it to my tailor and gave him the measurements to make an opening for the antenna,'' he says.
Looking pleased, he scans the pool area. A light rain is beginning to fall, but he's deftly wedged in under the umbrella, dry as a bone.
The cell rings. Caller ID reveals it's a new client.
''I cross my fingers,'' he says before answering. ``I've had good luck so far.''
Name: Jorge Rosso Ubarri. Company: Studio Rosso Ubarri, 999 Brickell...
Name: Jorge Rosso Ubarri.
Company: Studio Rosso Ubarri, 999 Brickell Bay Dr., Suite 1110, Miami; 786-205-1364 (cell); 305-372-3565 (office)
Personal: Born in Puerto Rico.
Education: master's in architecture, Tulane University
Design philosophy: ``I believe in bold use of color, classic and purposeful furniture layout, and the use of unexpected textures and materials to add interest. All are tricks used by great designers, which, when used deftly, add a spark of the unique to otherwise mundane things.''
Inspired by: ``Life experiences. I'm not an advocate of starting a house from scratch. It's my job to turn the mishmosh of life into something beautiful.''