Pushing the Boundaries of Design with Héctor Esrawe

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At 22 years old, with a little experience but endless courage, Hector Esrawe established his own design studio in Mexico -where the design industry was somewhat isolated from the rest of the world. His studio has grown to specialize in a variety of areas from furniture development to interior design for residential and commercial spaces. The success and popularity of Studio Esrawe continues to grow today.

Fusing Mexican artisanal techniques into modern design, Hector is an innovative leader in the design industry in Mexico. Collaborating with new talents, supporting design communities and teaching as a professor at an art faculty, Hector believes in furthering the impact of design. MiND had the pleasure of meeting him in Mexico City and discovering the heritage & values behind the Mexican design scene.

"We do not like to define the boundaries of our specialisation."

Tori Tori Restaurant designed by Studio Esrawe

Photo by Jaime Navarro

“The biggest mistake is to tell clients what they want to hear.” (H. Esrawe 2014 for MiND). Do you still believe in this mantra?

We still believe in the mantra however it is not true that whatever the client says is right, – not in this profession. Since we have been designing for many years now, we have the experience to advise them what is good for their interest. Therefore, the clients can differentiate between what they want and what they need. Their needs are often isolated ideas which we try and work along with and have a dialogue.

In many cases, especially in commercial projects, it is not about what we like or what the client likes, it is what the project needs. That is the reason we do not have a particular style because it is always based on the requirements of the project that we are up to. We really believe that each project has its own context, strengths and possibilities so we cannot apply our methodology and intention as a style that fits everything. That is a mistake that happens in many projects where people hire style not solutions which is completely different.

We always aim for a client to step away from the conventional. Being unconventional does not mean to go wild and do meaningless things but rather understand new values and meanings for it.

For example “being Mexican” is like a stereotype expression of what we should be developing and what should we be expressing.  I do not agree. We deeply believe our culture has an amazing heritage and skills. We apply this heritage with the same rigor with emerging possibilities. We approach with these values. We do not forget where we come from. Our approach is shaped by the skills we have had for years. We go back and see how the things were done in a certain moment. After all, the character for a project is evolved in this way.

Which are the elements you think are essential for a well-designed store? What makes a place ‘a living thing’?

Senses; we believe in unique character of things, thus emotional feelings, rather than institutional ones. When we create a project that travels many locations, we make solutions on the concept that allows it to be altered along the way. Even if it is a small store, the concept should have a unique expression. For us, we link the concept with people in a way that they don’t feel they are in a corporation. They should feel submerged into the feeling. So we try to apply certain values and details that maintains the uniqueness along the way.

Madison designed by Studio Esrawe

Talking about stores, we develop this brand for Julio De Mucha, with playful indoors that you want to explore, you want to go inside. There was a pre-conception of the brand but we renewed everything. That is to say we convinced them to show the new Julio and its expressions. In the end what we did was, we opened the window to show people there was a transformation. The relation with the brand was not what they had in their mind, and we tried to bind them with the new concept of the brand.

Which stores interior would you call innovative or inspiring?

I was in New York this weekend. I stopped by a brand that I hit frequently, called Totokaelo that means touch the sky. The novelty with this brand is that they have a temporary space in New York and I do not know if it will be their constant store. This store is set as a vault of a bank so the place is fully open on the outside. Their displays allow you to understand the pavilion, and realize something new happens in this pop up. They curate the products, the exhibition, the installation and it was an amazing experience. This store reflects well what I was telling you. It is unique, emotional, and has expression with different displays.

I think the way of selling is curating the place which offers you a new experience anytime you visit. Now the experience can be managed with technology. If you know what to express into the diversity of the variation in a store, technology is there to help you shape the experience.

After all, I do not really like intense and loud concepts. We worked with Palacio de Hierro to reshape the whole experience. They used to have the products all around the tables in 6-7 levels, and make use of every space. Actually, it causes losing the focus as a shopper when you visit this kind of a store. We managed to convince them that everything can go below 90 storages. So in the end, I made these applications for them and also for Julio. These changes in their stores eventually increased the sales.

La Musidora Installation designed by Héctor Esrawe and Ignacio Cadena from Esrawe + Cadena Studio

Esrawe Studio pushes the boundaries of design in Mexico. What about the retail industry, how is it evolving in Mexico and do you feel responsibility to innovate within it?

I feel committed to do it. We are a group of designers that are fortunately growing; we collaborate, help, share and support whatever we intend to make for the profession grow. So it is not only me; it is a work of many. Since we do not have institutions that support design, we do not have the audience that sees the process of design to understand the value and transformation in this field. However, we are supporting the community to have a voice as designers. There is no secrets and hidden things under the table. We strive to enlarge our collaborations with different people. Our range of collaboration is very wide.

"It is about how we can learn from each other and in what way we can promote each other’s skills. Naturally, it creates a voice and also, independent promoters contribute a lot so it is happening as a common effort and I am glad to be a part of this grow in design in Mexico."

Tierra Garat designed by Esrawe Studio + Cadena Studio

Can you share with us some upcoming projects that we will see in the future?

We are working for a warehouse in New York which is going to be executed entirely by us. It is a way to see how we can enhance the capabilities with the technology because it will be used here to create experience. It is actually at the first step, so might sound a little bit like hippie and crazy. We are completely excited because this is completely one of our out of common projects. Apart from that we are doing one of the major brands’ packaging in Mexico. It is going to be into the new production plan that is enormous. This got us very excited. Also, inside the company with my girlfriend and a friend, we develop products that are made with the most skilled craftsman in Mexico. That is also an exciting project. I have learnt how to make alliances with the right people, after a while, you learn to analyse people. Lastly, we are also working on interior projects for a couple of hotels and doing furniture for a social housing project which is also interesting and allows us to go wider.

Last time we talked you told us : “The new generation of designers is more oriented, more mature, and more capable”. How would you describe it today? Which piece of advice would you give them?

I hear people are complaining about Millennials but I can tell you I do not get enough to learn from them. I am surprised everyday by their capabilities. I work with guys aged around 22, and they are amazing. I think we all need to encourage them. Working with me is not easy, I do not let things go. So in a matter of time, we created a level of communication because they are fully committed and oriented. We are constantly working on how we can boost their capabilities, thus, they are involved in many exciting works.

If you had to choose, would you design furniture or interior?

I would go with furniture. I see much more complexity how we could evolve into interior than into the furniture. You have more freedom and capabilities in furniture whilst interior has many limitations to consider every time. That’s why I would choose furniture, no doubt.

By Elena Parise & Merve Durmus