Ideas Protected: A Studio Visit with Designer, Raul Diaz
At the forefront of a creative renaissance, Raul Diaz is a self-described interdisciplinary creative, architect, designer, builder and businessman specializing in a modern, minimalistic aesthetic. You’ll often find him at KUARTO, a shop in Long Beach, Calif. he co-owns with his brother Diego. Besides its inventory, home goods, and apparel of the brothers’ own design, there’s a full-service coffee bar and on-site barber should you need a cold brew, a trim, or both.
“I feel like there’s a lot of noise out there. We try to create needed silence in everyday life.”
KUARTO is likewise home base to Raul’s flourishing interior design-build business, The Out of Office Company, which keeps him on the move, re-imaging and designing interiors across cafés, coffee shops, boutiques and some well-known fashion retailer’s flagship stores.
INCASE: How would you describe yourself and how you got where you are today?
RD: You could say I’m a creative entrepreneur, a self-taught architect and an industrial designer. I came to be self-taught through curiosity. First, I learned carpentry and welding from my dad. I was even a member of the carpentry union for a year. The creative part came after that, which led my brother Diego and I to start an interior design-build company called KUARTO, which is like a multi-channel case study of our lives, and is a hub of creativity for us. We have a physical, brick-and-mortar store that allows us to really show people the story of our interior-design eye.
INCASE: KUARTO’s website says your brand “aims to help declutter the noise we’re surrounded by in today’s consumer landscape.” What do you mean by that?
RD: We’re guided by our belief that numerous parts of life need to be minimalized. I feel like there’s a lot of noise out there. We try to create needed silence in everyday life. We envision our brand imparting various touchpoints throughout a person’s day, from waking in the morning, getting in your car and going to work, getting home from work after a long day and lighting incense.
INCASE: In addition to minimalization you also admire staying power. Share your thoughts on the interplay of minimalization and longevity as it applies to your design work.
RD: We often see everyday things like furniture, maybe a coffee table, that are overly designed or overly produced. For me, as a designer and product developer, I see such things as an opportunity to make it fit into life’s flow. In terms of longevity, I feel that part of my duty as a designer is to make things last long instead of being thrown out every year. I want to create pieces that combine minimal design and long-lasting materials that people want to hold onto for a long time.
INCASE: Your business keeps you busy and on the move. Describe the importance of organization and protection for keeping your workflow streamlined.
RD: Being a traveling entrepreneur-slash-creative, I’m always on the go between client meetings and job sites, so it’s really key to have products and pieces that help me stay organized, where I can throw my tools into one bag and I know where they are, and I know it’s durable and it’s going to last. It allows me to maintain what I call an “organized mess,” where I can pull a bunch of material samples out of my bag and lay them on a table and move them around to see what goes together for the client. It helps you drown out the extra, unwanted noise of being unorganized. It helps create a calm environment which, for me, is huge to feeling creative and cultivating a flow.
INCASE: Artists and designers draw inspiration from many people, places and things. What’s a specific example of something that inspires you?
RD: I’m definitely inspired by visiting architectural sites that have elements of surprise, as far as the materials used and how it interacts with nature. I’m constantly trying to bring nature indoors. I try to rationalize and interpret how the materials are used and how to incorporate them into a project or product. I’ve made many trips to Palm Springs to observe the mid-century modern architecture there. I love how they used breeze blocks to combine airflow with appealing aesthetic materials.
I incorporated something like that into a restaurant design I just finished in Costa Mesa, Calif. I used it for the aesthetic purpose as a room divider and some benching for outdoors. I made it the focal point so now people will notice them more. I think things like that should be seen and elevated, because they’re too often ignored with topics ranging from the need to create silence in everyday life, the challenge of designing for “life’s flow,” and the importance of managing an “organized mess” to succeeding as an on-the-go creative.
“Everyday things that are overly designed I see as an opportunity to make them fit into life’s flow.”
INCASE: How important to your work is community? Do you feel the need to reach and inspire your community, both real and virtual?
RD: With our brick-and-mortar shop we’re definitely trying to impact the community around us and surrounding communities. We want people to come into our store, get a haircut, and see and feel the aesthetic of the place, and hopefully try to take some of that with them to elevate their homes. Virtually, I think Instagram is the biggest community; it has such a large outreach. If you just post what you’re doing you’re inspiring so many people in different states, different countries. I think it’s important to keep up to date, and to be transparent and relatable with your social platforms, so people can really understand who you are and how much more you can impact them.
INCASE: Like most creatives who work for themselves, some of the projects offered to you are interesting and others are mundane. How do you achieve a balance between projects you’re passionate about and straightforward contract work?
RD: The older I’ve gotten the more I’ve just sat with myself and decided to take on fewer straight construction projects even though I know there’s a dollar amount there that’s enticing. Instead, I like taking on projects where there’s passion. Luckily, I’m being hired mostly now for the aesthetic I’ve honed and developed, so most of my projects are passion projects. That’s been amazing and I’m grateful for it.
“KUARTO is a multi-channel case study of our lives and is a hub of creativity for us.”
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