Interior designer & social media influencer Orlando Soria grew up in a tiny community in Yosemite National Park with a view of the falls from his bedroom window. Despite the majestic scenery, his head was buried in magazines, dreaming of city life. Always creative, he meandered through school, PR, and PA jobs before landing a role on a TV show, starting a blog, and building up his social media following. He’s been through some ups and downs, but now he’s got a new book out and a bright outlook.
What is your earliest memory?
I think my earliest memory is fake (like I made it up afterwards). But it’s a memory of driving up highway 140, along the Merced River, towards Yosemite National Park. My family was living in Merced, a small farming town where my dad worked as a dentist at a free clinic for farm workers. And we were in the process of moving to Yosemite and we were driving up to look at houses. I remember thinking that at any moment we’d go around a corner and our cabin would be there. I had such a strong idea of what the house in the woods would look like. It turned out my premonitions were a little more rustic than our actual house turned out to be, but I’ve never forgotten that expectation. That we would somehow move into a little cabin with no doors in the middle of nowhere.
How do you feel about democratic design?
I actually have conflicted feelings on the idea of “democratic design.” I think I believe in the core values of it - that all people deserve access to great design - but I have a bit of a problem with the way it’s playing out. Basically, a long time ago if you needed a sofa you’d save up for a long time, buy one, and then keep it forever. I think we still see this with our parents’ generation. They’ve of that “buy once and keep forever” mindset. But our generation has had access to cheaper good. So we buy them and use them for a bit then just throw them away. This is in everything from fashion to furniture. So while I think it’s great more people can afford cute home furnishings these days, I think they’re also less allied to them once they buy them because the quality is lower (they have to be more cheaply produced to be sold at such low prices) and because the customer views them as less valuable/important because they paid less for them.
I think we’re in a weird in-between time right now that is no good. Like between a more sustainable past when people kept things longer, got appliances repaired instead of throwing them away and a time when everything is disposable/recyclable/renewable. We’re just in waste mode right now it bums me out. So while I’m excited to see Nate Berkus stuff at Target (his stuff is always so good) part of me is also sickened by it, because when someone pays $5.99 for something that might not wear well over time, you know that’s ending up in the garbage in a year or two when it’s no longer trendy. I obviously feel conflicted about it. I want everyone to be able to join the design party but I don’t want that to come at the expense of the environment.
There’s an incredible film called The True Cost that I think everyone needs to see. It’s a documentary about fashion but I think it’s applicable to the fast-fashion adjacent world of inexpensive trendy furniture and interior decor objects. What we save in dollars, we pay in environmental and cultural ways, so this idea of "Design For All" isn’t always best for the common good.
What’s the best advice that you’ve ever gotten?
My dad used to tell me that in order to better yourself you should always look for the best people. I think he said this to me the first time when I was trying out for the Ski Team (I was raised in the mountains and all the kids were on the ski team). I wasn’t really sure I should because everyone else was a better skiier than I was. But he told me that I’d learn from watching them and get better. Maybe I’d never be as good as them but I’d be better than I was before because I was holding myself up to a higher standard. So I’ve kind of always done that. Just looked for the best people and tried to learn from them. This means I’m constantly not measuring up but it humbling because I’m always learning and moving forward.
How do you record your ideas?
Ugh. I don’t. On instagram and my blog. I used to write a diary every day and I wish I still did. I need to get back on that. Just the idea that sometimes it’s good to record your thoughts for just you, not for consumption. It’s a beautiful idea I need to put back in practice.
What’s your current favorite tool or material to work with?
I’ve been painting a lot more lately which is nice. Just getting back to my roots as an artist. I paint onto crazy geometric canvases with acrylic paint. I made stuff my whole life but got too busy professionally to keep making paintings, so it’s been nice to use my hands again and remind myself that I’m capable of producing artwork.
What book is on your nightstand?
I really liked The Girls by Emma Cline. Just was a California story and I recognized so many of the characters and settings from my own upbringing. It’s always fun when you see a familiar world shown back to you in a book.
Why is authenticity in design important?
With objects and interiors, we’re telling a story about who we are. So authenticity is important because we want that story to be real. When I design a space for someone my hope is that when someone comes over they’ll think “Hey! You did a great job designing your house. It’s so YOU!” I’d never want them to think some fancy designer came over and decorated it until it was no longer recognizable. Design, fashion, art. These are all ways of us telling the world who we are, while simultaneously working through that ourselves. It’s a beautiful thing, because it’s always kind of a big question mark and it’s never really done.
Favorite restaurant in your city?
Honestly, I know I’m supposed to say something glamorous and expensive, but my fave place that I go all the time is Tender Greens. I just love that I can grab a delicious fresh salad whenever I want. Tender Greens is maybe the only reason I don’t leave LA and just live in the mountains. In the mountains there’s nowhere to buy glamorous salads.
What might we find on your desk right now?
I actually don’t have a desk. I work at my dining room table. Normally there’s a measuring tape, a sketch book, a to do list (on paper, with boxes to check when finish a task), and a super long iphone charger because I’m constantly using my phone and draining the battery.
Who do you look up to and why?
Hmmm. I look up to so many people. Someone I’ve been thinking about a lot is Debbie Harry. When I was a teenager reading the “Andy Warhol Diaries” I always thought I’d grow up and move to New York and be cool like her. I did move to New York, but I was never cool. I’ve always kind of been a nerd. Like sweet and sincere and relatable. Not cool. So I’m fascinated with people like Debbie Harry who are just like inherently cool. Like confident and totally self-officiated. I still wanna be her I guess.
What’s your favorite project that you’ve done and why?
I think my favorite project is my parents’ house, especially the kitchen. I haven’t gotten to share many of those photos yet because they’re being held for press but that project was fun for so many reasons. Firstly, because my parents talked about and saved for their retirement their whole lives. I was raised in a pretty humble, small house. But when they moved they found a great house twice the size of the one I grew up in and I’ve been slowly helping them make it perfect. So I’m just proud of them. They both came from humble backgrounds and worked really hard and were so frugal ALWAYS my whole life. So it’s fun to see them in a big new space where they can host everyone. And the kitchen makeover I did for them, in which I doubled the size of their too-small kitchen, was basically a lifetime in the making for me becuase I grew up in a house with a tiny kitchen and always watched my mom struggle with her tiny kitchen. She loves cooking and hosting (she’s where I get all that from) so being able to finally give her the kitchen I’ve always wanted her to have has been endlessly rewarding.
What are the last five songs you listened to?
Mercury - James McAlister
Keep Your Name - Dirty Projectors
It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue - Van Morrison
Come On Then - Lily Allen
A Certain Person - Light Asylum