I’m very excited about this interview for TasteMakers New York with Etos partners Alberto Villalobos and Mercedes Desio. They are two young designers to watch.
|Mercedes Desio and Alberto Villalobos in their Greenwich Village shop|
Etos is a high-end furniture boutique and interior design company located in the heart of Greenwich Village. Owners Alberto Villalobos and Mercedes Desio met as students at the New York School of Interior Design where they became friends and eventually business partners. The store sells both re-editions and antiques. The partners travel around the world to find many of the eclectic items that can be purchased in the shop.
Villalobos is from Colombia and grew up in Buga close to Cali. He moved to Bogota to attend college and began to study economics, only to realize that he didn’t enjoy it, so he changed his major to interior design. After completing the program, he came to New York to continue his education and work in the field.
Desio is Italian and grew up in Argentina, Italy, and Switzerland. She originally came to New York to study finance at NYU, and much like Villalobos, knew soon after that she had another destiny. After she finished the program, she decided to attend the NYSID to pursue a career that she would love. Already a New Yorker, she planned to stay in the United States and work as an interior designer.
I know that you met in at the New York School of Interior Design. When and where did you know that you wanted to be designers?
We both decided to study interior design after school, but while we were in complete opposite places of the planet. We figured out that we could not work with numbers all of the time, and we both somehow felt that we wanted to have a profession that would allow us to work for ourselves.
So ultimately, you knew that you wanted to have your own business early on?
Yes, you could say that. We both felt attracted to the idea of working independently. I guess that even though it’s a scary notion, in a way it seemed scarier to work for someone else rather than for ourselves. We’d have more control over our decisions and fixing any mistakes.
When did you open your store?
We opened in 2008 right before the collapse of Lehman and Bear Sterns.
That must have been a scary time to start a business. What made you stick with it? You must have had a tight business plan to go through with it considering the economy was weakening in 2008.
It was a scary time, but we’d already obtained the financing and had signed our lease so there was no option but to move forward with our plan. We’ve been lucky so far that things have been positive, but the economy is not out of the woods yet, so we’re still very cautious about how we invest money for the business.
What types of pieces do you sell?
We sell many different styles of furniture. We like to find pieces that are aesthetically pleasing that clients would appreciate, and want to have as part of their room or collection. We have a strong French influence in our choices, since we adore Maison Jansen pieces as well as Maison Charles lighting. However, we’re truly attracted to things that are unique and that remind us a bit of the concept of the “Cabinet of Curiosities,”— items that you want to surround you—that tell a story about an individual’s personality.
How did Etos come about and how did you select the name?
When we were at NYSID and we both kept joking around about opening a store to showcase our style and our interior design aesthetic. One day we both realized that the joke could easily become a reality and we decided to go for it. As for the name, we needed something that was easy to pronounce and we were looking to find a name that was positive. So we picked Etos that comes from the Ethesian winds, which bring prosperity and growth all year round.
If you had to define your style/aesthetic as designers in three words, what would they be?
Transitional — Eclectic — Practical
Partnerships are never easy. How do you manage to stay close friends and not interfere with each other’s responsibilities? Who does what in the business, and how do you separate and delegate?
We’re very aware of each other’s strengths and weaknesses and we both tend to gravitate toward what we’re good at or what we like to do. It sort of comes naturally. However, we consult each other in everything so we’re both on the same page. It’s hard to work and be close friends, so sometimes, when we get angry at each other or hit a wall regarding a decision, we just walk away to cool off and talk the day after. Neither wants to say something that we’ll regret. It’s an interesting balance to keep.
Alberto likes to go to the design center and bring back bags of fabrics and furniture cut sheets that we can then have fun and sorting through together. I prefer to stay in the office and take care of placing orders, doing the budgets, etc. When it comes to client meetings, we’re both present since we’re both Etos and clients prefer it that way.
I know that you renovated the store a few years ago. Is the new space large enough, or do you see yourselves moving in the future?
We feel that the space is large enough for now. As far as the showroom, we don’t want it to be bigger than this. Even though it’s large, it still feels like a more exclusive environment where antique and vintage pieces can be displayed properly. However, we’ll need more space in the future for a back office where we can work on our interior design projects. So eventually, we’ll probably end up moving in the long term.
What kind of design projects are you currently working on?
We’re finishing up two apartments at the Plaza, and we’re working on an apartment on the Upper West Side. We’ll start a project in Gramercy Park in the Fall. The project at the Plaza had basically no construction, just minor refurbishment, so we’ve focused on decoration. As for the apartment on the Upper West, it was a gut renovation and decoration, and the same will be true of the project in the fall. We like to mix antique pieces with transitional pieces. So far our clients prefer this look as opposed to a purely modern style.
What’s it been like coming to NYC for school and now being business owners here? Any tips for others just moving here with the similar plans?
This is definitely a tough city to come to. You have to want to be here and get ready to hit the floor running. But once you adapt, it’s amazing and you can find fantastic opportunities. If a person decides to move here, they better be ready for anything that will come his or her way and never be discouraged.
Can you give one tip for a newbie in NYC?
Walk around and explore all parts of the city — it’s the best way to figure out what you like. We remember when we first moved here. We each spent hours floating from here to there and getting it all in.
What’s your favorite thing about living in NYC? What’s your must-do weekly NY activity?
Living in the city is like being in a microcosm where you can find everything from all over the world at your fingertips. We both like to discover new things, enjoy the many exhibits that are in the museums and art galleries and of course the restaurants. We’re both big fans of the MOMA (Museum of Modern Art), it’s such a beautiful space. As for restaurants, Alberto loves The Lion in the West Village, while I love Sushi of Gari. I cannot get enough of it!
How do you get your design inspiration?
We both like to travel a lot and we get our inspiration from the places we visit and from the things we learn from other cultures. For me the most influential has been Turkey, and for Alberto it’s the mix of East and West that has mesmerized him. I went to Russia recently and I became fascinated with the decadence of 19th century Russia. Also, we love stingray pieces, so we try to include them in every room that we design.
What designers are your role models?
Christian Liaigre, Ruhlmann, Mies Van der Rohe, and Luis Barragan — off the top of our heads!
Anything exciting in the Etos future that you’d like to share?
Soon we’ll be traveling to Europe to find new goodies! Stop by our store to see our latest finds.
Best design tip for a non-designer?
Stick to neutrals and avoid using vibrant colors in large amounts so that you don’t get tired of the brights. Add color via pillows, throws, and accessories, which are easy to change.
67 EAST 11TH STREET
NEW YORK, NY 10003
T. 212 673 3056