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Noa Santos on the art of good design

Noa Santos is the owner of NAINOA Architecture & Interiors and the formidable designer behind the February/March 2022 House & Garden cover

By House & Garden South Africa | February 1, 2022 | Architecture

Growing up in Hawaii must form a deep appreciation for the beauty of one’s surroundings, considering the work of designer, entrepreneur and founder of NAINOA Architecture & Interiors, Noa Santos.

Since 2020, Noa and his team of creatives at NAINOA have captured the world’s attention with the simple yet considered aesthetic of their designs. Below, we speak to Noa about his design process, his aesthetic and gives us insight into what makes NAINOA a force to be reckoned with.

How would you describe your aesthetic? Does it differ when approaching architecture vs interior design?

We want our work to feel integrated. All pieces - site, architecture, interiors - are considered in tandem and woven together for an elegant continuity that, we hope, takes one’s experience beyond the walls.

Your designs exude a calming effect yet are visually stunning. It's a sort of symbiosis. Do you see this as a unique selling point of NAINOA? And how do you navigate/achieve this balance in design?

We start with a pretty rigid adherence to classical principles - symmetry, proportion and perspective. We’re quite draconian about it, in fact. Then we play with materials in ways that surprise and delight us. The result is a playful gravitas - spaces can feel important without being too precious.

How has your design process, and the way you think about creating living spaces, evolved over the years?

The more you learn about design, the more you learn how much is left to know. I’m continually surprised by our clients and my team and, in that way, I’ve become less rigid in my own beliefs. While I believe there are certain immutable truths to good design, the ones I mentioned before, within that framework exists a vast and beautiful grey area of discovery.

Photo courtesy of NAINOA

The focus on materials is key in NAINOA's designs. What materials attract you most, and what is it about them that you feel resonates with your design language?

I’ve always been drawn to natural materials - probably because growing up in Hawaii meant I was seldom indoors. The materials we use are alive and are still living - many will outlast us. Our job, then, is to surface and showcase their distinct and most beautiful qualities.

In the Country Road house, which rooms/areas were your favourites to work on and why?

For me, the kitchen and living room best represent the design intent for Country Road - a home that feels simultaneously solid and lightweight. We wanted each space to feel important but not self-important, to inspire a strong reaction but welcome you to put your feet up.

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