When designer and longtime West Elm collaborator Diego Olivero set out to find an apartment in New York City, he toured 40 apartments before finally finding “the one” in Brooklyn a year ago. As the co-founder of Meso Goods, a Guatemalan-based design company that creates economic empowerment for artisans and preserves Mayan traditions through a modern lens, he knows good design when he sees it. “We were lucky,” he says. “It had everything on our list.”
The apartment, a 1920 townhouse in East Williamsburg, has an industrial look with New York character like exposed brick, crown moldings and two fireplaces. It also has the modern amenities Diego was looking for like a dishwasher and washer/dryer — neither of which are a given in NYC. It doesn’t stop there. The apartment also has a small balcony (check), a home office (check) and enough space for his 11-year-old dog, Rasta (check). The high ceilings and the tinted stained-glass windows in the living room helped seal the deal, as did the light-filled bathroom with a spa-worthy tub.
While the apartment itself had good bones, now Diego’s eclectic global decor is what really makes the place stand out. A mix of colorful pieces made by Diego himself and artisans in Guatemala, Peru and Argentina dot the entire home. “Don’t be afraid to go out there with color, because color is beautiful,” Diego says. “Not everything needs to be colorful, of course, but I think accents of color and pops of color can really bring more life to the space.”
“I was born in Guatemala. Color is everywhere.
The textiles, the clothing, what you see in the
markets – it’s everywhere.”
— Diego Olivero, co-founder of Meso Goods
His latest collaboration with West Elm, the Atitlán Project, hits close to home. “We wanted to approach social impact and social design in a different way,” Diego says. He worked with leaders in Lake Atitlán, Guatemala, to come up with designs inspired by traditional clothing (huipil), the lake itself, animals and the breathtaking landscape of Santa Catarina Palopó. Those motifs are currently being painted across the homes in the town to drive tourism and create socioeconomic opportunities for the community. They are now also the cornerstone of West Elm’s Atitlán Project, a collection of furniture and accessories designed by Diego and Roar + Rabbit. Fifty percent of proceeds from this collection directly support Pintando Santa Catarina Palopó.
Tour Diego Olivero’s eclectic apartment below and see how the Atitlán Project comes to life!
Photography by Landon Vonderschmidt
The blue-and-yellow color theme is carried throughout the home, and one of the most eye-catching pieces is the Waves Rug, which was designed by Diego and Roar + Rabbit for the Atitlán Project. Its design was inspired by a legendary monster that lives in Lake Atitlán and creates an eerily strong current at 5 o’clock on an otherwise static lake. The blue-gray Shelter Sofa acts as a cozy neutral to anchor the space and lets the other pieces shine, including a coffee table made from an elephant-ear tree that fell on a friend’s farm in Guatemala and a shaggy black Fabrica chair made from car tires.
The white fireplace — one of two in the apartment — brings a level of architectural intrigue to the space and acts as a shelf to show off artisan pieces. Accessories like the Scalloped Edge Vases, Meso Novelty Vases and Meso Goods planters tie it all together.
Kitchen + Dining
The previous tenant used the living room as her master bedroom, but Diego quickly realized he wanted to rearrange. “We tried it like she had it, but it felt super small,” he says. “We like to entertain and have people over for dinner, so it was important for us to have an open space.” So the bedroom became the living room, the living room became the dining room, and the office became the bedroom. The sliding doors that divided the original living/dining space and kitchen stay open, letting the light from the living room’s bay windows filter through the whole apartment.
The kitchen and dining area is a main hub of the home, Diego says, because not only does he love to cook and host, but also because he often uses the Expandable Mid-Century Dining Table as a desk. Wire Frame Upholstered Dining Chairs paired with Classic Cafe Upholstered Dining Chairs help pull together the blue theme, which is also reflected in his gallery wall artwork and translucent pendant lamp. A collection of Peruvian-made vases (the black color comes from burnt mango leaves) act as a centerpiece.
Diego works from his home studio a few days a week, which is right off the living room and has a small balcony. The Shapes Collage Rug from the Atitlán Project in the office, as well as the matching Roar + Rabbit Swivel Chair in the dining area, is a modern take on traditional clothing from the Lake Atitlán region, all broken apart into simple shapes. The head of a bird and the horns of a deer, for example, are represented in this colorful pattern.
As gorgeous as the rest of the unit is, it was really the bathroom that sold him on this one above all others when he was touring apartments. “We went, okay, it’s okay… and then we went in the bathroom and we were like, yes!”
Photography by Landon Vonderschmidt