When Omar Sosa moved from his hometown of Barcelona to New York City in the summer of 2016, he did so with at least one big worry. “I was scared about leaving the easiness of my life there. Everything was close to everything else, and I could walk from my house to the office,” he says. Fortunately for him, the transatlantic move had little effect on his lifestyle. “I replicated the same thing here,” he says.
Sosa, perhaps best known as co-founder and creative director of cult interiors magazine Apartamento, also works independently under his own name. He spent his early years as a graphic designer at Folch Studio, a Barcelona firm led by Albert Folch, where he worked with clients like Camper, Mango, and Musac. While at Folch, he started Apartamento with friends Nacho Alegre and Marco Velardiwhich, quickly thrusted the founders into indie magazine fame.
Sosa spent years shuttling between Milan and Barcelona making Apartamento before moving to New York. He currently shares a sizable office with two employees in a Chinatown loft. It’s a comfortable space, with plenty of light pouring in through tall, turn-of-the-century windows. All the signs of a working studio are present: a completed catalogue for the design company Salvatori sits next to back issues of Apartamento and a litany of design books, while mockups for an upcoming Apartamento book stick out among the clutter created by other in-progress projects.
Sosa shuffles between the office and the apartment he shares with his wife, located only a few blocks away. To get there you enter from the street, cross a lush courtyard to an interior building, and then climb a few flights of stairs. It’s small—what New York apartment isn’t?—but cozy, and offers a lot of the most elusive of New York amenities: natural light.
When he works from home he holds court on a large teal couch at the center of the apartment, alternating his attention between a MacBook, phone, and whatever friends may be around. But it’s the neighborhood that plays the most significant role in Sosa’s psyche. He finds Chinatown’s scenery beguiling, and he often stops on his trips between his office and apartment to buy fruit from a vendor or to admire the art tacked randomly to the neighborhood’s walls.
Whether Chinatown has altered Sosa’s creative approach to design is still a question mark, but if nothing else it’s had a subliminal impact on him that’s hard to ignore. “There’s so much culture around here and it’s so near to so many interesting things,” he says. “While I’m not sure that Chinatown has directly influenced my style, the energy and inspiration I get from it is undeniable.”
This relationship to his surroundings is an integral part of Sosa’s creative process, and it isn’t limited to a few square blocks of Chinatown. “I moved to New York City more than anything else for social reasons; it’s amazing to have all these people around, and I benefit from that,” Sosa says. “I can go and meet with a friend, and I’m doing a photo shoot a day after. All of that is why I live in New York, and I think it’s shaping the way I work.”
Case in point: Sosa’s client relationships have evolved dramatically since his move to New York. While in Barcelona his client base was spread out across Europe, and he had little chance to sit down and develop relationships that went beyond pure business considerations. New York has changed the equation. “When I was in Barcelona I felt it was kind of limiting,” he says. “In New York everything is so close. It allows me to work much closer with my clients. That’s changed the output because it’s much more of a dialogue.”
A good example is his relationship with the Italian lighting company Flos, which has tapped him for projects including art direction on advertisements and exhibition design. Since moving to New York, the opportunity for Sosa to work more deeply with clients has become commonplace. Instead of simply responding to a brief or subtly adding his own signature to an otherwise ironclad commission, he’s now seeing the vision through from start to end.
Take, for example, the work he’s done for the boutique hotel chain NYLO, which has tasked Sosa with overseeing the interior design to revamping the graphics for its five hotels. This increased intimacy with the client has helped him move past the minutiae that can so often bog down a designer. “My brain tends to like to do different things at the same time, so I find it limiting to just focus on one thing,” he says. “I’m able now to be more involved at the client level and to have an assistant help me execute the vision we have for the project.”
Sosa communicates daily with the Apartamento team headquartered in Barcelona and hopes to soon merge his practice with that of the magazine under the moniker Apartamento Studios. In the meantime, he continues to absorb the cultural quirks that are New York City’s hallmark, for both personal pleasure and to push himself professionally. “You’re so close to culture here. It’s overwhelming,” he says. “Things originate here culturally or they happen a little bit faster here than other places. Being here sometimes makes me see things in a different way.”