We wanted to get to know Studio DADO, so we sat down with the four founding partners (left to right: Jorge L. Mesa, Greg Walton, Yohandel Ruiz, and Javier Calle). Unfortunately, Enzo, the Italian greyhound (center), wasn’t present. This was one of the most challenging interviews we’ve ever conducted, with so many enthusiastic responses, interruptions, and lots and lots of laughter, that we’ve combined the partners’ responses. Specific quotes are attributed where possible.

Thanks for speaking with us today. Can you tell us how the conception of DADO came about?

The idea that became Studio DADO started with a casual conversation over lunch between entrepreneurs who didn’t like the trends they saw in their projects. All four architects worked for a large firm and felt frustrated with the sheer amount of time they spent working through corporate bureaucracy, policies, and procedures before they could roll up their sleeves and dig into the client’s design.

Greg Walton: “…we only focused on billable hours and chargeability ratios – we lost what we were about, we lost our spirit and soul for design.”

Javier started in with this crazy idea, something like, “What if there was a design studio where the designers worked one-on-one with the client?” Everybody laughed at first. Then we stopped laughing and started actually considering it. We named the company DADO, the word for dice in Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese, because we felt like we were taking a gamble.

Jorge L. Mesa: “We saw an opportunity in the market and decided to make the leap of faith. Two years later and we haven’t looked back.”


Before the founding of Studio DADO, you each held important roles within the interior design industry. What is it like working on a team such as yours at Studio DADO versus other roles you’ve had in the past?

Greg Walton: “Although I was the Vice President in charge of the cruise work at CallisonRTKL I never really felt in complete control of my destiny and the destiny of the work we were doing.”

The team we’ve created at DADO is extraordinary and, regardless of growth, we only want the extraordinary. Our team is a close-knit group that makes coming to work each day a joyful and memorable experience.

Javier Calle: “When we embarked on this journey, we knew that we wanted to create something different, including the roles we would take on as founding partners. We have made it very clear to our team, that we are all in this together, and that we are not their bosses, but rather their mentors, in fact, the word ‘boss’ has been stricken from our vocabulary, because it does not fit our company culture and DNA.”

All four partners work to keep DADO on a path of design innovation and excellence. Partners are involved in every aspect of a client’s project, from proposal to launch party – and that hands-on involvement throughout ensures each design we create represents the level of work we dream about. (Yes, we really do dream about it.) For the same reason, partners are always available to our clients, for real, even though it means managing competing demands and travel schedules.

We also spend a lot of time and energy creating a workplace our team enjoys. Our industry is deadline-driven and demands our absolute best every day. For that reason, we make sure our team knows they can take a deep breath, anytime they need to, and just do something impulsive and fun. It’s about as far from a corporate cubicle farm as you can imagine.

Jorge Mesa: “[W]e encourage everyone to speak up and give out any ideas that they can think of. You never know where a great idea can come from and we embrace the wild and crazy ideas that help make our designs unique and creative.”

In just two years Studio DADO has gained huge influence within the marine industry. Are there any projects that you’re particularly proud of?

We get asked this question all the time. It’s like trying to choose your favorite child.

Because of the kind of work we do, the amount of time and passion and love we pour into each design, every project is special for a very different reason. Some because the design was simply unbelievable. Others because we managed to complete a project with a ridiculously tight schedule. Others because we worked with a very small budget – and still we created a memorable design.

We’ve been fortunate enough to work on some incredibly exciting cruise projects, like the Oasis Class ships for Royal Caribbean International and the Seven Seas Explorer for Regent Seven Seas Cruises.

Jorge Mesa: “The work that our team has produced for Norwegian Cruise Lines Leonardo is pushing the envelope of design and sophistication for the brand.”

Yohandel Ruiz: “I am very proud of Oceania Insignia which is just about to be completed this week. This project represents our first work for the Oceania Brand and what we have been able to accomplish design wise is something very special. The ship has undergone a complete renovation and I think guests will really love what we have been able to accomplish. It’s a completely new ship with a design that is the epitome of luxury and comfort.”

We can tell you some of the things we are working on now and projects on the horizon are truly remarkable – the kind of things provocative, trail-blazing work that sets new design standards in the entire industry.

Javier Calle: “I am particularly proud of the work that we have been doing on a current project which unfortunately needs to remain confidential.  the level of design, creativity and dedication that the team is generating, is going to catapult us to the next level, or maybe more… I’m sure of it.”

The designs we’re seeing on ships surpass even luxury hotels. Many top name designers are trying to break into the cruise design scene.

There’s been a massive boom in cruises’ popularity in the last few years alone, as such creating stand-out cruise ship interiors is of the utmost importance to cruise lines. Are there any key trends that have taken your fancy recently?

Historically the design community always frowned on cruise ships. They were shunned as trite and thematic and trying to be the tacky parts of Vegas on the sea. All that started changing 10-12 years ago. The cruise lines saw customers perceiving their product as a commodity, where the major differentiator was price.

Today, a ship’s design is a huge market differentiator and a major influence in making a vacation decision. The designs we’re seeing on ships surpass even luxury hotels. Many top name designers are trying to break into the cruise design scene. Our industry increasingly recognizes the importance and influence – there’s even a new magazine about transportation industry design called Starboard that focuses on ships.

Javier Calle: “Authenticity.  People want to feel connected and engaged, and so are seeking spaces that make them feel like they are part of something meaningful, and real and not contrived, the challenge is trying to capture this in our designs.”

Jorge Mesa: “One big trend we see is that ships are no longer looking like cruise ships. They resemble more land-based hospitality venues. Also, the vast use of technology in venues is becoming more and more evident. As technology evolves, so do the environments. The use of technology customization for guest experiences has grown in popularity.”

Yohandel Ruiz: “With new companies like Virgin coming to market, there is a renewed energy in elevating the guest experience to capture new market segments. I think the millennial passenger will become a major influence in the design of cruise ships moving forward.”


Designing for the marine market must be quite different from creating land-based spaces. Can you tell us about any considerations you have to account for when composing cruise interiors versus hotel spaces?

Greg Walton: “Our challenges in some ways are pretty obvious because we are designing for something that moves.”

The two critical factors at play in cruise ship design that aren’t much of an issue in land-based hospitality are safety and weight. Materials and finishes we choose must meet the stringent codes for fire safety in ships. Also, considering that the venue has to float, we use lightweight materials and innovative construction techniques to minimize additional weight that could reduce the ship’s fuel efficiency or affect its stability. Designing for the cruise ship industry demands an even higher level of thought and creativity. It’s a really exciting challenge to minimize weight without compromising design!

We design spaces where the guests are never even aware of any of these considerations – vibration, weight, movement, safety – we’re faced with. We enhance their vacation experience in ways they never thought imaginable.

Yohandel Ruiz: “The guest experience is the most important part of the design so being able to tell and choreograph a story is the key. The rest is just semantics.”

Studio DADO was recently named on Interior Design Magazine’s annual ‘Giants in Hospitality’, a prestigious honour. How do you expect this to impact your brand recognition in future?

For a two-year-old firm we’ve come a long way! Being included in Interior Design’s Hospitality Giants signifies that you have arrived.

We are honored and proud to have made Interior Design Magazine’s annual “Giants in Hospitality” list this year. Most of all, we’re grateful to our clients who believed in us and supported us because without them this achievement would not have been possible.

Jorge Mesa: “We hope that now people see us as not just a little startup company but one that is here to stay and stir up the design community.”

Greg Walton: “As proud as we are of this accomplishment we refuse to rest on any laurels, we constantly are casting our gaze into the future and challenging ourselves along the way.”

Briefly, can you talk us through the design process from first taking a project on to seeing the end-results?

We call our first step the Programming Phase. Before we ever put pencil to page is to understand our client, their brand, and their guests. We also challenge preconceived notions or the “This is the way it has always been done” mentality. We push and perhaps many times to the shipyard’s dismay, but we are determined to give our clients the best design possible that speaks to their brand, resonates with their guest, functions operationally and can contribute to revenue generation. If we stop questioning, we fall into complacency and that is not good for us or our clients.

Then, our Schematic Design phase. We meet with team and come up with concepts based on our client’s requests. We reach into our own minds and experiences to spark our creative process. Concept inspiration comes from so many different influences. It can be anything from art, travel, fashion, music, jewellery, architectural detail, colours in nature, etc. Anything that inspires creative, innovative design.

We prepare a set of design presentations and workshop them internally to get them ready for client review.

Next, we present our designs to the client, and, once we have an approval, proceed to our Final Design Development phase. Typically, there’s a lot of discussion at this point.

Next, our Construction Document phase. During the documentation process we work closely with various consultants and vendors to make sure the design is detailed with total precision.

Once the design is submitted and bids are established, we’ll have several coordination meetings and mock-up reviews with the yard and/or contractors to ensure the quality is line with the design and everything is being executed correctly. This is vital because each of our designs is unique, with its own story and purpose. These aren’t the kinds of projects our contractors have worked on before!

Afterward comes Construction Administration. During the build process we do various inspections and site visits until delivery, just to make sure everything is going according to plan and correct any issues before they become problems.

On delivery there will be a final walkthrough and punch list is created.

Finally, we deliver the space, do a photoshoot, high-five, and move on to the next project.

Two consistent trends we’ve seen: bigger is better. Ships keep getting larger and larger. Designs are moving away from nautical concepts, and toward the sorts of designs you’d see in a land-based hospitality project.

What cruise interior trends should we be on the lookout for next year?

We look beyond next year because some of the projects we are working on will be delivered four years from now and even as late as ten years. That’s one reason we create every design to be timeless, with a story and a purpose just as meaningful five years from now as fifty.

Javier Calle: “The cruise ship industry is unique in that we are having to futurecast our designs not looking towards the upcoming year, but up to 7 or 8 years ahead. We have a lot of internal conversations about how technology and culture will shape the future of design.”

Greg Walton: “It’s a no brainer to start a conversation about technology and what it will be in four years. Will a television even be a television or even be around? Voice control and automation of your environment was a luxury a few years ago but with the likes of Amazon Echo, Portal by Facebook, Nest and the list goes on – how we interface with our and control our built environment will continuously be changing. What will the smart phones be in four to ten years?”

Two consistent trends we’ve seen: bigger is better. Ships keep getting larger and larger. Designs are moving away from nautical concepts, and toward the sorts of designs you’d see in a land-based hospitality project.

Studio DADO is very active on social media and are often seen sporting new vinyl records. Can you tell us where this started and who came up with the idea?

<Laughter. Fingers pointing at co-founding partner Javier Calle.>

Javier’s the vinyl junkie. Sort of funny after the technology talk we’ve sort moved back to an older technology in our own headquarters.

Javier Calle: “I feel that technology has offered us great things, but it has also made us a culture of instant gratification where we have learned to settle for quantity over quality. The vinyl record in my opinion offers a higher degree of fidelity than any digital format, after all… music is analog.  Anyway, I won’t go on a tangent — long story short, we wanted to bring this concept into our office, partly as a statement and hell, dropping the needle on a Pink Floyd album beats Pandora any day!”

When we all discussed our ideal office culture, we agreed that music had to be a part of every workday. Music inspires us, motivates us, and can help take the edge off a stressful day. Music speaks to us individually.

Jorge Mesa: “[Vinyl records] are a talking point amongst our clients and vendors who time and time again gift us new albums helping us grow our collection.”


Finally, what are you hoping to achieve through participating at Cruise Ship Interiors Expo 2019 as both a Founding Partner, Greg being an Advisory Board member and having some of your team speak in the conference?

Since 2019 will be the inaugural year for the expo, we’re thrilled to be involved right at the beginning. Many industry leaders will be there. Really, it’s about having fun, making new connections, talking shop with folks who are as passionate about our work as we are. If we develop any new business, it’s a bonus!

Greg Walton: “I feel very lucky to be in the cruise ship industry and designing the spaces on board. Being a part of this unique sector has given me amazing opportunities – to see parts of the world and in fact is the very reason I met my spouse of eighteen years. I love to talk about cruise ship design and because I can think of no better design opportunity. I truly love what I do.”