F05 Studio’s Overnight Success Was Years in the Making

The award-winning architecture and design studio is approaching its fourth anniversary, but past lives at SCAD and RH set founder Felipe Mora up for success long before striking out on his own.

F05 Studio founder Felipe Mora. Credit: Veinti Uno.

Felipe Mora is constantly looking for ways to escape his comfort zone. The Colombian architect spent two years in Italy before resolving to seek “a different experience for yet another chapter outside my hometown” in the form of higher education. Only two schools were on his radar: the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), and the Pratt Institute. Seeing SCAD’s national number-one program ranking, he applied there for graduate school.The rest is history.

In the intervening years, his young studio has earned a multitude of recognition and awards. For a cycling brand’s El Retiro concept shop, he helped the sport shed its dorky neon lycra in favor of a moody, backlit jewel box with sleek unbranded bikes suspended in midair. That space went on to become a finalist in the Latin American Design Awards. His firm snagged an Interior Design Best of Year award for La Puerta 1600, an otherworldly hotel that made careful use of boulders discarded by local coffee farmers to create a wellness-oriented sanctuary that seems to rise from stone ruins. 

The award-winning La Peurta 1600 Hotel, designed by F05 Studio. Credit: F05 Studio.

Mora didn’t intend to strike out on his own so early in his career. He had envisioned it “since day one,” he says, but headed home to Colombia on sabbatical to enjoy some personal time with family in February 2020. One fateful call led to another, and before long he had built the self-led studio he had always envisioned. “I traveled the world when I was young, studying design, and then as an avid triathlete I went everywhere. Now, as head of my own business, I hope I get to do the same,” he says. 

Surface spoke with the founder about the common threads between his studio’s projects, creative freedom, and how his years at SCAD and RH made his present reality possible. 

F05 Studio has only been around for four years. What were you doing before, and what inspired you to start your own studio?

I’ve wanted my own enterprise since day one, but I believe you have to work for or with someone before you embark on such a hard task. After my masters degree, I stayed in the U.S working mainly for RH as part of their design team in New York City. I owe a lot to this company. I don’t think my former colleagues and bosses know how grateful I feel for learning so much during my time there. Being in an environment that’s both design- and retail-oriented gave me tools I don’t think any studio can offer and that I’ve applied to my own practice, which gives me a fresh take and different perspective on how to work.

Private residence, completed 2023.

F05 Studio opened in 2020 by a major life change. A lot happened personally and professionally. Funnily enough, it wasn’t the pandemic, but it all happened at the same time. I flew home to regroup and boom, I was locked into my dad’s home. One day in the middle of the pandemic when work was nonexistent a friend called me because they knew I was a designer living in New York and they wanted someone without the Colombian way of working. It grew exponentially and very fast. So what was a flight back home to think and be with my parents ended up being the best life decision I could ever make and the forced start of my professional dream: to have my own practice.

What made you choose SCAD for your master’s degree, and what have you carried with you from there as you oversee your own firm?

I had already experienced life in Italy for two years and wanted a different experience for yet another chapter outside my hometown. Coming from an American high school, I knew SCAD was a good design school. I did very quick research and found out it was the country’s number-one program. If RH taught me a lot about business, I owe what my business is at its core to my education. Every thought process and how to build the design foundation of our practice so that every person in my team follows it, is all SCAD.

The patio of a private residence. Credit: courtesy of F05 Studio.

F05 takes on a wide range of projects: retail, hospitality, residential. What makes a given project right for your studio?

We have to actually like what we’re designing. There has to be a spark, and we do require creative leadership—not freedom, but leadership—to guide our clients and vendors to the ultimate result. We’re designers, not drafters. Our studio mainly does hospitality and residential projects—that’s our bread and butter. We sometimes drift a little outside the lines when we love a project that someone brings to our office.

How would you describe F05’s style? 

We believe at our core that we don’t design for us, we design for our clients. There are common threads, like looking for symmetry and pure geometric shapes. We always follow the famed phrase “form follows function.” If spaces don’t work, there’s no point in making them beautiful. We also love chandeliers and lamps! All decorative lighting is a must—it’s an item that I find time to choose on all projects personally.

A private spa designed by F05 Studio. Credit: Carlos Velez.

Anything else to note? 

I traveled the world when I was young, studying design, then as an avid triathlete I went everywhere, now as head of my own business I hope I get to do the same. We are a small studio but mighty, we really do have the capacity to take on projects worldwide and looking forward to it. 

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