It's always a tall order to create a refuge within a bustling commercial area, but for Cynthia Almario, one-half of the sister duo at the renowned architecture and design firm Atelier Almario, it's what every home should be anyway. "Home is a positive feeling," she says. "It should be your cocoon—that place where you can take care of yourself." The apartment the firm recently completed in Makati City's central business district certainly achieves this.
When Almario was approached for the residential project in Discovery Primea Residences, there was already a set structure. “Originally, we found the layout to be a difficult one,” she describes. “Upon entering, there was no foyer. It was immediately the living room, and then the master’s bedroom.” The first task, therefore, was to formally separate these spaces while ensuring a natural flow between the rooms. Luckily, other than a request to transform it into a vibrant place, the owner gave Almario free reign.
The designer suggested transforming the elevator entrance into a foyer that would follow a conservatory concept. “The owner loved the idea of stepping into a garden,” Almario says. “It was important for her to enter into something bright and happy.” The team achieved the conservatory effect by designating a small receiving area, complete with table and armchair, and papering the walls in Pagoda Garden wallpaper from Thibaut's Imperial Garden collection.
Print is also a highlight in the living room, with De Gournay Earlham chinoiserie wallcovering enlivening an accent wall that sets the stage for a palette of summery greens and blues. “The prints add a lot of interest,” says Almario. “Besides that they are bespoke, having been made of silk and hand-painted by the artists for three months, they also became my DNA for the colours used throughout the house.”
The goal was certainly to create something warm, alive and accessible. These are key words for Almario and her sister, and the common thread that runs through the massive portfolio of hotels and high-end residences they have designed over the course of 25 years. “Our spaces might look very elegant and expensive, but there is always a sense of accessibility to them,” she says.
Looking back, she credits this philosophy to Atelier Almario’s formative years in California. “I followed my sister to the United States in the nineties, and was inspired by her to take up interior design,” Almario recalls. “We lived in California, and that was where we honed our skills in creating classic-looking, but modern-minded and truly up-to-date interiors.”
Design solutions are another Almario trademark present in the apartment. There is symmetry in the clever twists of their design to turn flaws into something aesthetically useful. “The dining room, for example, had a weird cut. It was too long,” says Almario, “so what we did was to use the extra space as an afternoon tea and entertaining area.” That part of the room now features a mahogany mahjong table that can easily seat four.
For the boy’s bedroom, the concept actually took off from the design solution: a metal, oriental-patterned headboard with sliding panels. “The headboard disguises the different-sized windows and also serves as a screen to help diffuse light,” Almario describes. “The beddings and furniture are coordinated with the headboard.” It was the same case in the girls’ bedroom, where the main artwork is a set of botanical prints sourced from the Almario-owned home accessory boutique, Shelter. “The prints distract from the air vents,” says Almario. “It’s artwork that fits in with the logistics.”
The designer adds it is paramount for her to get the bedrooms right. In a weekend home such as this one, where the owner frequently has her grandchildren and other guests over, Almario made sure the bedrooms were given just as much thought as the living and dining areas. She reasons, “You tend to forget about the bedroom, but it is actually one of the most important spaces in the home because it’s where you spend most of your time.” Almario adds, “Once again, that is your cocoon, your sanctuary.”
Indeed, the apartment’s three bedrooms feature beautiful wallpaper, magnificent beds draped in ultra-soft, embroidered beddings and lounge areas that can also double up aseating or reading nooks. “I always want the bedroom to be a five- or even seven- star experience,” Almario says. “We have received funny but flattering comments from clients whose children have said that their bedrooms are more luxurious than the hotel rooms they go to on holidays. That’s always great to hear.”
In terms of designing to entertain, she shares that it is crucial to be aware of balance and symmetry not only in the design but in the practical aspects as well. “If the dining room seats 16, we make sure that the living room can also seat 16,” Almario explains. Because the firm caters to clients for whom entertaining is a part of everyday life, she and her sister have become very conscious of designing homes that are both personal and social spaces.
As the process is a constant dialogue that includes learning about the owners’ motivations, interests, and styles, it is inevitable for them to form close bonds with the families they have designed for. This almost always leads to their being invited back into a home no longer as designers but as guests. “It’s incredible because in those moments we’re able to see a new pride in the owners,” Almario intones. “After we’ve worked behind the scenes, we experience the home from the other side and it is so heartwarming to hear firsthand about how elevating the design is for both the owners and their guests.”
For this apartment, the lady of the house certainly has only good things to say. “The family loves how vibrant it is from the minute they enter,” Almario shares. “They feel they’ve been transported to New York.” She and the owner agree that the prints and fresh colours have made all the difference. There is now also an effortless symmetry and a natural flow of energy throughout—proof of how smartly and creatively the design team was able to execute the owner’s vision and take on the issues of the original layout.
Whether it’s a project like this where she is given total freedom, or one where she treads the delicate balance between acceding to the owner’s ideas and pushing for the proper architectural direction, Almario defers to the wisdom of experience: “In the end, it’s the space itself that will tell us what works.”
The prospect of creating ‘dream homes’ is one that continues t o be fulfilling for the firm, which sees each pr oject as part of its continuing education. “There are always mentors and peers t o look up to as inspirations,” Almario says. “But the point is always to improve on an id ea... to make it your own, and to make a space bett er for the owner.”
Photography by Albert Labrador