I’ve met some very interesting people through my online networks. I have Flickr friends who are architects in Brazil and Mexico, a businessman with a passion for mid-century modern architecture, moms who love photography and compact cameras, etc. My most recent connection was with an amazing designer based in California. We “met” in Instagram. And he just happens to be Filipino.
Meet Gari Camaisa…
This is Gari’s old home. “This was my kitchen in my old home which I had renovated in 2004. While working on a client’s kitchen remodel at that time, I stumbled upon a beautiful graphite toned matte finished Walker Zanger glass tile. It was unusual to find a glass tile material at that time that was in a not so common color and shade as this was. I guess i had fallen in love with it so much so that it triggered my own kitchen remodel. I tiled an entire wall span in that tile and opted for a traditional staggered/subway tile pattern; raised the ceiling a couple of feet before the tiled wall so that the tiles appeared to go further up and beyond. I didn’t care much for stainless steel appliances so I selected an enameled stone finish for my appliances. On the foreground is a long communal like dining table where I used to just have a small round table. I tore down a wall to create a larger dining space. As I never really use a ‘formal’ dining room, I converted my formal dining room into sitting room off of my living room, in which I had opened up a wall and created and pocket garden that can be accessed and viewed from the new sitting room.” –Gari Camaisa
Jugenstil Designs describes itself as a “soft-modern interior design consultancy firm based in the San Francisco bay area.” I first looked through their portfolio and found the warmest and most inviting spaces. Everything looked lived-in and not contrived or overly decorated. It is evident that the designer wasn’t a fan of heavily accessorized spaces or trends. I saw a lot of mix of old and new, modern and primitive. Very sophisticated. I recognized some pieces by Filipino designers Kenneth Cobonpue and Ann Pamintuan being used indoors alongside more classic pieces in North American homes and wondered whether a Filipino worked with Jugenstil. As it turns out the principal designer himself, Gari is pure Pinoy.
Gari’s success story is so interesting. Philippine-born and educated in Manila, Gari had no formal design or art training. His talent is purely organic and unstudied. In 1987, with a couple of college friends, Gari set up a tailor shop along Jupiter St. Makati. The shop had no front windows but Gari set it up using materials from his parent’s “bodega” and made it look like a comfortable living room.
I was tasked to handle the design of the space. I had zero knowledge of interior design, space planning and construction. I had created a living room setting sans a cutting table and other typical things/set-up that you’d find in a tailor shop. We also had a small workroom at the back of the building. It was also nice to have a living room setting being that it somehow precludes the feeling of being in a tailor shop per se, where the environment is less utilitarian, and more comfortable. Linea Maschile opened its doors in June of 1987. I was 21 years old. The business prospered and the idea caught on among guys from our school in De La Salle and then the Yuppies followed suit.I remember the day when Tetchie Agbayani stepped into our shop and exclaimed, “Is this the place where the stylish boys of Dasma go to?” Classic.
By the early 90’s, one of Gari’s clients (Direk Jun) at the tailor shop asked him to design his office, a post-production studio, in Legaspi Village. After poring through photos and images from the books with the client, Gari felt he was way in over his head with this project, having had no formal training in interior design. But it was more a meeting-of-the-minds moment for both the Jun and Gari. Apparently all the previous designers interpreted the Jun’s wish for modern design as the “Miami Vice” look. “I hope you are not one of them”. Gari delivered the project and this was Jun’s reaction – “Gari, ikaw lang pala ang makakakuha ng ibig kong sabihin. Galeng!”/ Gari, you are the only one who got what I meant. Great! This launched Gari’s local career in interior design. Advertising executives Tony Gloria and Jun Reyes (of Unitel and Optima) supported him with projects and more work poured in until he left for the US in 1997.
He enrolled at the Philippine School of Interior Design immediately after his first gig as a “designer”. But after a few weeks into the program, he left. Gari explains, “I didn’t think that what I was being taught was having a great impact on my new found passion. I craved for something different, irreverent – ideas that veered away from the tried and true. I decided to seek knowledge the hard way, to find my own meaning of the trade, a craft, to create art. The Memphis style was very big in the 80s, post-modern was being embraced as the new thing, and Philippe Starck was the poster-boy of design in Europe. I read books, magazines on design and architecture. Little by little I learned. I went on to work on several other projects, with the tailor shop still being my main occupation and business.”
You can read our full interview below. All the captions are from Gari’s own words.
The brickwork on the fireplace surround was originally in a bland run of the mill masonry mauve-like tone which I had refinished to emulate a warm travertine color and texture. The floor was redone in a limed white oak wood planks material. It’s a small family room where I had opted to keep the color scheme (walls, ceiling, trims, floor and window covering) in a soft neutral palette – a clean backdrop for a very eclectic mix of furniture, objects and art in the space. The chair is from Primitive Antique Furniture from Lito San Luis (Relojes Antiguos) a good friend of mine. Wicker Chair is by Roderick Vos for Driade. The artworks: Painting (on the hearth) Bernardo Pacquing (Philippines) a gift from an artist friend, Pete Jimenez. Metal sculpture “It is finished” (on mantel) Pete Jimenez (Philippines), Relief painting (on right wall next to table lamp) Edwin Wilwayco (Philippines).
I wasn’t too keen in doing a formal dining room setup per se for this dining space but had wanted to create an extension of the sunken living room close by. It thus double duties as an entry cum meeting table at the same time. The table and sideboard are Philippine primitive and antique pieces. Metal Sculpture on the right side of sideboard by Pete Jimenez and a charcoal sketch by Edwin Wilwayco.
Daphne: I’m also interested in the Filipino angle. How did you break in to the US market? Is there anything about being Filipino that defines you as a designer/architect?
Gari: Having lived in the US for the past 15 years, I have learned that being from another country and culture does not have much bearing in breaking into the US market. As I had experienced, the American client is not so much concerned with a person’s race or ethnicity, hence, they engage the services of a designer by virtue of the designer’s work, aesthetic leanings, and reputation. On the other hand, however, just like anywhere else besides skill and talent, connections, exposure and network make for a good start. In my case, I may probably have had the skill and the talent, hence, I did not have any of the latter three when I moved here, so had ended up working for my brother who had an office that services bumper reconditioning, a far throw from my career in Manila. During that time, I had also brought in Philippine Primitive Antiques and the furniture line of Ann Pamintuan (steel wire collection) and had participated in a Furniture show in the San Francisco Designer Center. Apparently, it did not do too well. I have had a handful of design related projects through relatives, but it wasn’t much to be called as a steady income from design. I am most thankful for a connection that I made through a friend whose relative is a kitchen designer at a high-end kitchen and appliance showroom. I was introduced to the owner to which I was hired to design one of the kitchen designer’s offices in their showroom, after which I was given a chance to work on their clients’ bath and kitchen remodel projects and then later on designing the San Francisco showroom of the Italian kitchen cabinet brand Scavolini. It is through the course of my working relationship with the kitchen and appliance showroom and my association with them where I had gotten to work on expansive design projects. 98% of our clients are a good mix of Caucasians, Japanese-Americans, and Chinese. Apparently, however, we have not had much Filipino-American clients, albeit, a noteworthy project that we had been involved with for a Filipino-American client is a restaurant in South San Francisco called The Intramuros. Today, most of our clients are referral based.
The client collects old Japanese ceremonial tea pottery and I had thought about creating a niche along the fireplace wall to display some of these. A new wall was constructed in front of the existing fireplace wall span in order to accommodate the display niche. The fireplace is a slab of metal that appears to lean against the wall which I had custom designed for this space. The client had bought this home which was in a Mediterranean style. They loved the house but didn’t care much about the traditional features and finishes that the previous owners had done and had hoped to redesign the exterior and interior of the house in a more modern feel and style. This particular space is actually a dining room.
This is the 3rd office that we had designed for a husband and wife dentist client. The wife had wanted to have a clean and light design scheme for this particular office. Since this was going to be her main office, I had thought of interjecting a subtle sense of femininity in the space – color scheme is predominantly light colored, soft, clean and calming; calacata marble flooring, pale dove gray plastered wall finish, simple furnishings scheme.
This is one of several bathrooms in this Beaux Arts style home in the San Francisco Pacific Heights neighborhood. The space was already beautiful as it is (wainscot paneling, claw foot tub, high ceiling, vintage polished nickel fittings). I wanted to do something that didnt take away from the natural beauty of the space. I set out to paint the entire room in a cool white on white color scheme. The ceiling is painted in a very faint dusty blue color. To add a little bling, I chose to hang rows of antiqued mirror frames that reflected the nice subtle details of the space.
I felt that this particular chair by Cobonpue was perfect for the space. Because we were dealing with a large space, I wanted to create different seating areas around the room but didn’t want it to feel like its a hotel lobby. Kenneth’s chair has a subtle sculptural presence that somehow disappears at the same time. A lot of the pieces in this space are very prominent on its own…the Frank Lloyd Wright floor lamp, the Prouve chair, the baby grand piano, etc. Therefore creating a tone on tone color scheme worked out great, so much so that the juxtaposition of the ebony-toned elements in the space appear to come together unobtrusively.
Daphne: I see some Kenneth Cobonpues in your work. In your opinion, how significant is Kenneth’s work in contemporary design.
Gari: When I first got wind of Movement 8 and saw the works of Ann Pamintuan and Kenneth Cobonpue, alongside the stalwart Budji Layug, I was literally floored. I thought to myself, here is the advent of contemporary Filipino design of my generation. During my time in Manila, there were a few interior designers whom I had thought made an impact, Budji Layug, Joey Yupangco, Reimon Gutierrez, and Yola Perez-Johnson. I loved the work of these guys. I think Kenneth Cobonpue has gone a long way, and we all know this. He has paved the way for the Filipino designers’ ingenuity and creativity to take center stage in the international contemporary furniture arena, the same way Budji Layug had done in the late 70s and 80s through the showing of his Giant Bamboo collection at the Bloomingdales. Kenneth Cobonpue is iconic – synonymous to modern Filipino design and this said, furniture designers and product designers alike shall look to his design as a benchmark of what works, having created a new standard in furniture design – innovative processes, new design thinking, experimental.
This was an old side door entry where garbage bins were stored. Our client had wanted to resurrect the space to use as a secondary entrance to the house particularly for their guests as they had converted an old au pair room into a guest room. Its a dark and narrow space. My idea was to create an outdoor feel by adding a wooden deck for the floor. To address the narrow, tunnel like feel, I had thought of treating one side/wall differently…into a living wall. Since it would be impossible to have live plants thrive on the entire wall span being that it was in an enclosed dark space, I had thought of using an artificial turf, which is very much like a real turf (grass). Floor lighting that is directed towards the turf wall help deter a claustrophobic feeling. Because it is a long and narrow walk from the entry door to the guest room, I felt that it would be nice to have the space serve as a gallery of sort, so i had installed a collage of frames which showcases the clients children’s own art which they can replace and update as often as they please.
Daphne: Do you come to the Philippines – when was the last time you were here? Any discoveries?
Gari: Unfortunately, I have not been back home since I last visited in 2006. What struck me then was that I noticed that the design sensibilities of the Filipino have loosened up quite nicely. I particularly liked the work of Jorge Yulo at Pepato in Greenbelt, and the new Ayala Museum by Locsin. I also loved the A11 showroom of Eric Paras.