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Larger Than Life

When a high-profile couple needed their new home reimagined, interior designer-tandem, Almario sisters Ivy and Cynthia, provided the vision.

When a high-profile couple needed their new home reimagined, interior designer-tandem, Almario sisters Ivy and Cynthia, provided the vision.

by Ian E. Baol photography Genesis Rana



After some months of construction on their new home which they thought first to be just a small project, the homeowners were in limbo, not knowing how to push further and achieve their dream home that fit their lifestyle. Fashion designer Kate Torralba—the homeowners’ niece—then intervened and sought professional help in the couple’s stead and turned to her good friends the Almario sisters Ivy and Cynthia; a powerhouse design tandem whose roster of clients include designer Philipp Rodriguez, many of the Aboitizes, the Ayala Group, restaurants like Café 1771 in Ortigas, high-end residential areas North and South Forbes Parks in Makati and Tierra Pura in Quezon City, to name very few, not to mention other top hotels and resorts here and abroad.

But the couple had to be patient, as Ivy and Cynthia were jetting around the world on commissioned projects. Eight weeks later, leaving Cebu after seeing the house, Ivy Almario found herself immediately sketching her ideas, old school, drawing—in scale—the house’s proposed new interiors, and all from sheer memory (that’s right, without the help of any camera, computer, whatsoever).

Within a year the house still humbly sits on a quarried adobe hillside, but now God is in the details, and they are grand.

“The challenge was to visually expand the space,” said Ivy, “and I believe we succeeded.” I couldn’t find the words to express how much I agreed. “When I came to visit on my day-trip there were walls covering too many parts of the house. You couldn’t see this rock,” said Ivy talking about the solid adobe wall resulting from the quarried hillside where the house was built. “We thought, oh my, in Australia for example, they look for this, they buy this, but here you’re sitting on a gold mine. We have to make this the artwork,” as she pointed out, the point being unobstructed living spaces brought about the absence of walls to hang art.

But Ivy and Cynthia say the couple is already “modern” at heart. “The floating stairs, for example, was already there, so we helped them in the most exciting execution and accessorizing,” said Ivy, assured that she knew what the homeowners already knew wanted and that they just helped the couple get there.

Before Atelier Almario in the Philippines came to be, the sisters lived and worked in the US. Cynthia worked for a design firm in California that did the interiors of the Shangri-La resorts all over Asia (including Shangri-La Cebu) and several other hotels in the US. Ivy worked for four different firms in three years, as a rendering artist, then for over ten years she was on her own, earning a living as an independent rendering artist and eventually a junior designer, putting her clients’ concepts onto paper for their presentations. “It was then that I became a really good designer,” Ivy said, “by working for these companies, I was able to internalize how they solved design problems.” Eventually the sisters moved back to Manila, and the interiors of many high-end residential and commercial projects were never the same again.

Ivy’s Feng Shui is also considered by Manila experts to be perfect for projects. Her approach to space planning, and understanding and maximizing light sources, impactful door opening, and the general flow of energy is always strategic.

For this home, Cynthia and Ivy and said it could have been easy to take the surroundings’ natural beauty for granted, but as the design concept was to bring the outdoors in and maximize the existing spaces, they took down walls, used a lot of glass, and strategically set big mirrors.

Cynthia said the couple wanted their home to have a “resort feel” as they travelled a lot and enjoyed five-star treatment. The woman of the house wondered why they couldn’t just have it at home, “so as the designers, we made sure it would be very restful.” The master’s bedroom is elevated so all you see when you wake up are the tops of trees and the sky. For the headboard wall, a copyrighted design from Bonace, in Cebu, a mother of pearl wall. “Sometimes when I wake up, I forget I’m just at home,” laughed the woman of the house. Beat that, five-star hotels. The pyramid canopy above the bed expanded the sleeping area and the use of continuous glass panel windows provides an unobstructed view of the fire-trees of the fronting hill. Without having to bring in a landscape artist, they were able to bring the outdoors in and the homeowners agree that this part of the house has really changed their lives. For privacy they installed remote-controlled venetian blinds from __. Stepping outside the bedroom leads you into the outdoors; a balcony cum breakfast nook for six with a beautiful Dedon dining set.

Aside from the Kenneth Cobonpue Bloom chairs down in the living room, the Almario sisters tapped into the unique Cebuano talent getting items from designers and manufacturers professing a love for Cebuano products. Coast Pacific, Dedon, and Kenneth Cobonpue make up most of the outdoor furniture. Other items and décor the couple brought in from the US, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and the UK—of course with Ivy and Cynthia’s approval. “Take it easy, be patient, and wait for us,” the woman of the house recalls the sisters telling her before she went on her furniture shopping spree, admitting to over-excitement and being too eager to start buying already after seeing the sisters’ design prospect.

The man of the house, who documented the process very carefully, affirms that the sisters’ work is truly inspired, and inspiring, showing pictures from Ivy’s initial sketches to the construction phases. The exterior was envisioned by Architect Ed Gallego, and the interiors by Atelier Almarior’s junior architect Jay Rivero who has been in praxis since 2004 and been working with the Almario sisters since 2006.

The daughter’s room reads like a Marie Antoinette fantasy. She worked with the interior designers giving them pegs of her ideas, which fit like a glove with the sisters’ general chic aesthetic idea for the home. The ornate night tables and plush bed and seating were all fabricated in Manila and finished in Cebu and the mother made the lampshades herself. “It was a labor of love,” she called it.

In another interview, the sisters, who are known to be extremely close, so much to even finish each other’s sentences, refer to their general design mantra as being chameleon-like, “We design using a whole gamut of genres and periods, from traditional, transitional, contemporary, Asian fusion, modern, you name it, we do it.” They prioritize “great work ethic and passion for work,” with strong relationships “with God, family, loved ones, friends, clients and peers, staff and suppliers,” and even people they encounter every day.


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Arcane: League of Legends: Netflix Review

Rating: *****/*****

League of Legends a very popular video game that’s been around for over a decade has now been adapted into an animated series on Netflix.  The series, Arcane: League of Legends was just released on November 6, 2021 and starring Hailee Steinfeld.  As a person who doesn’t play LoL, I was very surprised by Arcane’s story and the quality of the animation.  The title theme song is by Imagine Dragons and soundtrack is very cool.

Rottentomatoes gives the series a 100% score!  Here’s what they say:

“Newcomers should be equally enthralled by Arcane’s compelling narrative, richly developed characters … “

 Critics Consensus

“Arcane makes an arresting first impression, combining a spectacular mix of 2D and 3D animation with an emotionally compelling story to deliver a video game adaptation that could become legendary.”

Well then, this is a must see for me!  Now out on Netflix

… zen

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ALBUM REVIEW: Red (Taylor’s Version) by Taylor Swift

RATING: ★★★ / ★★★★★

You probably don’t need to be reminded of why Taylor Swift has decided to release re-recordings of her previous albums, starting with Fearless (Taylor’s Version) last year and now with Red (Taylor’s Version). However, if you somehow missed one of the biggest music controversies in recent history, here’s a quick summary: in 2019, talent manager Scooter Braun acquired the record label Big Machine and as part of the deal acquired ownership of the master recordings for the first six studio albums by Taylor Swift. Swift has been trying to buy the masters to her songs for years but she’s been offered nothing but unfavorable conditions — therefore, as a countermeasure, she is re-recording all of her six albums and so far has released two.

It’s a bold move on Taylor’s part, but lucky for her, the re-recordings have done incredibly well especially with the re-recording of her 2012 album Red. On its first day of release, Red (Taylor’s Version) has broken two Spotify records: one for the most-streamed album in a day by a female and another for the most-streamed female in a single day both in Spotify history.

It’s hard to review an album like this when Red (Taylor’s Version) is, for the most part, just a recreation of the songs of Red. There are new songs, of course, but the majority of the tracks are simply re-recorded versions of her already existing songs. The Immaculate Collection by Madonna, this isn’t — save for All Too Well, there are no new instrumentals or parts of the song here, just plain re-recordings of her previous songs.

Unfortunately for Taylor Swift, some of the songs don’t really benefit from being re-recorded. The original version of We Are Never Getting Back Together, for instance, while far from Swift’s best song at least had the energy and emotion you’d expect a bitter break-up song like it to have. In the new version, Taylor Swift just sounds lifeless and bored, especially when it comes to her spoken lines.

It’s difficult to blame her when she’s expected to still give convincing performances of experiences she’s had over a decade ago. How do you expect a singer in her 30s to sing a song about how excited she is to be 22 and still make it sound as convincing as she made it when she was actually 22?

That being said, some of the songs also benefit from being re-recorded. There’s a sense of nostalgia added to many of these songs. Taylor Swift sounds older and, in a way, that adds even more emotional depth to some of her tracks. And for anyone not wild about these songs simply being re-recordings, Swift has six new “From The Vault” tracks which should be enough to tide you over.

All in all, Red (Taylor’s Version) doesn’t always work, but for Taylor Swift fans, it’s a way to listen to versions of her songs that are hers. It’s why the “(Taylor’s Version)” at the end of these songs are so important and it’s great to know Taylor Swift finally has versions of the songs she wrote which she can call hers.

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Cycling has been a growing sport and hobby for many years but it’s popularity has erupted since the Covid pandemic.  People biking to work and for recreation is an everyday sight in Cebu.  More and more are joining the ride.  Many are quite serious about cycling.  I know three ladies who are among those who’ve gone long distances across Cebu.

How did you get into serious cycling?  What was your motivation?

Blinky de Leon.  Event Host, Product Endorser & Influencer

“ I’ve been into cycling since I was a kid. A little backstory, I was around 10 years old when my dad surprised me with my first custom-made mountain bike. I still keep it until now, in fact I had it refurbished. It’s the most sentimental thing I ever received since it was his way/gesture to catch up with me after not seeing each other for almost 6 yrs. My dad is based in Germany and he also loves cycling and makes his own bamboo bike.”


“Just a year ago though, my friend Gazini randomly, out of nowhere, picked me up from home to bike with her to the South of Cebu. I felt really excited and motivated to get back on track because it’s very nostalgic and brings back so many great memories. And since then, the rest was history. We’ve been joining different groups, tried different routes and conquered different heights. I’ve met so many cyclists with very inspiring stories in the bike community who kept me feeling motivated too. I also look forward to the sights and the adventure that comes along with it.”


Yumz Mariot. Branding & Marketing Consultant

“I used to bike along with rock and wall climbing. I am lousy with ballgames which is why. Our usual route were Talamban and Mactan but one time, managed to ship gears all the way to Dumaguete for a quick ride to Valencia, the next town located at a higher elevation. Those were days when I did it for fun and what bike I was using did not matter.”

“Fast forward to 2021, a year after the pandemic lockdown began, I realized I have been lazy to do any fitness routine. Too caught up on juggling between house chores and Work from Home deliverables (I work as a Branding and Marketing Consultant), I started to feel my body needs to move as much as my brain does. A hysical fitness routine is as important as what I eat, or what I read or watch. So I decided to invest on a decent MTB, just very recently and got myself a much necessary restart. What motivates me even more is the area where I currently reside at. It is vast, fresh, green and safe for solo bikers like me.”


Prime Sarino. Digital Media Creative

“I started biking as a young teenager and I got the idea to start it as an adult hobby 3 years ago. I was already into running and I thought it would be great to venture into another outdoor activity to keep me occupied after work hours and weekends. I was set to travel for a year so I had to put aside the idea first but came pandemic. We were all forced to stay put and everything was put on hold. Cycling became my diversion. My cyclists friends invited me to quick and short rides. I enjoyed my first 50km ride and the sceneries and routes most of all. It also helped channel a positive mindset during the hard hit season of the pandemic. Not to mention it’s also another way to stay fit when we were forced into inactivity during the quarantine.”

Next in Part 2, we ask the ladies about their cycling experiences and memorable moments…

by: Zen

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