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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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