Maximizing style for apartment living

TALKING DESIGN - Christian Espiritu () - July 28, 2001 - 12:00am
Minimalism in interiors is a tough act to follow. It’s difficult to achieve unless of course one is willing to throw almost all if not all of his worldly possessions away! Getting into it even halfway is a feat only the seasoned proponents of the movement can actually accomplish. Viewing the sleek advertising layouts of minimalism purveyors such as Calvin Klein is so refreshing, yet a second glance will remind you that those flat sheets and pillows lying on beds devoid of headboards – well, yes they are a handsome sight and a breath of fresh air. But how, one will wonder, can they stay as clean cut and sleek as the pictures would suggest in a real and harsh world we live and, more to the point, sleep in?

In a situation where a choice has to be made between comfort and beauty, the wise and the practical would opt for the former. The wise would only bring in the things that would make his life comfortable and easy, no more, no less. On the other hand the lover of beauty would bargain and will include an additional item or two – so there may be a dash of élan to be brought into the scene.

We recently chanced upon a decorating case that would best demonstrate this issue. J. Antonio Mendoza, a talented young interior designer, took Talking Design to a moderately-sized three-bedroom apartment in a duplex. I was informed the space was formerly inundated with bad construction details enough to discourage a designer from accepting the commission to redo the place.

The luxuriousness of the present apartment of 37-year-old stockbroker Dino Bate makes it hard to imagine the place before J. Antonio Mendoza started waving his magic wand inside the place. The cleverly configured spaces on the ground floor ooze with airiness and roominess. For instance, one side of the living room employs the old but well proven trick of mirrors doubling its actual expanse.

One major design feat in the place is demonstrated in the wall railing of the staircase leading to the second floor bedrooms. Cluttered-looking turned banisters were boxed inside the curved wall serving as sturdy railing for the stairs. Unnecessary trimmings or moldings were either dispensed with or erased and rendered invisible with the aid of paints blending them somehow into the ceiling.

Small spaces are almost impossible to furnish with pieces off the rack or in store showrooms. To suit the space limitations, these pieces needed to be custom built. Luckily this is an area where the young Mendoza rises to the occasion. His penchant for designing simple and pared down contemporary furniture came in perfectly handy. He pulled some from his wide arsenal of designs and had some of his boys fabricate them to his specification. One piece that makes this writer drool is a sideboard majestically standing on one side of the dining room. This Barbara Barry-inspired piece is handsomely coordinated with the dining table comfortably seating eight people. A thick slab of clear glass resting on a rectangular pedestal echoing the architectural treatment of the sideboard becomes the good-looking dining table.

From Dino Bate’s wide inventory of modern paintings by Filipino greats – the likes of BenCab, Gus Albor, Vicente Manasala and the young Inggco – the designer had an easy time creating contemporary and very handsome settings. Objects and other accessories inhabiting the scene are mostly Zen in appeal and feeling. They were purchased by Bate himself during his many business trips abroad. Candles resembling cubes of alabaster accompanied by earth-colored bowls strengthen the continental savvy of the entire place.

In contemporary settings lights – whether hanging from the ceiling, standing on the floor or propped on side tables – play a stellar role. To accomplish this, Mendoza collaborated with Winnie Rodrigo of the famous Pietro Collection. Sleek and modern lamp bases were provided with tubular-shaped shades resulting in lamps that harmonize suavely with the pared and spare lines of the rest of the inventories present in the rooms.

Curtains are a must in a residence where the neighbors are just a few meters away. To accomplish this important requirement, Dupioni silk woven in tweed fashion were generously used in all the windows. In beautiful jewel tones and burnt sienna they are paired with traditional window sheers with wooden blinds by Levelor. The custom-designed cushy sofas and loveseats were upholstered in lambskin-like materials from Gretchen Belinger. More Dupioni make it to the scene via sleek throw pillows on the sofas.

One outstanding and effective device introduced by Mendoza in the living room is the duo of dividers he executed out of dark hardwood highlighted by rattan canning. Though they are a trifle too traditional in design, they marry well with the mirror panels on one side. The other is more than successful in concealing the thing people love to hate: the humongous upright air conditioner.

Being commissioned to do the Dino Bate apartment was no trip to easy street. Ask any expert and he will tell you employing a minimalist approach in a cramped space is like asking for the moon. Gladly for both gentlemen, designer and client are equally in love with the collaboration’s outcome. Proving this, the entire staff of J. Antonio Gonzales Mendoza is currently busy on the drawing board on a forthcoming house – yes, again for Dino Bate.
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For questions & suggestions, write: xtnesp@hotmail.com.
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