Design of the times

Published July 4, 2020, 12:42 PM

by Angela Casco

Interior designers share how they survive and thrive in the new normal  

By Johannes L. Chua 

A lot of professionals in the real estate industry would be affected in the coming days, especially those who rely on face-to-face interaction or personalized client service. Developers, engineers, and architects are finding ways to “work around” the present situation, which calls for the use of technology and online tools to assess a client’s preference, to submit a blueprint, or to talk to a team on any structural issues. 

Also a vital part of this industry are the interior designers. They may be the “last” ones to do their work before a building or house is inaugurated, but their skills transform a dull, gray room into a functional space, and sometimes, a work of art. 

The pandemic has affected thousands of interior designers in the country. Most, if not all, rely on a “personal touch” to know a client’s design preference. Interior designers even go to the extent of observing how a client talks, dresses, or puts on accessories just to get a deeper insight. The end result would be a space that combines the interior designers’ skill, with the personality and vibe of the dweller. 

Manila Bulletin Lifestyle talks to four interior designers on how they survived the abrupt stop when the lockdown was imposed in the country, and how they are coping (and transforming) in the new normal, especially with restrictions on movement and face-to-face meetings.    


Dianne M. Versoza

Proprietor/ Principal interior designer

VRSO Interiors 

Before the pandemic, I was very busy. Thank God, I was able to turn over two residential projects a week before the lockdown. I was supposed to start on a new construction project, but it was postponed. Other projects in line were also put on hold because I couldn’t go out to source materials and items.

At the start of the ECQ, I can’t believe that a lockdown was happening. It was an unusual situation because I was so used to being busy all the time. At first, I was “stuck” and felt I couldn’t do anything with the situation. But after a few days, I came up with a list of things on how I could improve myself professionally. 

I updated my design portfolio, posted my previous and current projects in social media, finished all my pending works, and improved all necessary documents for presentation. Then I began to see that this crisis was also an opportunity. Opportunity because after being quarantined at home for a long time, a lot of people are now asking my help on how to improve, upgrade, or renovate their homes. People want to have a change of scenery, or to start their dream home project they have been delaying for years.   

In my view, personal meetings with clients can’t be totally avoided, but it can be minimized in a way. Safety for me and my clients is always a priority. What I’ve done is have the material samples delivered to me by my suppliers, then I set up a group chat with clients for better communication, and prepare detailed proposals to avoid miscommunications. Sometimes, I also do Zoom meetings to present the design to clients. Though it is more challenging to explain online compared to face-to-face meetings, the good thing is, everyone is adapting to the change. 


Ma. Jenova M. Tan

Freelance interior designer

I was visiting projects sites, doing plans, material sourcing, and meetups with clients. Suddenly, the quarantine was imposed. I admit that I was shocked at first. I felt powerless to do anything, especially in my profession, as we need to constantly interact with people. 

All plans were cancelled, construction works were stopped, and workers were sent home. Like a lot of employees and service providers, I felt very anxious because of the uncertain nature of the pandemic. But I had to make the most of the quarantine, which is why I finished all my pending works and improved my skills on technical drawings. 

When it was already okay to go around Metro Manila, it was challenging to adjust to the new normal. Since construction work was already allowed, I visited the sites of my projects and we observed physical distancing, so it was quite “different” to communicate with people. I also came up with design strategies on how to “separate” groups of people and, at the same time, maximize the full potential of that space. It was really different from before when we would design common spaces where people could come together and interact with each other. 

What I learned is that the new normal is just another challenge along the way. If we keep on upgrading our skills, innovating our designs, and looking at the bright side of things, we can survive any crisis. 


Christine Manalo-Villamora

Principal interior designer

CMV Interior Designs

The start of the year was a big leap for me and my team. Aside from having projects and commitments, we started to showcase through our YouTube channel the importance of interior design. This is to educate people as there is a lack of content online about what we do professionally in the country. 

When the ECQ was imposed, my immediate reaction was to block all negativity, especially the anger and divisiveness online. I focused my attention on positive things to improve myself and the company. I realized that the quarantine was a time to “reconnect” with my fellow designers, industry partners, contractors, and compare notes with them on how we could survive this most challenging time in our history together. 

I didn’t mope around, but instead, I “self-updated” with the latest products and services in the interior design world. I encouraged suppliers to conduct e-meetings. My team and I were able to develop what we called CAIXA Decor box, an online tool where we would “meet” clients online, design perspectives and coordinate through email, and have the printed version of the design delivered right at their doorsteps.   

With that initiative, I also realized that we needed to develop a support system, an “ecosystem” where designers, suppliers, contractors, etc. could collaborate and partner with one another. We need to be stronger and more resilient in the new normal. And that can only happen if we work together for the common good. 


Jasmine Ancheta

Founder / Principal interior designer

Jas Ancheta Interiors

Before the pandemic, I had several residential and commercial projects. I also own an art gallery called The Cabinet at Canterbury. We had already done several exhibits and we have plans to host a lot more. The lockdown, however, forced us to stop all activities. 

At first, it felt “quiet.” I took that as a sign to reflect and to rekindle connections with my family members. But I also saw firsthand the devastation of this pandemic, especially in the lives of construction workers who didn’t have the means to go back to their provinces. I gave food and relief to these workers, the “silent heroes” of the construction industry.

As the days went on, I told myself I couldn’t waste any more time. I enrolled in Zoom seminars on interior design. I watched free tutorials, and updated myself with lessons from photography to marketing classes online. In one of those sessions, I was inspired to form a new venture involving plants and baskets, which I would launch soon.  

What I learned from the seminars and the quarantine is that now more than ever, interior design is very important, but it has to adapt to the new normal. Interior designers must tap online platforms to connect, or use technology to sell their products or services, in order to survive. Allied industries, such as furniture, lighting, art, decor, etc. are all doing the same, too. 

I know a lot of friends who are involved in different industries and they also feel that the only way for them to survive is to embrace the new normal, adapt to it, and move forward. Interior designers have the capacity to inspire people through design, to lift the mood of surroundings, and to keep spaces “intimate” even with physical distancing. We can do that with the right combination of colors, furniture, lighting, and decor.