PROP UP: How local and global influences are shaping up Cebu’s real estate landscape

The gleaming city of Cebu is not one to shy away from the spotlight. It’s a collection of old and new structures, plotted on vast rolling lands and distinguished by its expansive and colorful culture. With the city life so close to the popular beaches of the Philippines, tourists from all over the world have flocked to Cebu to view the wonders of this metropolis. It is a city of its own kind, with a richness that inspires those with discerning taste, much like interior designer Janet Lee.  

A home at Cebu Business Park that Lee designed for a young couple, which highlights timeless classic pieces.

The eye for good design is a trait inherent to Lee. Born and raised in Cebu, and a daughter of former rattan furniture exporters, she has explored much in the field of furniture since childhood. She often accompanied her father on business trips out of the country and this exposed her to different cultures.

Seeing how other countries worked on their craft made Lee believe that the furniture makers in the Philippines have better working knowledge of raw materials than any of their contemporaries abroad. Since her parents also delved into real estate, she has had first-hand experiences in renovating houses from a young age. These accumulated experiences led her down the path to become an interior designer.

Cebuanos were treated by luxury brand Louis Vuitton with a Holiday Sky Suite pop up designed by Janet Lee Design Studio.

Lee proudly recalls a couple of her greatest works to date. “One of my favorite projects was the opportunity to design for the Louis Vuitton pop-up store here in Cebu twice, in December 2018 and 2019. The timeline for the project was quite hectic since it was our first time to do an event like that, but we were honored to have been given the privilege to design for the brand.”

One surprise project that had fallen on their lap was redesigning the bedroom of Cebuana celebrity, Kim Chiu. “Kim kept putting off the renovation of her room for quite some time, even sleeping on her couch. So she approached our studio to help her out,” says Lee.

The tricky part of conceptualizing Chiu’s room, according to her, was incorporating feng shui into the design process. Chiu had a feng shui expert they worked with to ensure the room had a good ch'i.

“The process for this was a little different (in a good way) than I was accustomed to but it was pleasing to hear that Kim was happy with our work along with the fact that she is finally able to sleep on a bed now,” adds Lee.

Lee is a true stickler for her design philosophy. Her passion for the minimalist approach comes with a touch of local Cebuano inspiration.

“For me, less is more. I am a big fan of minimalism. A good example of this is Italian furniture, where there is a balance between form and function; how nothing is too bulky and every element is purposeful. Mix these pieces with a few rattan influences, and it is perfect!”

Cebu real estate is on the rise, as more Cebuanos are in the market for well-designed premium condominium units.

The wonderful trick in design is the ability to incorporate elements that are sourced abroad and within Cebu. She enjoys adding a special touch to her designs by including commissioned paintings by local artists that match the aesthetic of each project, and incorporating the popular Mactan Stone. 

​​With Cebu condominium real estate hitting record prices, a desire for premium, well-designed spaces is on every Cebuano's mind, with Lee taking the lead.

When designing condominiums, the need to adapt to the space is a must. “We always want to maximize the space that we work with.”

The inherent lack of space is always a challenge in condos as opposed to houses. She notes some issues with the structural design of the building itself. Things like low ceilings, uneven walls, leaking pipes, and exposed beams are some of the issues that she has had to deal with during renovations. “But we make it work and that is what makes the design so exciting.” 

Cebu is on the fast track toward modernity, where the community thinks locally but acts globally. Lee derives her holistic approach toward design from the natural resources and the easy vibe of Cebu, where colors and native elements mingle with each other to create resort spaces. Lee fondly remarks, “Cebu is traditional and modern, redefining the perfect blend for what interior design should look like in the present day.”