Building as well as decorating your own space comes with excitement, and the daunting task of selecting the right color palette, the appropriate furniture, and the ideal interior design firm to orchestrate it all. The steps toward this success always begin with the relationship between the designer and the client. You’ll find that this is a practice done religiously at UNNA Interior Design, a firm founded and spearheaded by interior designer Rizelle Alvarez.

Alvarez understands well that, as a designer, it is a priority to put client needs, vision, and personality first before adding elements of her own. “At UNNA, we like to get the reference of our client before we put our own spin to it. After all, it’s our client’s home. They are the ones who get to enjoy it, to live in it. It’s important to us that we create the perfect space for our clients.”

The varying textures of a space add dimension and depth.

This concept of putting the client above all else goes in line with Alvarez’s belief in building strong relationships with the people she works with. After all, she works in tandem with her husband JJ Alvarez, a contractor.

“There have been many instances when a client asked me to recommend a contractor. Luckily, I always have a contact,” she noted laughing. “With our last project, we handled construction and the design. What’s great about that is the client can coordinate directly with me. I especially enjoyed this since he turned out very pleased with the completion.”

A blend of modern contemporary pieces with mid-century elements.

The vision of the client is best balanced by the knowledge and skill of a professional interior designer. When it comes to a preferred style, Alvarez puts her own spin on the modern minimalist look, with a twist of mid-century and a dash of the unexpected.

“I really look up to Kelly Wearstler,” Alvarez said. “For my birthday, my sister surprised me with a trip to visit a hotel Kelly designed. What really stood out for me is how she envisioned and created these unique spaces that people love.”

It comes, therefore, as a goal for Alvarez to attain this sense of trust with her clients. “Everyone wants her (Wearstler) work. I really studied her works so I can learn how to balance both the vision of the client and my own into the design.”

Playful details, no matter how small, bring a sense of creativity to any space.

As a design firm based in Cebu, Alvarez enjoys frequent trips to Manila to shop for furniture pieces. “When we source materials, we usually purchase outside of Cebu. One of my favorite projects is one I did for a penthouse in Marco Polo. I loved this one because the client gave us creative freedom and I was able to purchase furniture pieces I had been eyeing for some time.”

In special cases like this, she stressed the importance of picking up on the language of a client. “There are times when clients grant us the freedom to express, but give small hints we have to pick up on. Usually, it’s acknowledging even the slightest of details that makes the biggest impact in the success of the project.”

The headboard adds a refreshing splash of color to this neutral space. 

As a young firm in the COVID-19 pandemic, adapting has been a challenging feat, but not an impossible one. “We try to adapt by being online, with a proper system in place. This need to be visible has boosted my use of social media platforms and made me understand the importance of a good website,” she said.

One tip she has learned is to use an online form to answer FAQs, weed out non-serious clients, and give more time to those who are ready to begin their design journey with her firm.

“A challenge I remember well is an instance wherein my client could not distinguish the shade of white for a sofa she had asked me to purchase. Unfortunately, the colors of a product aren’t well reflected through a computer screen. So, to give her some peace of mind, I personally went to check the piece.”

A carefully curated display in a subtle two-toned space. 

For Alvarez, it’s all about assurance and letting the client know that it’s okay. There are moments in design when she must inform the client that certain designs cannot be executed, but this is done with the utmost care. “When we present our designs, it is always done through a mood board. Early on, we showcase the swatches, fabrics, and textures. The most particular thing in interior is the feel and touch of the materials.”

This room with a view is styled with asymmetrical elements that draw attention to the space. 

The client may not always agree with the presentation, but UNNA Interior Design comes prepared with a series of options already done beforehand. “To me, the way the client feels about the design is what I prioritize. When given negative feedback, I really opt to meet them in person, of course, with safety protocols. I try to address the problems right away and try to give them a sense of comfort and assurance that their dream home is being created by the both of us.”