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Space transformer



RECTANGULAR pillows of various sizes invite guests to relax and snuggle.

Jose Luis O. Villanueva, or Tito to his family and friends, is my Facebook friend. All these years, as I saw his posts showing his various projects, I always marveled at how he transformed spaces into elegant rooms while keeping true to their original purposes, whether for conversations or for relaxing all by oneself.

Tito grew up seeing a lot of beautiful things and spaces. His mother is Nena Ocampo Villanueva, now retired, but who will always be remembered for being one of the pioneer professional interior designers of the Philippines. She was a co-founder of the Philippine Institute of Interior Design. It is to her influence and presence in his life, especially in his growing up years, that Tito attributes his choice of vocation. It also helped that at a young age, he took charge of the family’s furniture manufacturing business. This experience gave him both the aesthetic and financial perspectives one needs in pursuing a career in the creative industry.

An element that runs through Tito’s creations is simplicity. He can be minimalist without necessarily creating boring and empty spaces.

Tito shared with the Daily Tribune “before and after” photos showing how he transformed a messy condo unit into a comfortably elegant townhouse.

Daily Tribune (DT): Why did you choose to become an interior designer?
Tito Villanueva (TV): My mother is Nena Ocampo Villanueva, one of the pioneer professional interior designers of the country and a founding member of the Philippine Institute of Interior Design.

I guess I became an Interior designer myself the way some families are doctors or lawyers because of assimilation. It was part of our upbringing to be surrounded by order and beautiful things. I would accompany my mother to her projects as I was getting older. I enjoyed the start-to-finish process including renovations. We are also a family of architects and interior designers, notably a granduncle, Architect Fernando H. Ocampo.

DT: Where did you train?
TV: I recall training by simply attending to the furniture manufacturing side of the trade while I was still in high school. I would inspect construction sites too when possible especially when I was ready in college. That enhanced my interest in the field even though I graduated with a business degree in De La Salle University ahead of becoming an Interior designer professionally.

DT: In what way did your mother influence you in your approach to design?

TV: I was influenced by spatial planning on the onset and color combination. Of course, from experience, I developed my keen eye for storage and space planning even more so that many projects are getting smaller than those days in the past.

DT: What makes a Tito Villanueva project unique and unmistakably a Tito Villanueva creation?
TV: I don’t do a cookie cutter look for my projects, although they are often described by many as very elegant interiors without being over the top. I have such knowledge of restraint in my staging and accessorizing. I like colors and am not afraid to mix patterns. Though I am an earth tone autumn color advocate more often, I adopt to what most clients really like. I adjust to the personality of the client. After all, it isn’t I living in the space.

THIS kitchen could use a make-over and Tito gave it a state-of-the-art feel.


A BEDROOM that was an eyesore transformed into a beautiful space.

TITO turned the lackluster toilet and bath into a gem.


DT: What do you look for in a client?
TV: I guess I don’t look for clients; instead they look for us. I would prefer a client who knows my work because someone who knows my work recommended me to them. I also prefer a client who has seen my work before we talk. The knowledge of what i can produce is very important. It is easier also to deal with clients who know what their restrictions are and know somehow what they like, given their budget.

DT: What would make you accept a project?
TV: I actually accept any project but for a good reason. I like to advocate beauty and function without having to break your bank account. I’m a very practical designer who acknowledges budget. I’ve done several for rent spaces, and small and huge projects. What I don’t like are clients who know it all and more than we do.

DT: What have been some of your favorite projects and why?
TV: Storage and order is the key element for my design philosophy. I don’t think I have a favorite project but more often my favorite client would be someone who would trust and let me interpret their needs and easily understand funding and make us earn from it too. Often people think we should be paid only this much because it’s just designing, in which case, I would then tell them to do it themselves. Intellectual concept has a value. Only we can determine its worth.

DT: What have been your most difficult designing challenges and how did you overcome them?
TV: Oftentimes the most difficult projects are those with very tiny space and the client asks for the moon and the stars to have so many things in the place itself. What do I do? I do not accept the project! We are here to help and find solutions but if the client knows more than you and insists on what they want, there is no other solution than drop the project. And it has happened to me twice.

DT: What is your aim when you design?
TV: My aim in designing is to find comfort and luxury at a minimal cost to the client. It is great to show we can do luxury at a fraction of the cost versus “very expensive therefore beautiful.”

DT: Who among Filipino and foreign designers do you admire?
TV: I admire the works of the Almario sisters, the Antonio brothers and Onglao in the local scene.. Kelly Hoppen, Vicente Wolf and John Saladino in the American scene.

DT: How would you describe a Filipino space or home?
TV: I would be lying if I said we do not copy American or European looks because we do. What is important to me is we adopt to the climate and materials suitable to our climate, colors to our location and really practical knowledge of hot and cold spaces.