Some designers seem to value form over function. They are far too willing to sacrifice purpose in favor of appearance. However, Alexandra Claparols-Mallari is not one of those designers. She believes that it is possible to create stunning homes that feature both style and meaning. This practical philosophy is evident in her work. “I love interiors that are uncluttered, functional and still with a good design sense”, she explains. Her belief is reflected in her own personal life.
After finishing high school at the tender age of fifteen, Alexandra found herself confused as to what she should take up in college. Following the advice of her parents, she pursued a degree in AB Interdisciplinary Studies at the Ateneo de Manila University. Inspired by the art lessons that she has been taking since she was 8 in Bacolod City, she considered a career as a painter once she graduated from college. However, she says that her father was not comfortable with the idea at first. “He said most painters became famous after they are dead”, she begins. “My father was skeptical since he believed all of us needed to have a good college education even though we were women. He believed that we should not rely on a husband for a living, so we were all encouraged to become professionals”, Alexandra continued.
Taking this into consideration, Alexandra’s father encouraged her to cross-enroll in painting and interior design at University of Santo Tomas (UST). Since she already had her degree, she only needed to take the major subjects. “I was carrying my canvases and oil paints on some days and my T-square and tracing paper tubes on the others. These tubes were fashioned with Pringles cans taped together as those plastic tubes were not available then”, she reminisces.
Before her junior year, Alexandra decided to drop the painting subjects and continue with interior design. “Our mentors then favored surrealism, something that I did not do, because I was an impressionist by heart. I felt that I did not have enough angst to paint the pictures to give me high grades. They also seemed to give the male students the bigger break”, she shares. “I did not belong there but I figured that painting will always be with me. I can do that anytime in the future. I have never turned back since.”
Armed with a BFA in Interior Design from UST and later, an AAS Interior Design from Parsons School of Design, New York, she began to be recognized for her restrained hand. “I was a minimalist since I was school. My mentors were not too thrilled with my designs. I was designing kitchens with plain or simple paneled doors then. I got comments such as, ‘research some more’. I learned that I had to rely on my personal conviction and intuition to succeed because period styles was the name of the game then. My classmates’ plates with red velvet festoons (swags) and cascades (jabots) got the A”, she muses.
Asked about her design inspiration, Alexandra claims, “I have always admired simple and streamlined interiors. I admire the designs of Tadao Ando, Renzo Piano, Philippe Starck and Asian modernists – there are so many young and extremely talented designers out there. If you look at groundbreaking designs all over the world, they are very modern. We don’t have to look very far – our Asian neighbors have produced awe-inspiring designs. They have managed to integrate their culture in contemporary style.”
As she continues to be acclaimed for her influence in the local design industry, Alexandra indulges in another passion: cooking. “My family has always loved good food”, she says. “Family get-togethers revolved around food, food was always the topic of our conversations and travel itineraries was patterned after finding what was good to eat, rather than things to buy. None of us entered the culinary field as it was not yet considered an acceptable profession then.” She is making up for it by taking cooking classes. “I have always been a competent cook but cooking classes have taught me added flavors and techniques. Through these cooking classes, I have made friends with an incredible group of housewives who share this ‘obsession’. My husband calls us the ‘Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants'”, she adds with a laugh.
The long, laborious but love-filled hours in the kitchen have given Alexandra personal insight on how to design it, in addition to the other spaces in the home. “I know how the kitchen should be – how it should look and how it should work”, she claims. “Since I spend so much time in the kitchen myself, I am conscious of the needs and preferences of the modern housewife. I hire a good carpenter and make sure that I develop and execute a great design.”
As the head of finance of the Philippine Institute of Interior Designers and as a member of the faculty at Philippine School of Interior Design for over two decades, Alexandra has valuable advice to share: “Learn from your mistakes, try not to repeat them and move on. Not all your projects will be magazine perfect. Make your clients happy – that is what counts.” Considering her reputation and body of work, this renowned designer and food enthusiast certainly practices what she preaches.
Written by Therese Dehesa
Photographed by Mark Jacob (portrait)