After eight years in the publishing industry, former fashion editor Maureen Disini felt it was time for a change. So she gave her notice, packed her bags, and headed to Milan to study fashion design. Her studies in Italy led to an internship back in Manila with fashion designer Rhett Eala. But Maureen soon returned to Europe to further her education in Paris and London—including a stint at Central Saint Martins, studying vintage bridal wear—before landing back in Manila, where she launched her eponymous collection in 2011. “I can’t really say I ‘launched’ it. Initially I just wanted to make clothes and consign them to stores,” she demurs. However, after designing one dress for a socialite, “things just fell into place. I had never thought I would become the fashion designer I am today.”
Things just falling into place seems to be a constant theme in this designer’s charmed life. When she was engaged to a Manila-based German finance executive, her father presented the couple with their current Makati flat as an engagement gift. Although Maureen admits she is not an interior designer, she had her heart set on directing the renovation and decorating the unit herself. Not impossible for a natural designer with a high level of taste, but her challenge lay in decorating in a style which did not come naturally to her.
I do still like the 'more is more' aesthetic, but I have embraced the minimalist look and that is certainly translating to my work.
Maureen grew up surrounded by a very “more is more” aesthetic and was perfectly content to maintain that look. However, her husband was adamant that their new home be more minimalist. “He said, ‘if you are going to decorate, I would really like things to look clean and simple.’ It was a big struggle for me!” she recalls. But trusting her instincts, she refused to get an interior decorator. “My aesthetic was completely the opposite at the beginning of this project,” she confesses. “Thank god for Architectural Digest—it was a life saver!”
An additional challenge was that the couple’s home would also need to play the role of the up-and-coming designer’s atelier, with space for Maureen to receive clients and conduct fittings. Fortunately she was able to employ the assistance of her Vancouver-based brother, architect Ricky Disini. He drew up blueprints for the 275-square-meter unit, which Maureen was able to follow with the help of a general contractor.
The home was thoughtfully divided into public and private spaces and Maureen decided on a neutral color scheme. She chose a sophisticated black and white look and started by having her floors painted a deep black topped with a layer of lacquer. She also decided on white walls with French molding inspired by the summer she spent studying fashion business at Istituto Marangoni in Paris. She customized the moldings by making them thinner so that they would better highlight her art collection, which naturally fits into her black and white color scheme.
A collection of mannequins in the living room
“I designed this space specifically to hang my Arturo Luz pieces,” she says, referring to a series of six black and white sketches—studies for the artist’s paintings. The framed works on paper line the wall of her dining room, centered in a space custom-designed to house them. The works were gifts from her mother who is good friends with the National Artist. “They are like the blueprints for his paintings. He actually doesn’t sell these, I know we are so fortunate to have them,” she shares.
In addition to Luz’s sketches, the dining area also boasts an eclectic mix of artwork including a large-scale photograph by Manila-based American photographer Tom Epperson and two white sculptural female figures by Filipina artist Nikki Luna. Maureen’s collection of black and white Fornasetti plates rests on a white credenza designed by Karim Rashid for BoConcept. A pair of paintings by Filipino artist Rico Lascano, purchased by Maureen’s mother at an auction in New York, and a black and white work from Juvenal Sanso, decorate the back wall. Center stage, the 12-seater glass dining table is elegantly paired with Philippe Starck’s Louis Ghost chairs.
A fiber sculpture by Nikki Luna adorns the wall
Despite a home full of beautiful artwork, Maureen doesn’t see herself as a collector. “I just like putting nice stuff on my wall,” she explains. A big fan of Philippine contemporary art, Maureen loves young contemporary artists like Jake Verzosa, Nikki Luna, and Olivia d’Aboville. In the living room, four of Verzosa’s striking black-and-white photographs from his series Last Tattooed Women of Kalinga hang above a minimalist charcoal gray Roche Bobois sofa set. The L-shaped configuration includes a double daybed and an ottoman used as a side table to display some of her favorite fashion tomes. Her coffee table from Natuzzi has been decorated with books and barnacles from W/17 along with a single orchid, which, Maureen says, “perks the place up.” Chairs from Moroso and simple lamps from Novamobili complete and define the serene space.
The living room features a Roche Bobois sofa set, a Natuzzi coffee table, and framed photographs by Jake Verzosa.
To accent the minimalist vibe, Maureen keeps a few key pieces to add character, and vintage antlers purchased from flea markets in Paris and Berlin are her favorites. “At one point I was obsessed with antlers and I kept bringing them home. I would go to Paris and hoard antlers until I had too many and I had to give some away,” she reveals. The select pieces that she did keep are elegantly displayed flat on tables throughout the home.
Alternative decoration is also provided by chic black mannequins—arranged in a seemingly random manner—that line the edge of the living area. Looking like an edgy installation fit for the home and atelier of a bespoke designer, Maureen explains that the area has become very chic default storage for her collection of mannequins. “It looks like an art installation, but they are actually just here because of a lack of space,” she smiles.
Throughout the unit it is clear that Maureen didn’t have to sacrifice comfort for style and was able to successfully achieve both. The designer’s favorite spot in her home is a reading nook with a comfortable leather daybed from BoConcept. It is there that she enjoys “zoning out” at the end of a busy day with a view of the Makati skyline, surrounded by her white fiber sculpture from Nikki Luna and a dip-dyed abaca piece from French-Filipina artist Olivia d’Aboville, who also happens to be one of her clients.
An artwork by Olivia d’Aboville
In addition to her passion for art, Maureen loves to travel and is off at least once a month to exotic domestic or international locales. She takes at least five buying trips a year and these journeys are a big inspiration for her designs. “Most of the fabrics I use in my collection are sourced on my travels. I attract clients because of the unique textiles I bring in—it gives me sort of an edge.” Bangkok is one of her favorite travel destinations and sourcing spots—her self-proclaimed “happy place” for fabrics. Unsurprisingly, she is currently in love with some black and white silk organza fabric recently purchased from there.
When asked if “going minimal” has had an influence on her work, she explains, “I do still like the ‘more is more’ aesthetic but I have embraced the minimalist look and that is certainly translating to my work. I have lived in a black and white home for the past three years, I have been wearing a lot of black and white, and I have been making a lot of black and white dresses. So it does influence my work. Everything is black and white now—I really love black and white.”