Design

How to Transform a Manila Flat Into a New York-Style Home

Look to the Upper East Side for chic, classic, and glamorous design inspiration.
IMAGE Miguel Nacianceno
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Stepping into the grand foyer of Ronna Reyes Sieh’s flat is like being transported to Manhattan’s Upper East Side. In fact, there may be a moment when you are not quite sure where you are until you catch a glimpse of the sweeping panoramic view of Makati from her floor to ceiling windows—exactly the feeling the homeowner had hoped to elicit when she set about renovating the 50th-floor home. She interviewed several interior designers, but when she met the talented sister-duo, Cynthia and Ivy Almario, again Ronna instinctively knew that they were the ones. “They really understood what I wanted without imposing. This home is my taste—they just elevated the look. There was no way I could get it to this level of glamour on my own,” says Ronna.


The Almarios took a cue from her love of traditional interiors, and were able to recreate classic New York details. Ivy, who specializes in interior architecture, started by constructing generously proportioned paneled molding and cove ceilings throughout the home. For the walls, the Siehs decided on an atmospheric shade of blue-gray, a challenge for the exacting designers who would only be content with the perfect tone. “There are so many tonalities of gray. We were lucky because we got the right shade on the second try,” recalls Cynthia. One thing Ronna was adamant about was that she did not want a white ceiling, nor did she want it to match the walls. When she suggested putting silver leaf on it, Cynthia was open to her client’s idea, and found silver leaf wallpaper. It perfectly complemented the shade of gray they had chosen and this special ceiling has become one of the highlights of the residence. The same silver leaf wallpaper was also used on the walls of the powder room. Ronna, who loves to paint, assisted a professional muralist in painting a delicate chinoiserie-inspired garden scene with birds, on top of this wallpaper. Her most significant contribution was to work three butterflies into the scene, one to represent each of her daughters.

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Her level of involvement throughout the renovations was consistent. “This wasn’t just a designer designing a home, it was also the homeowner enjoying the design process. When Ronna found her dining room chandeliers in the States, she messaged me, saying, ‘I found this— what do you think?’ I confirmed that the size worked and told her that she needed to get two,” Cynthia says with a smile. These vintage-looking chandeliers now hang over the grand custom molave dining room table. The table is framed by a contemporary Philippine painting and a large mirror which offers both good feng shui and the illusion of more space.


Off the dining area, the mirrored French doors with nickel finish were inspired by a look she had repeatedly seen on a trip to Paris. She knew she wanted to reproduce these in her home and they now serve as a beautiful and elegant solution to separate the family’s public and private spaces. The designers originally planned a cozy sitting area with a velvet sofa and chairs between the dining room and the living room for spillover when entertaining. Despite concern that it would make their space feel smaller, this unexpected and inviting alcove has become one of the family’s favorite spots. After school the girls study and have snacks around the oval-shaped glass table with metalwork bamboo legs. “Little did they realize it was really going to be used every day by the children,” says Cynthia.


The girls, who are close in age, also enjoy spending time in their own room. Initially inspired by Laduree blue, they played with the shade until it was just perfect. The girls sleep on a customized bunk bed built for all three of them, which was conceptualized by their father, and they each have their own desk and chair monogrammed with their initials and birth year.

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Transforming the den into an office nook for Ronna, the Almarios created an efficient and beautiful workspace. They accessorized the space with her collection of chinoiserie, throw pillows, and books. A study in blue and white, the room is a mix of new and old pieces coming together to make a chic yet lived-in and practical environment. Opposite her office is an elegant and fully functional living room where the Sieh family reads and relaxes around a shagreen coffee table. Custom-made in Cebu, it perfectly matches the shade of gray on the walls. A work from Philippine artist Marcel Antonio hangs above the tufted sofa which has been upholstered in a plush gray velvet fabric from Zoffany, while underfoot, a patterned Missoni carpet picks up all the colors of the home, completing the look. Two velvet swivel lounge chairs fronting the window were Stephen’s idea and enable the couple to take advantage of their stunning view—a perfect spot for watching the sunset over cocktails. Ultimately, the home was an interchange of ideas between the designers and the homeowners. Together with the Almario sisters, Ronna succeeded in creating a fully functional home where every corner is purposeful and enjoyed by the family on a daily basis. “Now this is my dream home,” she says contentedly. “This could be our New York apartment, but it is in Manila, and I am really so happy here. I love being home.”

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Jennifer Baum Lagdameo
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