Much like when a painter takes on her portrait or when a writer pens her life story, there is difficulty when an interior designer builds her own house. Yes, she can do whatever she wants—her wildest ideas, experimental techniques—but without the guiding hand of a subject, editor, or client, how does she distill these dreams into a cohesive piece? “I had so many ideas that I wanted to put in,” shares Tessa Alindogan, the nest maker, who had decided that after living in a condominium for several years it was time to plant permanent roots somewhere. The screening of concepts took quite a while, she admits. Nevertheless, after 14 months of building and dreaming, her three-level home in the south turned out exactly how she wanted it.
The house’s shell is very modern, but Tessa points out that her aesthetic is really a mix of this prevailing trend and the throwback vibe of the midcentury movement plus a bit of neo-baroque. She sums it up this way: “When I design, it’s always very simple. The lines are very clean. There’s symmetry and balance. But I also like adding something dramatic—a surprise that leaves a lasting impression.”
The three-level house evokes no-fuss simplicity with its mix of modern, mid-century, and neo-baroque styles; Dominated by a tactile rug, the living room of interior designer Tessa Alindogan is washed in her favorite shades of black, white, and gray.
The designer points to the powder room, which, though tiny, fully captures all the tenets of Tessa’s aesthetic. She asks, “Can you see the face on the wall?” Tessa whips out her iPhone, switches to camera mode, and holds it up until the sleeping face reveals itself on the screen. The black and white tiles form the features of Endymion, a character in Greek mythology. For this mosaic, Tessa sent a photo of the “surpassing beauty” to a local tile company, which, after digitizing the image, delivered it back in tile form. “We just followed a pattern when we installed them,” she says.
Art is very much important to Tessa, who herself is an abstract painter. She is drawn to the human form, faces, hands, and torsos in particular. In fact, there is a sculpture of hand on the bathroom vanity (a very appropriate reminder to wash yours each time you visit here). She also wants guests “to feel at home” in her house, so there are a lot of thoughtful accoutrements, including bottles of Eau de Cartier or Bvlgari Aqua on the vanity.
An expressionist work by Marcel Antonio is the first thing you’d see upon entering the front door; the master suite includes a private kitchen decorated with Fornasetti prints.
The powder room feels like an intimate black box—all mirrors and glass and glossy black and white tiles—but the rest of the home possesses a freer feel. “If you notice, all the spaces open up to each other,” remarks Tessa as she moves through the ground floor, where various entertainment areas are located. “The kitchen opens up to the dining room, and from the two living rooms, you can walk out to the deck, garden, and pool. The flow is very easy to navigate.” This sense of openness is amplified even more by sliding doors that, aside from connecting each area seamlessly, let light shine through, too.
Tessa explains why she chose to build a three-floor house. If she had created a one-floor bungalow, “we wouldn’t have a space for a garden or pool,” she says. Privacy was also another consideration. “Sometimes I want to feel like I’m all alone in the house. At the end of the day, when my staff are in their rooms, I feel like there’s no one here but me.”
Tessa moves into the first living room, a showcase of her design mastery. Here, Tessa proclaims her love for black and white, the classic combination that, in her hands, goes beyond its tidy connotation and into the creation of drama. Against this backdrop, several anchor pieces hold court. The most impressive is the Fortuny Lamp by Mariano Fortuny. Like a stage light or a lighthouse lamp, the overlarge fixture possesses an industrial feel. When Tessa turns it on, it casts a powerful yet moody glow. “It’s super bright,” she says. “When there’s a party in this room, I don’t turn the ceiling lights on anymore.”
The sense of openness is amplified by sliding doors that, aside from connecting each area seamlessly, let light shine through; a collection of natural and found items, such as old finials and a preserved sampalok pod.
A curious piece is askew on the black rug. Created by Thomas Heatherwick, the Spun Chair is like a giant sculptural top. Tessa deposits herself within its bowl-like seat, rocks forward to gain momentum, and then pushes her feet off the floor. The action sets her spinning round and round in the room. “Cool, right?” she says after the joy ride. “You’re not going to fall whichever way you spin. My guests love it. That’s what I mean. It’s a simple environment, but there are pieces that you’d talk about.”
Every inch of every space is really an opportunity for design, another platform to pique interest with highly visual pieces. On the ceiling, the Gino Sarfatti pendant candelabra features noodly arms that end in pygmy bulbs. The Achille Castiglioni Taraxacum 88 chandelier found in the adjacent second living room in contrast looks like a tight cluster of glass giant bubbles.
This more informal sala has been designed for durable use because it is nearest the outside spaces. The floor is left naked (save for a decorative cowhide rug), while the seating is mostly leather. The steel frame of the Diamond Chair by Harry Bertoia can withstand getting wet, as well. Tessa really has a great attitude about her precious furniture pieces. “You know how in some people’s houses you feel scared to sit down because you might break something?” she says. “In my house, I don't really mind anything. You're supposed to use all of these.”
The accessories are of interest. Set on top of a plinth, a bone-white preserved vine looks like a frozen tornado. On one wall, Tessa displays her own abstract painting, which is, of course, in black and white. There is also a little red chair in the corner. Tessa makes a face, saying that it's “not really supposed to be in here.” Nevertheless, its slight off-ness adds to insouciant vibe of the room.
A round metal table with a clock face adds whimsy to the interiors; the kitchen bar is for quick meals; in the living room, the top-like Spun Chair by Thomas Heatherwick allows you to rock sideways or spin in a circle.
As Tessa crosses the foyer, she points to another important piece of art, an expressionist work by Marcel Antonio. This image of a man, who appears as if he is about to reach out and grab you, is the first thing you'd see upon entering the front door. “I chose this painting because I needed something colorful in this neutral space,” she remarks. Tessa is somewhat of a collector and almost all her spaces feature works by Filipino painters such as H.R. Ocampo (living room), Ronald Ventura (den), and Emmanuel Garibay (dining room) and the sculptor Julie Lluch (hallway).
In the modular kitchen, Tessa commissioned an artist to do a mural of words. She had always liked “Italian words that sounded dramatic, so I searched for food words.” Insalata Erotica or Cioccolato Alla Panna, among others, are scribbled in lavish script on the wall. Below the bar, figures of wine bottles and chalices are also drawn. “A lot of people think that it’s wallpaper, but I had someone do it for me,” she says.
Music is also important. The controls for the hidden audio system by SpeakerCraft are found on the kitchen counter. All the speakers and receivers were installed in the ceilings during the construction of the house. She can choose what songs to play in specific zones from the iPod-like device. “I can walk around the house and control the music,” she adds.
Tessa reveals her first foray into design was in high school. “I was asked to do perspectives, and I really enjoyed that a lot,” she says. Afterward, a college and master's education at the Notre Dame de Namur University in California and further studies at the Inchbald School of Design in London opened her eyes to the joys of travel. Since then, the designer has made sure to visit “attractive hotels and restaurants” in Asia, Europe, and the U.S., soaking up every sight and experience for inspiration. “When a place leaves an impression, it will stay in my head. Florence, for me, is really fantastic,” she says.
Interior designer Tessa Alindogan
Two rooms on the second floor reflect influences from her past. The TV room features her collection of little jars and vases, all displayed in a stately cabinet from her old condominium. The modernist acquired her interest for antiques from her parents, whose style was more Oriental. And though she has gone on to explore the very opposite of this sumptuous look, Tessa can not shake it off. Instead, she dedicates room to it. The adjoining study is a space “filled with pieces from the past.” There is a European-style tabernacle acquired from the antiques emporium Jo-Liza. A trio of large wooden fowl on top of it is from Singapore, where she lived with her parents for six years. A side table supported by a two pairs of lambs and a step stool decorated with a ram used to be in a former bedroom. The spirit of the Orient asserts itself in an elephant chair and figure of Guanyin, the goddess of mercy, as well. “These are the pieces that I kept for sentimental reasons,” she says. But, of course, there is a modern centerpiece, the Gae Aulenti Coffee Table, a glass creation set on wheels, to balance everything out.
Tessa does not watch TV in the TV room nor does much work in the study (the designer gets massages there instead), but she definitely spends a lot of time in her bedroom, a private suite that includes a small kitchen, a work nook, and a walk-in closet. Found in the entryway, the kitchenette, which holds a stash of vitamins and mini fridge full of guilty pleasures, has been installed against a graphic backdrop, a silvery gray wallpaper with various Fornasetti prints. This echoes the “very European” wallpaper of a mesmerizing flowerscape behind her bed.
To imbue grandeur, the dimensions of the bedroom have been maximized. The ceiling height exceeds three meters, and is purposely furnished with only a few, large pieces—a bed, a white leather chair, a large TV, and a work desk—plus art works, a nude by BenCab above a lithograph of a nude by Picasso. The floating bed is custom-made. Going bespoke, especially for large pieces, will save you more money and produce better quality work, attests the designer.
Behind its padded headboard is a long work station. Tessa has no problem introducing the energy of work in her bedroom, because she enjoys the convenience of turning a corner to do work right away and going directly to sleep when she gets tired. Design involves a lot of research, shares Tessa. At around 10 p.m., the night owl powers up her MacBook and works until 2 a.m. She wakes up no later than 9 a.m.
As if creating a room within a room, there is also sizable walk-in closet in her private space. The corridor leads off to a bathroom first. This is an all-white affair where, again, Tessa selected uncommon items such as a waterfall shower head and waterfall faucets, treatments that the designer has not yet implemented in her clients’ homes.
The bay of closets is found at the end of the hall, where there is also an island of cabinets and drawers for more items like candles, towels, and her collection of eyeglasses. “That’s the other thing I love. I have 50 pairs! I always have to match my glasses with my outfit. When I travel, this is what I buy.”
In a way, this dream home is the designer’s showcase, a concrete calling card that defines her style. More importantly, this house has become a piece of Tessa that she can share with friends and family. Guests always head to the living room or the kitchen, where food is parked before service in the dining room. Or they gather under an old mango tree, around which a table has been fitted. There, Tessa scatters cube stools, which can be charged so they light up the garden. “I just have a couple of close friends here,” she says. “When they come here, they like it. And that makes me happy.”