Black Magic

Morfosis embraces the dark side and conjures up a versatile, space-savvy rehaul of a cookie-cutter 70-sqm condo

Words Patrick Kasingsing
Images Greg Mayo

Back in black

“We love black,” Misty Floro, co-principal of boutique studio Morfosis shares matter-of-factly as we discussed the elephant in the room for their revamp of a 70-square meter condominium unit in Bonifacio Global City. “We love working with black for its versatility and impact. It’s easy to pair up with other colors and used on its own, it asserts its presence. Kaya we love to wear black.” Studio and life partner Pai Edles cuts in with the punchline. “Black is Morfosis’ color. People probably expect our portfolio to be filled with monochromatic projects, but surprise! Andaming kulay! (There’s so much color!)” The pair laughs. “It’s like, what, our ninth year of operations this year? Eto palang yung first true black-themed project namin! (This is our first true black-themed project)Edles adds.

Luckily for the black-obsessed duo, their client, a telecommunications executive in his late thirties with a penchant for travel and cooking, was just as on board with their monochrome and neutrals scheme. He was in fact, on board with nearly everything the studio presented him for his unit. The Morfosis team dubbed him a dream client with the way he trusted their expertise and how patient he was even with the inevitable pandemic delays (conversations kicked off when the client messaged the team on Instagram last December 2020). “Frankly, he had a rather modest budget: two-million pesos, from design fees to fit-outs and furniture, all in, but he won us over with how organized his brief was and his belief in our vision! We just had to say yes,” Floro shares.

Space race

The client wanted a unit as hard-working as he is; every square meter had to be maximized to full potential. For his second condo unit, he aspired to achieve all the items on his wishlist this time around, requests that were not possible in his previous space. Thus, there was no strict deadline for when the unit had to be turned over. His requirements included a large kitchen to serve as the stage to whip up his culinary repertoire, especially as he likes hosting parties for friends and family. A cafephile, the owner wanted a dedicated coffee nook within proximity of his kitchen and dining area. He also wanted a rethink of the constrictive layout of the unit, which had the laundry and utility area in a tiny room, and a way to maximize the unit’s minuscule second bedroom, especially as family members based abroad usually stay over when in the country. The client requested copious storage spaces all around the unit and display solutions to maximize its large picture windows for his expansive collection of plants. Morfosis was pleased when the client sent them pegs for his desired look and feel for the unit as they cohere with what the studio had in mind; a Japandi aesthetic, with black and dark grey accents to draw the eye to high-activity areas, tempered with warm wood finishes.

From 60 days to 6 months

The Morfosis team had reason to be sunny for their dusky renovation scheme as it easily received the client’s thumbs-up without major revisions. To facilitate their new layout plan, which combined the laundry area and kitchen into one large space, along with the reconfiguration of the second bedroom, almost all internal walls were knocked down except the master bedroom and toilet.

However, the arrival of two new COVID-19 variants severely hampered the project timeline; works halted, there were inevitable delays from suppliers, and condominium management imposed stricter rules on construction works. As a result, the usual 40-60 day timeframe Morfosis was used to deliver units of this size stretched to a lengthy six months.

“It was frankly a bit depressing,” Edles remarks as she recalls the team’s ordeal, “Seeing the materials gathering dust, the on-and-off lockdown calls holding up construction, the interiors looking far from done…it’s easy to feel disheartened.” The team refused to show the client their dismay with the delays and pushed the project forward inch by inch, something the owner greatly appreciated. “We needed to stay strong and dedicated to the project so the client will be reassured of its delivery; in this pandemic and with all the uncertainty going around, the enthusiasm and assurance we show go a long way in keeping clients happy or at least relieved,” she adds. With the loosening of lockdown restrictions in the first half of 2022, work picked up again at a feverish pace, and the unit was finally turned over last February 2022. The client’s vote of confidence and pride in his newly finished space was palpable when just a few days after turnover, he invited friends over for a party at his new crib. The team at Morfosis was both touched and a little mortified. “Nastress-test agad yung unit! Naging okay naman,” Edles laughs.

Grand tour

A glance at the unit, with its crisp lines and handsome finishes, belied the agonizing marathon to get to the turnover date. One is first struck by how spacious the 70-sqm unit feels, accomplished with a bit of visual trickery. “The client was initially hesitant to furnish the dining and living area wall with floor-to-ceiling mirrors because of the cost,” Floro shares, but upon showing the rendered perspective of the space with the mirrors, the client was won over. The space easily feels twice its size with the mirrored walls; the amount of illumination coming in from the picture windows is also doubled blessing the unit with a bright, airy feel. Copious plant nooks and shelving are all situated within proximity of the picture windows, which boast unimpeded views of the Makati skyline in the distance.

Tempering all that light are the grey concrete tiles and black surfaces strategically situated in select corners of the unit. “We wanted to highlight the high-activity areas of the unit so we finished the entry door, kitchen counters, coffee nook, cabinets, and the entertainment wall in black,” Edles explains. Clients are often afraid to use the color for interiors fearing that it will make their space look smaller, but Floro shares that this is not really the case if you know how much to apply and where to add your blacks. “Black not only helps add boldness to your space but also helps zone out areas or demarcate uses.” To avoid the appearance of flat blacks, the team used a combination of two black laminate flavors: leather and wood, for added texture and depth. The usage of warm birchwood laminates provides both contrast and much-needed warmth to the unit’s monochrome tones. I brought up concerns about the longevity of laminates, especially with the one situated in the kitchen, which is the part of the unit that will see the most activity. The duo assuaged usability fears by internally stress-testing the laminates used in various conditions before even recommending them to the client.

Another major build for the space is the sliding glass windows that now enclose what was formerly the unit’s second bedroom. The doors can now be slid open to extend the living area for parties with longer guest lists, or fully enclosed, with blinds deployed to form a guest room when the need arises.

Fully bespoke

The amount of customization the studio poured into the project to fit its client to a tee had them agonizing even the minutest of details. One was raising all fixtures, counters, and cabinetry heights to match the client’s tall frame. Another was customizing the dining area’s table to fit the unit’s tiny area, but also enabling it to expand should there be more than four guests. “We practically designed and built this table from scratch with the folks of Industrial Manila,” Edles says. The team had to do intensive research on Japanese joineries and furniture design, crafting a bespoke wooden mechanism for the table so it can double its capacity to seat eight people.

“Black not only helps add boldness to your space but also helps zone out areas or demarcate uses.”

Bedroom drama

“It isn’t a Morfosis project without what we call ‘moments of delight’,” Floro smiles as she begins to reveal the unit’s party tricks. “The master’s bedroom, which the owner wanted simple and no-frills, hides a couple of secrets.” She points to what is a seemingly static slatted wood wall accent above the bed. “This actually had a weird recess originally; to match up with the slatted black walls of the adjoining bathroom, we decided to convert this alcove into extra storage. Those slatted panels are actually cabinet doors!” The adjoining master’s bathroom boasts two nifty features as well, a hidden door, camouflaged among the slatted walls, and an internal window looking into the bedroom, which can be hidden and revealed depending on the client’s mood.

Minimum space, maximum effort

“We finally have a new slogan: Experience more,” Floro shares as we wound down the discussion on the project and shifted talk about the studio. “We weren’t meaning to use it as a slogan; we initially used it for our collateral in our search for interns but something about the phrase stuck with me. I realized it summed up perfectly what Pai, myself, and the team are going for in all of our projects; with this amount of space you give us, we want you to experience more than what you expect.”

I quizzed them on their experience working with small real estate in their projects and the duo got a little pensive. “Funny you should mention that,” Floro remarks, “A considerable bit of our portfolio involves working with really small spaces. This wasn’t intentional but it appears we have hit a niche where we get approached when someone needs to maximize the potential of their tiny space.”

Edles adds that they are of course always open to projects of any size but they relish the challenge and limitations tiny spaces bring. “Small projects hit different, Talagang napipiga ka (You are squeezed)to make the most of every square inch. In a way, what you come up with all these constraints is also a good indicator of your maturity and versatility as a designer.”

To go above and beyond the client brief: This is standard operating procedure for Morfosis, and this renovation project was concrete proof of their incessant drive to be, as Millenial parlance goes, extra. There’s simply no confining the studio into a typology or even a specific design field; if there’s an opportunity to improve their design response to a brief which necessitates venturing into parts unknown, they’ll grab it with no hesitation.

Floro muses: “I think what we’d love the most is to be known for designs that are out of the box, where you can…”

“… experience more, yes?” I add with a smile.

“Exactly!” the two chimed in with a chuckle. •

Project Team

Designers:
Pai Edles and Misty Floro (Morfosis)

Tiles
Ceramica De Milano

Laminates:
Merino Laminates

Lights:
Jingold and Home Cartel

Appliances:
Elba, Samsung

Switches and Dimmers:
Poche

Glass Sliding Door:
Alvin Glass

@morfosis_ph

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