Interior Designer Chat Fores: “Design for Experiences’ Sake, Not Just Beauty”

Chat Fores of Chat Fores Design Studio regards hard work, creative exposure, and knowledge sharing as essential ingredients for impactful design

Introduction Patrick Kasingsing and Gabrielle de la Cruz
Interview Gabrielle de la Cruz
Images Chat Fores and Chat Fores Design Studio

The year that was
Merriam-Webster’s “gaslighting,” Messi’s ‘crowning’ at the FIFA World Cup, the rise (and imminent fall?) of Musk-era Twitter, the monumental departures of Queen E and Pélé, and the continuing turbulence in Ukraine and Iran… 2022 sure was a memorable ride, for better or worse. 

On local shores, 2022 hosted a significant election, one whose outcome is still the subject of myriad Facebook groups, heated debates, and countless memes. It also broke records for dollar-to-peso exchange rates and the price of the humble onion, and paved the way for the return of concerts, exhibits, and other public gatherings (along with the pre-pandemic traffic situation, unfortunately). 

YES 2023
It is in the spirit of tenacious optimism that we at Kanto look back at 2022, parsing through the past year’s opportunities and challenges to find lessons and insights that can help arm us for the year ahead. 

Welcome to Kanto’s first Year End Special or YES 2023—a collection of conversations with creative professionals who help us unpack a year’s worth of lessons and insights, along with their forecasts and wishlists for the year ahead.

A conversation with Interior Designer, Chat Fores
We now venture into the realm of interior spaces with Chat Fores of Chat Fores Design Studio, who sheds light on the state of interior design in the past year and what changes and developments she hopes to see for the industry this 2023. Chat Fores is an award-winning interior designer. She was recognized at the 2021 International Property Awards for her design projects, namely: The Residences at the Galleon Showroom, the Joya Loft Unit, a residential apartment in Rockwell, and the Azure Paris Beach Club at Azure Residences. She also collaborated with French-Japanese specialty coffee brand Café Kitsuné for their recently-opened Manila outpost.

Interior Designer Chat Fores

Hello Ms. Chat! Thank you for making time for us! Are you in Seoul now for business or for pleasure? 

Hi Gabbie! I’m here on vacation with my family. I promised them I’ll make time towards the end of 2022 because I’ve been so busy with work. After this interview, my daughter is actually asking me to go with her to the BTS Museum. I don’t know who BTS is, so I’ll probably just look at the museum’s setup, colors, and everything. I know I’m supposed to relax but I’ve just been so busy lately that work thoughts follow me wherever I go! 

I feel like I’ve been running after so many things in the past year. A lot of the work that didn’t push through in 2021 pushed through in 2022, so it felt like a lot of things really had to be done. 

Can you share with us some of the highlights and lowlights of your 2022? What realizations did these occurrences bring? 

The past year was stressful. Two of my job captains at Chat Fores Design Studio had to leave—one was for the best as she decided to start her own office with her husband (and I am very happy for her), and the other one was really sad because she got burned out due to the pandemic and had to focus on her health. 

We had to adjust as a studio, but I’m also glad that we welcomed new people and train them. At first, I didn’t want to hire fresh graduates because it’s like a lottery, you never really know how they will fit into your existing team. But then, I realized that proper training is all that you need to bring out the best in people. 

I also realized that it’s unfair for you to expect the world out of new people in the industry. What I did was focus on each of their good points, which brought out their confidence and enabled them to work better. 

The Chat Fores Design Studio team during a site visit
The Chat Fores Design Studio team during a site visit

You’ve talked about some of the changes the pandemic brought to your studio. What about interior design as a whole? How did the industry adjust as the world made some tentative steps toward normalcy? 

There were a lot of changes. Picking up from what I was talking about fresh graduates earlier, one of the things I noticed is that students who graduated from the pandemic sort of had this “culture shock” when they first go on-site. They perform really well during virtual meetings and coordination, but they’d feel a little lost once we have to do site visits. I guess it stems from all the virtual learning and the lack of social interaction. But again, I’m glad we were able to adjust as a team. 

One thing I’m actually grateful for this 2022 is the fact that there were more face-to-face interactions. We slowly worked our way to meeting clients physically again and more in-person meetings were possible. Even workmanship is now better because you’re able to explain and inspect things. It’s refreshing to realize the balance between doing things virtually and physically. 

As a designer, what are some of the work processes that you still prefer to do physically? 

I think selecting materials in person is still the best way to go. During the pandemic, I had to go online and just take a look at photos to choose fixtures and furniture, then they will be delivered to the site. I would say that process didn’t allow me to fully embrace and practice my usual maximalist self. 

It’s still different when you see certain things in front of you. Personally, I find that I am able to mix and match materials and items when I’m inside a store or showroom. It just gives me the freedom to play around with ideas. It was around June 2022 when I got to return to showrooms and stores. I realized that the effects of the pandemic shouldn’t stop my momentum.

After getting your groove back and starting to work on projects again, what were some of the 2022 design trends that you discovered? What did you like or dislike? 

Spaces were invented in residences in 2022. Instead of the usual kitchens or dirty kitchens, people now have what they call an auxiliary kitchen, where children can play and learn how to cook. Some clients also request a reading or silent room, where people turn off their gadgets and just read or meditate. There are also gift-wrapping or useful storage rooms now, where people prepare the things they would like to give away or need to let go of. 

I acknowledge that these are all luxurious sounding and are for people who have extra spaces in their homes, but there is value in talking about discoveries like this. No space needs to go to waste. We need to be creative in making use of our spaces. 

Did I dislike anything? I guess it would be the same thing that I said when we had the interview for Café Kitsuné. I really think it’s about time we say goodbye to Pinterest trends and templates. Designers have to get out of looking at all these boards and seek authenticity.

In our conversation about Café Kitsuné, you said that it was an entirely different experience and you learned a lot from it. Were there any other projects in 2022 that really struck you? 

Café Kitsuné was different for me because it was my first time designing a coffee shop. Another first in 2022 was the experience of designing a car showroom. We started and are currently completing the showroom of Lexus, which will be located in the new Mitsukoshi Mall in Bonifacio Global City (BGC). 

The concept design came from Japan, but the finishes were value engineered and localized. Lexus is very particular, I had to be on computers to choose paint and finishes, and be very careful in creating spaces for the cars to come in and out. We also added shelves to showcase some of Lexus’ freebies and merchandise. One thing I did here was really study the brand. I learned how the maintenance of Lexus cars is way cheaper than that of European cars, making that one of their selling points. I was reminded of how design is a holistic experience. All the things you learn about your client should be reflected in the design you create for them. 

I’d also like to mention the Azure North Clubhouse in Pampanga. We drew this in 2022 and it took us a total of 4 to 6 months to complete it. This project is very close to my heart because it was done for Century Properties, whom we’ve done practically all the amenities and residential properties for. 

What a productive 2022! What activities outside of work did you and your team do? 

Personally, the pandemic taught me that cooking isn’t such a bad thing. I used to hate it and not have the patience for it, but being in lockdown just made me try. But don’t expect much from me, I just cook basic meals like pasta, not very meticulous dishes. 

My team and I try to enjoy our day-to-day by visiting showrooms, sites, and other spaces. This helps us further our learning while allowing us to just spend some time together and go out of the office. We also have a very competitive Christmas costume contest every year! 2022’s theme was “come in your best Christmas Tree outfit using scrap materials from our office.” 

I do my best to have a little more time for myself every day. Sometimes squeezing in 30 minutes of exercise already goes a long way. I also love playing with my dogs, that’s one of my favorite past times. Binge-watching series at night is also one of my non-negotiables. I like crime-solving mysteries and action movies, for some reason they just exercise my brain and help me generate more ideas.

What are your plans for 2023? Any bucket lists or new year’s resolutions? Can you also let us in on some of your projects for the coming year? 

In 2023, I’d like to shop less and read more. It sounds underachieving, but it’s a big thing! Reading is a practice that helps me a lot, as the nature of my work is already very visual. We all know that financial discipline is very important, we just like to keep buying stuff. I also want to learn how to use Padlet, I’ve been seeing a lot of people use it and the likes of it for productivity. 

Someone has long been talking to me about launching my own furniture line. Maybe I could finally get to work on it in the coming year. 

I’m glad you asked about projects because something very exciting is in the works. We are working on a new Greenhills Mall, one that will bring back the vintage style of the Greenhills we all know. It will be 6-storeys high and is set to open in mid-2023. We designed the overall layout of the mall, including a food hall for people to enjoy and a play area for kids. This project is very close to my heart as well because when I was growing up, Greenhills was the ultimate place to be. We also worked on the office building beside this mall called Greenhills Tower. 

With all that happened in 2022 and your plans for 2023, what do you wish to see in the realm of interior design in the coming year? What are your dreams for the design industry? 

Recently, I was invited to speak at the 2022 Blue Mango Awards. When we got to Cebu, we met many new and promising local design talents. I was reminded of how there are so many local design talents out there, that we really have to go places and search beyond Metro Manila. 

Exposure is very important, it’s a major part of the design experience. We have to be willing to teach more students and talents, to take them to factories and sites, and to start from scratch. Let them see how things get done. The pandemic disrupted the design experience by limiting us to screens and posing restrictions on our activities, but we have to remember that design is always holistic. We have to keep revolutionizing. 

Inspiration does not come from spaces alone, it could be from the things you see such as fashion, food, and even makeup—you get exposure from all these things. Design is not just about the output—it’s the entire journey and experience of creating something. 

I also call my fellow industry professionals. Be a little less selfish, share your knowledge and be open to new things and new people. Of course, I also want to remind students and new talents to always be willing to listen and work hard. 

When I was still starting out at LV Locsin, I was tasked to clean, wipe books, and arrange things for an entire week. They told me that they wanted me to memorize the books, learn the Dewey Decimal System, learn how they catalog, and be familiar with materials. I did that with no complaints and ended up learning everything they wanted me to learn. 

It’s all part of the experience. And it will take everyone to make beautiful things happen. •

Gabrielle de la Cruz started writing about architecture and design in 2019. She previously wrote for BluPrint magazine and was trained under the leadership of then editor-in-chief Judith Torres and previous creative director Patrick Kasingsing. Read more of her work here and follow her on Instagram @gabbie.delacruz.

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