Born during the pandemic, this design studio makes the most out of hard times

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Tanaw Studio talks about their design tips on making workspaces conducive to productivity and how they unwind during a long day. (From left) Chelsea Magbanua, Arvel Alvarez, Ella Castañeda, and Arvin Alvarez. Photo by MARE COLLANTES

It takes a lot of bravery to keep a business going during a pandemic, but it’s an even tougher route to take when one decides to set up shop during these tough times. Perhaps what it takes is to do it with the right people. When interior design outfit Tanaw Studio dreamed up their company in 2019, they were hopeful and full of plans for their business. “2020 was supposed to be our big launch,” says Arvin Alvarez, the company’s multitasking administrative and marketing head.

By the time the ink had dried, they realized that the time could not have been worse: businesses were on the brink of shuttering, and no one was looking to hire interior designers. “We regrouped after a while,” Arvin recalls, “We accepted that this is going to be a longer term situation, so we met about it and we decided to take the plunge. Together with Ella and Chelsea, we launched during lockdown.”

It would be almost a year since Tanaw Studio opened its figurative doors, with three designers at the helm: Chelsea Magbanua, their de facto lead designer and a licensed interior designer; Ella Castañeda, an ace at realistic 3D renders; and Arvel Alvarez, who is usually in charge of sourcing and is known as “the bridge of everyone” on the team. With Arvel and Arvin as sisters, Magbanua and Arvel as high school friends, and Castañeda and Arvel meeting in college, it’s clear that familiar ties play a huge part in Tanaw’s identity.

Besides their junior designer, everyone on the team leads at least one project by themselves, but with everyone else pitching in to keep things moving. “We wanna make sure na balanced lahat,” Arvin explains. “Kasi it might be too much of Ella’s style or too much of Arvel’s style, so parang checks and balances lang to get our client’s style and not too much of our personal biases.”

Agility is key in Tanaw Studio’s workflow — while each designer helms one project, everyone pitches in to make sure that there is a good mix of creative perspectives. Photo courtesy of TANAW STUDIO

Since getting started last year, the team cites their project with content creator Rei Germar as one of their personal favorites. Germar had to move back to her family home due to the pandemic, and wanted to spruce up her childhood bedroom to reflect her current taste. Tanaw designed the room in what they considered a great marriage of midcentury modern, Germar’s personal style, and what they consider their own design sensibilities — including a lounge area with a custom cabinet for their client’s collection of accessories.

For content creator Rei Germar’s bedroom reno, Tanaw Studio designed a lounge for her with a custom accessory cabinet. Photo courtesy of TANAW STUDIO

“This is from my perspective [as a non-designer], so that hindi biased kasi galing sa kanila (Laughs),” Arvin says. “What I realized [is] that we do a lot of nooks. We specialize in that, your own space or even your own corner in your room. That’s what I notice in their design. Also, maraming Filipino accents. It doesn’t matter what the main style is, nalalagyan nila ng local shops.”

They go on to explain that the intention to incorporate local design pieces is more than aesthetic-driven, but as a way to support the community that they also rely on. Arvel explains: “We still source from Shopee, Lazada, and bigger brands… but we still try to go for indie brands na talagang alam namin produced locally. Lalo na yung mga rattan furniture and other decor pieces na handmade. Kasi we started during the pandemic, and we know how it feels to go through the pandemic as a business.”

Their work setup is still far from ideal, because Tanaw’s temporary workspace is in a spare bedroom in the Alvarez sisters’ home. Castañeda lives in Bulacan, so to minimize her commute, she spends the weekdays there (“Usually before working, I play with the dogs. Meron silang two dogs here. Yun na yung ritual ko,” she says) while Magbanua works remotely. (“I live in a house with my grandparents, so it’s very scary for me to go out.”)

But while their dream office is still in the blueprint stages, the team says that they spend a lot of time imagining what that will look like — a space with lots of natural light, with a playroom to chill out, and even a kitchen so they can share meals with their future employees. “I really want a place with a sign [with our name],” Arvel says. Alam mo yung pag lalabas ka ng office mo, tapos uy! May sense of accomplishment.”

A bedroom in a Tanaw Studio styling project in Makati. Photo courtesy of TANAW STUDIO

At the end of the day, what keeps Tanaw Studio going is that each one of them is working towards a common dream, while keeping in mind their own individual visions. It’s the sauce that keeps them going, that pushed them to brave the world of start-ups in such a difficult time. And of course, it’s a chance to mix work and play with friends. “We like chatting about random things we see on the internet, or this furniture that we like, or maybe something that we’d like to be able to do,” Magbanua says of their off-beat set up. “And then we think of something na ‘Oh, let’s do this in the future!’ it escalates to [dreams] that are 50 years from now.”

In their own words, Tanaw Studio talks about their workplace essentials, how they unwind during a long day, and their design tips on making workspaces conducive to productivity.

“In our office we usually have lots of swatches for our clients, so meron kaming shelf here and we organize it. We also have a vision board for ourselves,” Castañeda says.

“The vision board just reminds us of what we want to achieve. We all have our own. Because before this interview, we talked to each other and apparently isa-isa meron din,” says Arvin.

Each member of Tanaw Studio has a vision board. Photo by MARE COLLANTES

On how they de-stress during long work days, each member of the team has their preferences. “I have a humidifier, because it actually helps me to calm down kasi ako yung laging nagpa-panic sa team. Ako yung natataranta lagi, so naglalagay ako ng essential oil dito.” Castañeda says.

“I have a lounge area for when I don’t want to be seated on my office table,” Magbanua says. “I also have my piano keyboard with me, so when I need a break I just play. And then it helps me relax and get back into the zone. I also have my speakers, because I like to play music when I’m working. It gets me into a different zone. I bought a pair of rollerskates. I’ve been trying to find time to get better at it. So sometimes, during the workday, when I have to go from one place to another, that’s when I find time to skate. So even if I’m still working and I have to get something from another part of the room, that’s just another way of adding joy to my day.”

For a work from home set up, Tanaw Studio's Arvel Alvarez says, “Have a specific place where you work and where you relax, if you have the space for it." (Right) Tanaw Studio lead designer Chelsea Magbanua purchased a pair of rollerskates to help her de-stress during busy days. Photos courtesy of MARE COLLANTES

Experts on making the most out of an existing space, Tanaw believes that a few tweaks can really make any room conducive to productivity. “You have to allow yourself to make a mess,” Castañeda says.

“We learned that the hard way, because in the start ang gulo gulo talaga,” Arvin says. “We tried to organize it everyday, but it gets messy. At first it was annoying for us, siyempre kasi we work on different things. So we made space for it.”

Magbanua says that because she didn’t realize the quarantine would last so long, she didn’t bother to invest in a proper office chair. “I made a makeshift work area, I just had a table and a chair. I realized that the chair was too high for the table, after a few months I noticed that I was getting back pain. If it’s possible, if you can afford it to make sure that [your chair and table] are compatible in height, because it’s going to help your productivity as well.”

Experts on making the most out of an existing space, Tanaw believes that a few tweaks can really make any room conducive to productivity. “You have to allow yourself to make a mess,” Ella Castañeda says.

Arvel advises, “Have a specific place where you work and where you relax, if you have the space for it. If you don’t, maybe just a simple change in lighting, like a yellow light would help you relax, and yung mas maputing ilaw will help with productivity. Sometimes, smells can help with calming down. So you can turn on your mood lights and your humidifier when you’re ready to relax. Mahirap pag hindi defined yung work and relaxation mo.”

Says Arvin, “From my perspective naman, yung sinabi namin na we have a vision board of what we want to achieve and we have already done. With our temporary office at home, it’s hard to get away from it, but with a vision board you know where you’re going and you know what your goals are. It’s a good way to remind you.”

“In line with that,” Chelsea adds, “it’s good to fill your workspace with things that inspire you.”