Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — "I'd rather you talk to my daughters," Zelda Kienle offers, firm yet apologetic as she politely declines to give a word for this feature. She lounges quietly at the living room set-up, right smack at the center of the SM Mega Fashion Hall, coasting between quiet conversations with her husband, entertaining select guests, and eyeing end to end of the sprawling mall atrium where festivities are in full swing. It's the launch of Philux's new furniture customization service, simply named Philux Fix, and the curious case of a quiet Mrs. Kienle makes one wonder why the woman who started the 37-year old Filipino furniture business would choose to beg out of the limelight.
Let's call it a garage-to-riches story: In 1980, the couple Max and Zelda Kienle hired two skilled craftsmen to build the furniture business of their dreams, with their backyard doubling as a workshop. Since then, Philux has developed into a full-fledged, all-Filipino furniture establishment with its own city-based warehouse in Parañaque (one of the few to set up workshop within the metro), a fledgling export business and accessibility in prime malls in the metro.
But while their presence has spanned a total of 37 years in the industry, it's the past five years that have seen Philux maneuver into a more aesthetic-driven field of its own, capturing the taste of modern-thinking, world-traveling, stylish Manila.
Two culprits for the case: Stephanie Kienle-Gonzales and Jessica Kienle-Maxwell, daughters of Max and Zelda, and co-conspirators of Philux's newer, fresher direction. Years ago, Stephanie Kienle-Gonzales saw the need to modernize Philux's furniture offerings, augmenting the material line-up from wood and native materials to include contemporary fabrics and fixtures.
Eventually, her younger sister Jessica — fresh from obtaining an interior design degree in Paris and an apprenticing stint with interior designer Muriel Brandolini — stepped in as head of design and visual merchandising, with Stephanie taking on the role of head of operations and brand development.
From then on, these society-page dwelling, internationally-schooled women have been introducing a brand rebirth, taking the elegant, classic, quality-focused attributes of the Philux identity and weaving in a newer, more contemporary spin.
Now, Philux's line-up of furniture is something you might not have expected from the brand 15, even 10 years ago.
Industrial, minimalist pieces that employ a wide array of wood finishes marry Scandinavian sensibilities to Filipino wood craftsmanship, while understated modern structures reclaim a unique identity as Philux's classic rattan makes its way into these pieces. What Stephanie and Jessica have done successfully is concoct a style that's all their own, by simply taking what's best of Philux's traditional design stance and making it work within a forward-looking aesthetic.
To wit, the sisters recognize that the devil is in the details — and this same mindset led them to publicly officiate their customization service. While Philux has long had customized furniture as part of its service line up, Philux Fix makes the process a lot easier and personalized for the potential furniture buyer.
Clients can browse from any of Philux's available designs and change its different details to make it their own. Call it customized furniture without the pain of ideating, say, your dream chair from scratch — all you have to do is imagine how you can make the Philux furniture you're eyeing to fit your exact taste.
To illustrate, Philux invited a slew of names from the creative and entertainment industry as the first collaborators of Philux Fix. Host and author Bianca Gonzalez-Intal handpicked the Marquis Meridienne lounge sofa and requested to have her handprints — as well as of her husband JC's and daughter Lucia's — printed stark blue on the fabric as prints.
Photographer BJ Pascual unearthed an abstract, rust-print photograph he took in New York and had it incorporated into the Fulton chair, choosing the darkest wood finish that rendered the frame a stark black.
Angelina and Joey Mead-King dabbled with the standard Valencia daybed and introduced Moroccan elements to its frame, fitting their Marrakesh-inspired home. Indeed, the service allows clients to manifest into furniture the things that are most precious to them.
Philux Fix is telling of the Kienles' vision for the furniture brand, both 37 years ago and now: “We like to call our warehouse more of a ‘workshop.’ We have skilled Filipino carpenters who are really good at what they do,” Jessica says.
Stephanie drives at the company's objectives: "At the end of the day, we want [to make] homey furniture accessible to different types of people."
Now, the business masterminded by Max and Zelda Kienle has managed to thrive and come alive through the decades. At the event, Zelda motions towards Stephanie and Jessica as they head towards every direction, talking vibrantly about Philux Fix's prized creations, as if a new day has come.