Living in a cramped condominium amidst the chaos of a bustling city can feel suffocating. Yet, Sonny Calvento discovered freedom within these seemingly restrictive walls. He entrusted Studio Mara to transform his Quezon City studio type apartment into a personal haven. This once bare space defied the limitations of size through a collaborative effort built on trust and creative freedom.

Back When Freedom Was Still a Dream

Freedom in Small Spaces.
Interior Designers Mara Manalo and Van Damme Longino of Studio Mara.

Renowned film director and writer Sonny Calvento spent a decade commuting between Laguna and Quezon City to pursue his artistic freedom. This exhausting routine eventually led him to seek liberation from his daily work cycle.

In a heartfelt letter, he expressed his desire to own a retreat where he could escape his fast-paced life. He chose Mara Manalo, Studio Mara’s founder, citing some of their works as design inspiration, to make this dream a reality. Responding to his vision, the Manila-based interior and production design studio listened and took action.

Freedom in Small Spaces.
Freedom in Small Spaces.

It all started with a bare shell.

At first glance, the 35 square meter condominium might seem too small for ambitious ideas. However, Studio Mara saw this as an opportunity to push the boundaries and bring a fresh perspective to Calvento’s city life.

After deciding on a modern art museum-inspired style, Calvento gave Manalo complete creative freedom to bring his vision to life.

“I really felt na ikaw [Mara Manalo] talaga ‘yong someone na I can really trust na mapu-pull off ‘yon [modern art museum style] na parang magiging home [ko na] siya eventually,” Calvento shared.

Manalo embraced this freedom as the guiding principle for the project. With both parties coming from a production design background, Studio Mara and Calvento worked collaboratively, openly exchanging suggestions and smoothing the design process from start to finish.

Free Will In The Move

Freedom in Small Spaces.
Freedom in Small Spaces.

Manalo exercised her creative freedom to tailor the space perfectly for Calvento, despite the initial layout’s restrictive division of spaces. This limitation didn’t deter the designer from maximizing the available area.

To ignite Calvento’s creativity, Studio Mara crafted two distinct areas within the space. The first features a dining table with a green quartz top and a fluted wooden base, and the second is a bed-end counter.

The design studio also took the opportunity to display Calvento’s cherished collections throughout the room. Notably, “Jules of Jim” and “Nobody Knows” movie posters adorn the dining and sleeping areas. Additionally, the bathroom uniquely showcases his prized Sundance Film Festival 2021 poster.

Beyond these visual highlights, Calvento’s space includes a vast array of books and Blu-ray DVDs filling the upper shelves. His collection of Le Creuset cookware and mugs, displayed on the open kitchen shelves, adds a homely touch. This tiny apartment is essentially a cozy, modern art museum flat, offering an endless array of intriguing sights.

Freedom in Small Spaces.
Freedom in Small Spaces.
Freedom in Small Spaces.
Freedom in Small Spaces.

The beauty of transcending restrictions is the freedom to create your own rules. This philosophy is evident in how Studio Mara intentionally designed the apartment’s interior.

Upon entering, the arch full-length mirror in the dining area instantly creates a sense of spaciousness. Calvento easily hosts guests with an L-shaped couch and a four-seater dining table that accommodate visitors comfortably.

Aligned with Calvento’s profession as a film director, Studio Mara also designated spaces for entertainment. He can enjoy watching his 65-inch LED TV from the couch or his bed. Block-out roller blinds transform the apartment into a makeshift theater room, enhancing the entertainment experience.

The kitchen is neatly organized with closed cabinets that store appliances and cooking essentials, while green tiles delineate the cooking area, allowing Calvento to embrace his inner homebody with ease.

Behind the polycarbonate door lies the bathroom. It presents a vibrant mood with green and salmon pink colors, and despite its compact size, efficiently accommodates a laundry area, shower, toilet, sink, and storage.

Furthermore, the ceiling beams are cleverly integrated into the design, serving as separators for different apartment sections. Ultimately, it’s about not settling for the constraints, even when it comes to a studio type apartment. Instead, it’s about overcoming these limitations to achieve comfort and functionality, as demonstrated by Calvento and Studio Mara, who embraced the challenge to attain the freedom they deserve.

Photographed by Ed Simon.

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