In this age of ever-evolving design trends, it is essential to recognize ventures and designers who create projects that honor Filipino roots. Our heritage needs to be supported in small but important ways to keep it from being swept away by the tide of modernity. Through simple everyday things that may remind us of our culture, we unknowingly keep the Filipino spirit alive. One project that elevates our culture through one of its key designs is the Carissa House, curated by JJ Acuna of JJ Acuna/Bespoke Studio. The 840 square-meter urban villa located in Makati features an internal courtyard and is inspired by the traditional Bahay Na Bato.

The Carissa House

The Carissa House was a special project for JJ Acuna, as it was for his family. His architectural background centered on designing and creating cafes, restaurants, and hotels from his JJ Acuna/Bespoke Studio in Hong Kong. Now that fate had brought him back to his home country, he aimed to build a meaningful structure that paid homage to his roots. Hailing from Capiz, he says, “I would call this home an ode to the Philippines as it’s a pro-Pinoy concept but also a provincial perspective of a Manila home.” He wanted to recreate the peaceful ambiance of their home in Capiz, where spaces are connected to nature. “We also live in different parts of the world, so this Manila home was designed for the family to converge. It’s a very special place that is full of joy, and I hope those who come visit this home will capture the essence of that”, he adds.

JJ Acuna

According to him, the concept of Bahay Na Bato was where the home’s layout first materialized. The team knew that they wanted a courtyard on site. Stone was the main material in mind, with a flowing and open plan layout similar to the piano nobile of a Bahay Na Bato. It also reflected the colonial-style houses that dominate Intramuros, where the family lounge and bedrooms are located on the upper floors while the living room and dining area are located on the lower floors. Materials used for the exterior and interior stone details were limestone, slate, and quartz terrazzo. Reclaimed Narra wood from the family’s old house was also used. Fair-faced concrete, rendered limewash concrete, paint, and timber veneers also helped create the house’s straightforward finishing.

JJ Acuna

The furniture and art pieces scattered throughout the villa are mostly sourced locally, emphasizing Filipino craftsmanship even more. JJ Acuna pridefully shares, “We were really serious about making sure this house highlights Pinoy arts, culture, and history. We didn’t want anything that was foreign, European, or American because we wanted to celebrate Filipino culture and roots.”

JJ Acuna / Bespoke Studio

The Carissa House reflects JJ Acuna and his whole team’s authentic approach and genuine intentions. He shares that each project the studio creates is unique and will never be replicated elsewhere. This particular project was made to have a good energy flow with an intimate and warm atmosphere, perfect for a Filipino home.

Manila is my roots. The United States is my attitude. And Hong Kong is my work ethic and foundation. Philippines is my heart, America is my imagination, and Hong Kong is my persistence.

Sharing his personal and professional journey, JJ Acuna recalls moving to the United States, where he spent his formative years despite being born in the Philippines. He did his undergraduate and graduate programs in architecture at Cornell and Columbia Universities, respectively, before moving to Hong Kong to be an architectural intern. It was in 2016 when he decided to leave his director duties at a corporate firm to put up his own studio. He was about to take a break from his 10-year corporate architectural practice when a friend asked him to design Elephant Grounds, a cafe in Hong Kong’s Star Street District. This project catapulted his name to global prominence and opened doors for him. What was supposed to be a short break paved the way for JJ Acuna to carve his name in the design industry.

“From freelancing, we’ve hired more and more key designers to help out with our lifestyle, hospitality, and F&B projects. Now, we have an actual studio in Hong Kong, and this year we’re expanding to Manila, and we are so excited.”

James JJ Acuna, Creative Director of JJ Acuna / Bespoke Studio

JJ Acuna/Bespoke Studio is working on several projects in the Philippines, including a fine dining restaurant and a luxury residential project. The proud Filipino designer expressed his desire to return to his roots and make the locals proud.

Photography by Ed Simon

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