Space is essential to our lives, one that we sometimes take for granted. It’s what we call home, school or the workplace. It is where we eat, sleep, recharge or retreat to from an increasingly intrusive world. No one seems to understand that better than interior designer Marie Eleanor “Malen” Gomez-Garcia, creative director of Idea/Forma Designers Co.
An 11-year-old company, Idea/Forma specializes in the conceptualization and project execution of residential and office spaces.
“I remember Dad and Mom telling me I was more into coloring books, drawing and playing with Lego rather than dolls and play cooking,” Malen recalls. “My parents (the late marketing specialist Ricky Gomez and his wife Beth Halasan-Gomez) were my first influencers. They always loved to fix the house. We would go to furniture shops and stay there for hours, while Mom and Dad talked to the suppliers.” She remembers countless weekends spent around Antipolo City and BF Homes in Parañaque and Alabang, south of Manila, perusing the styles and designs of newly-built houses.
“When you think of professionals, you think ‘doctors, engineers, architects.’ I wasn’t really aware that there could be different specializations in each profession, and I learned that it was the same for design.”
“I used to get so bored,” Malen says, beaming. “I was 10 years old. But since we were doing it all the time, I absorbed it. Mom was the eternal housewife. She loved to fix our home, rearrange furniture and keep things clean and in tiptop shape.” These were, her eldest child would learn later on, elements that designers needed to pay attention to as well.
Malen manifested this love for aesthetics when she entered college, initially taking up architecture at the University of Santo Tomas (UST). “In my time, we didn’t know much about interior design,” she explains. “When you think of professionals, you think ‘doctors, engineers, architects.’ I wasn’t really aware that there could be different specializations in each profession, and I learned that it was the same for design. There was industrial, interior, gano’n [like that].”
Attracted to the output of interior design students, Malen decided to shift to their field after two years. She chose Assumption College (AC) in San Lorenzo Village, Makati City to further that interest. Many of the professors at AC also taught at UST, so, the quality of education was on par.
Malen’s first real job at Orienza Interiors provided her the experience and mentoring needed to strike out on her own in 2003. A four-year stint as a freelance designer gave her a unique viewpoint of the industry in which she moved. “There are really more men in construction,” she narrates. “I was only 23 years old then, so it was really a challenge to assert myself. I was always on sites full of men: engineers, contractors, etcetera. To them, I would always seem to be the young, naive girl. I always felt they were looking at me na parang ‘anong alam nito? ’ [like ‘what does she know?’]”
It took Malen some time to prove herself and show them she knew her stuff and why her ideas worked. Along with becoming more confident in her abilities, she learned how to choose wisely which projects to accept. “I did everything myself: I would draw, make the plans, do purchasing, meet with clients. I didn’t want to spread myself too thinly and not be able to give 100 percent on a project,” she says.
Opportunity knocked when her parents and an aunt each decided to build a house in Punta Fuego, Batangas. They allowed her the freedom to handle the work in the way she saw fit. “I was very blessed to have had this [opportunity]. These were two big houses with two different design directions, and they trusted me to do them from start to finish. And they were not simple projects!
“It felt both real and unreal — unreal because my clients were family and real because the results of my work were tangible. These were my first major projects.”
Setting up Idea/Forma was a decision made and supported by the family. She says her father advised her: “If you really want to expand whatever you’re doing, you need more people. You need to multiply yourself.” Her younger sister Nina, who worked in the corporate world for about four years at the time, was planning eventually to start up her own enterprise. It seemed like the next natural step to leverage on each other’s strengths to establish the company. “I needed to learn how to be more professional and how to charge [clients] correctly. I’m not business-minded,” Malen admits. Nina is Idea/Forma’s general manager, responsible for the nitty-gritty of each project.
Working with family has its own perks and downsides, according to her Ate Malen (older sister Malen). “When you’re faced with situations or decisions, you have different opinions because you think differently. But there’s mutual respect because you’re siblings.”
Commenting on today’s corporate world, she points to the current culture of co-working and balance. “In the past three to five years that we’ve been able to work with office spaces, the trend we’ve seen is really the essence of co-working spaces. No matter the size, most clients say they want their working space to have that feel of openness, not the typical cubicle type.”
She adds: “That doesn’t apply just for design-related industries like PR or advertising, but for all trades. Management now gives importance to areas where their employees can relax even for just a minute. There are lounges and even nursing areas for moms. These areas provide a sense of [life-work] balance.”
Malen is not only a skilled and talented designer, but also a devoted wife and mother. She spends free time mostly at home, “doing whatever,” with her husband Ryan, who oversees project construction for Idea/Forma, and kids Riana, 11 and Rafa, 2. “With my siblings and Mom (and before, Dad), we usually eat out, watch movies and travel. Everybody has to go,” The Gomezes loved to cruise, and went on several around Europe.
Working with space and design is Malen’s true passion. “I can’t imagine myself not doing what I’m doing now,” she says, a big smile heard in her voice.
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My Dad and Mom. Simply because they both do their best with always the best intentions in everything they do.
To be able to continue what I do as an interior designer. Not only to make beautiful houses for my clients, but more to create for them a place of comfort…a place they can call HOME
FIRST PAYING JOB
With Orienza Interiors
Bathe…pray the rosary while driving to the office or first meeting on site.
The skill of being able to read people’s design preferences just by observing them during a first meeting
TIME SPENT ON SOCIAL MEDIA
About two to three hours a day.