Tessa Prieto-Valdes is famous for wearing many hats, literally and figuratively. Whether she’s launching a product, attending a social gathering, or running a marathon, the Inquirer Lifestyle columnist and media celebrity makes heads turn with her flamboyant personal style.
But swap the colorful, floor-length gowns for color wheels and floor plans, and the carefree persona turns into a no-nonsense professional with a thriving design business.
Before she became an oft-photographed personality, Tessa pursued a more low-key path as an interior designer. “It’s not just a career, it’s a calling and my lifestyle,” she says. “I spent two years studying architecture, but I ended up going into interior design. It was more creative and more of the things I love—colors, space planning, lighting, anything to do with interiors.”
With a BA degree in Interior Design from the College of Notre Dame in California, she returned home to establish the Trezza Group, which handles residential and commercial design projects such as Hotel Elizabeth in Baguio and Cebu, and the Inquirer office.
At present, Tessa works with corporate clients, most recently for the boutique Y2 Residence Hotel in Makati, in collaboration with longtime friend and designing peer, Tessa Alindogan.
With over 15 years of experience, Tessa remains dedicated to her craft. Even as her public roles vie for her time, she stays on top of current design trends and is pleased with the industry’s growth. “People have more disposable income and are renovating. Also, shops, hotels and businesses are opening, so we are really on an upswing,” she observes.
Tessa candidly admits that her eye-catching personal style is cause for pause among some potential clients. “The way I dress makes people afraid—‘I don’t want my house to look like that!’” she notes. “I tell them, ‘In the end, it’s what you want.’ I work with their preferences, not my own.”
If her creativity is constrained by a client’s different taste, it has free rein in her own home.
The Prieto-Valdes house in Makati is modeled after Tessa’s favorite city of Venice, with its ornate plasterwork, faux-finished walls, bright tiles, colorful murals and hand-painted Murano glass chandeliers and light fixtures.
But her love of travel and the decorative mementos of her many voyages keep the design from being predictably thematic.
“For me, interior design is inspired by seeing different places,” she explains, pointing out particular pieces, such as a soft animal hide from Argentina; a side table with legs made of antelope horns from South Africa; and monogrammed plates specially made for her and Dennis on a visit to a porcelain factory in southern Italy.
She admits that bringing together such varied objects results in an eclectic look, which nonetheless fits her broad stylistic approach.
“If I have a design signature, it is an expression of color and of texture. My style is pattern on pattern and integrating different styles and periods,” she notes.
Such layering is immediately visible in the front vestibule, where a barrel-shaped mod chair emblazoned with the Union Jack sits irreverently across an imposing, carved wooden church pew. “A lot of sinners have sat there,” says Tessa.
Color is another key aspect of her designs. The soft cream walls of her two-story great room allow more vibrant tones from decorative accessories and artwork to catch the eye. The buttery hue extends upward to complement the azure inset of the coffered ceiling, while the mezzanine’s curved wall in sage sets off a painted border of blue skies and songbirds.
“Paint is the easiest way to refresh a room and has the biggest impact,” she says. “Or stick to neutral wall colors and have accent colors in pillows, vases or paintings—something that pops out and creates character in the home.”
Filling a space with artwork also adds character. As avid collectors and supporters of Filipino artists, Tessa and Dennis have several original pieces by homegrown talents throughout the house, including gracefully voluptuous sculptures in bronze by Daniel dela Cruz; a pair of anthropomorphic, life-size emperdible sculptures by Raymund Fernandez; and a Cirque du Soleil-inspired painting by Charlie Co. “The show was Varekai—the only one that has come to Manila. He said, ‘It is so you,’ so he painted it for me,” recalls Tessa.
Although social engagements, newspaper deadlines and the responsibilities of running a household take up her time, Tessa’s commitment to interior design is unflagging. “I give it 100 percent. I do what I am most passionate about, and I am lucky to be able to do all of this,” she says.