Arched colonnades point like graceful arrows toward a magnificent Murano glass chandelier soaring from the sky blue coffered ceiling above the two-story great room.
Photo by Bobot Meru
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 is not just a career, it’s a calling and my lifestyle,” she begins. “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 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 the Hotel Elizabeth in Baguio and Cebu, and the Philippine Daily Inquirer office. Nowadays, Tessa works primarily 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 under her fashionable belt, Tessa remains dedicated to her chosen field. 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 says, unperturbed. “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 tastes, 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 Tessa and her husband Dennis on a visit to a porcelain factory in southern Italy.
She readily conceded 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 from an imposing, carved wooden church pew. “A lot of sinners have sat there,” quips 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 suggests. “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-sized 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.”
Although social engagements, newspaper deadlines, and the responsibilities of running a household take up a good portion of her time, Tessa’s commitment to interior design is unflagging. “I give it 100 percent. I really do only what I am most passionate about and I am lucky to be able to do all of this.”