is flanked by
Maria Parsons and
posing at the country
table in the family’s
signature royal blue.
PHOTOS BY PATRICK UY
When three classy ‘probinsyana’ create a unique lifestyle store
The carved door opens to a floral-scented room, filled with European blooms on hardwood tables and dressers. Purple bulbs of alliums and trumpet-shaped pink curcumas emerge from a colorful, woven basket from Congo.
Beneath the generous centerpiece of tall flowers are smaller sprays and nosegays of green trick balls, puffs of pink hydrangeas, light crimson wildflowers and hypericum berries.
A classic sculptural bouquet of white phalaenopses plays against the cubes of colorful paper candles. Graceful roselike status lisianthuses and green goddess calla lilies, boat orchids, and pink and white meadow flowers add romance to the displays of silver, stemware, customized Romblon marble bowls and trays, t’nalak pillows, American soaps, Turkish bijoux and colorful, folk hoop earrings from Colombia.
On the second floor, Bayanihan dancer-turned designer Len Cabili makes her debut in retail with her Filip + Inna, Bagobo cross-stitched separates, and Amarie, resort-style embroidered barong dresses and tops; a pop-up store by Ria Prieto and Gian Romano displays Italian woven totes, Linda Farrow sunglasses and fashion-forward lounge wear. Wool and silk area rugs in subdued colors by Pamana are neatly rolled up.
Lanai at The Alley is the newest lifestyle and services store in Makati. It is where the store of Doody Tuason’s Mentxaka used to be—the fine silver, porcelain and crystal store—and Bengy Toda’s photography shop, Studio 58 Lab 10. The former tenants have since moved shops in the same neighborhood.
Yet, Lanai’s owners are of the same pedigree. They studied and lived abroad, and travel yearly to Europe to take up summer residence. In the end, their heart is in the Philippines.
Bianca Zobel-Warns and her sister Natalia Zobel were exposed to the entertaining styles of their abuelas and their mother Maricris Cardenas, who’s always in the Hostesses with the Mostest list.
Maria Parsons always tagged along with her mother, the former Toni Serrano, who pioneered in dramatic floral arrangements in society events.
A few years ago, Maria, Bianca and Bianca’s cousins organized the wedding of Bianca’s brother, gentleman farmer Jake Zobel and Lara Reynolds.
In the family tradition, the rustic-theme wedding was held at the Zobel Hacienda Bigaa in their hometown, Calatagan, Batangas. Bianca served as creative director, planning the look from invitations to giveaways, while Maria took care of the flowers and implemented the plans.
Despite the challenges of storing imported flowers for freshness and other logistics, Maria and Bianca felt a strong impulse to make a business out of what they enjoyed doing. With Natalia, they pooled their resources to put up a holding company.
“We wanted to name our business MBN Filipinas to stand for Maria, Bianca and Natalia. The SEC wouldn’t give it to us because there was an MBN Lechonan in Bulacan. We were foiled by a lechonan,” recalls Maria.
The holding company is a straightforward ZP (as in Zobel-Parsons) Lifestyle Trading, with Bianca as president and Maria as managing director. Natalia handles the marketing and business development.
“We work together as a team, from making decisions to merchandising,” says Natalia, 24. “For business development, I keep my eye on trends—new bathing suits or earring styles, or what you should have from the store.”
Lanai’s merchandise and services are just a natural outcome of the owners’ lifestyles, wherein Old World romance merges with New World vibrancy. Bevelled stemware, carafes and oil bottles mimic the elegance of glass but are made of acrylic.
The dying craft of making linen napkins with embroidered initials is making a revival in Karen Santos’ Kassa home line. The lavish, minute tribal Mindanao stitching is utilized in Filip + Inna’s minaudieres.
“Our style is mixing the old—the comforting aesthetic with an elegant vibe—and the new, such as pops of color or what’s current,” says Natalia.
After studying business and marketing at Boston College, Natalia moved to New York and worked in marketing for Sony Music, and then as account manager in McCann Erickson.
“New York is fast-paced. It makes you tough. I realized that there’s no other place for me like home. I couldn’t live anywhere else,” she says.
One of her favorite places is the family farm in Calatagan, which exudes casual and nderstated elegance with a down-to-earth mindset.
“We’re probinsyanas,” says Natalia. “Maria’s farm is next to ours. She’s also a Batangueña.”
It’s just natural that Natalia is inspired by what is Filipino. “We love to entertain and invite friends and family over. We stick to our roots, spice it up with international flavors and pull them together at home. The lanai is where the family gathers. It’s an important space for us.”
Natalia shares her mother’s entertaining style. Food is plated on a sculptural piece of driftwood for a bucolic touch. The setting is enlivened with patterned t’nalak napkins. Sangria is served in a classic acrylic pitcher that mimics glass.
“I’m learning from the passions of my mother and grandmothers,” she says.
Maria, 40, explains that Lanai also aims to help the urban warrior entertain. “You work from 9 to 5 and have no time to fix up the house and prepare the food. We can help you.”
Their company has also received bookings for two society weddings, intimate events and launches.
Maria studied Fine Arts, major in Printmaking in Utah; immersed herself in Paris’ culture; then worked in marketing at Joyce Boutique in Hong Kong. Missing the Philippines, she decided to come home and find her expression in floral arrangements.
“You must have an innate love for plants. Nothing can replicate the perfection of the flower. A little flower can soften a room, and one arrangement can add so much life,” says Maria.
Lanai will introduce more potted foliage with instructions for people who love plants, but don’t know how to care for them.
She looks up to her mother, Toni Parsons, for dramatic flair. “My sensibilities are simpler and more feminine.”
In the past three years, Maria has been building her own reputation as the go-to floral designer. “After doing so many weddings, mine is the last thing I want to plan. I’d be a bridezilla because I’m OC.”
She repeats her mother’s best advice, “Get it done, no matter what. When you are working with flowers, you don’t have the luxury of time. It takes a lot of management of time and people.”
Finding her passion
Bianca, 35, received a lot of advice from her father, tycoon Iñigo Zobel. He knew that his daughter had an eye for style and design.
From his long trips, he would call her up and share discoveries and make recommendations for future merchandise.
“My dad loves the home. We grew up seeing him fix up the house all the time,” she says. On family trips, the older Zobel would point out interesting archways or architectural details.
“He’s excited because we need a place like Lanai,” says Bianca. A practical businessman, he advises his daughters to be prudent in their finances and to be careful with contracts.
Bianca says Lanai is flexible in dealing with clients. “We can do anything with different budgets,” she says. Citing the resplendent arrangement of pink and white hydrangeas, she explains that Lanai can create a similar version for less, using local flowers.
The team has shown originality in their projects which is quickly imitated. “Once you turn your back, everyone does the same thing. Uniqueness is more important. Style doesn’t cost much. It’s the way you put things together,” says Bianca.
Although a graduate of Political Science from the American University in Paris, Bianca wanted to find her calling by taking short courses at the Philippine School of Interior Design, and studying Fashion Design in Madrid. Still, there’s no place like home, as the adage goes.
“I love to get away to Calatagan or Pamalican. My new favorite place is the town of El Nido. We’re fortunate to live in a beautiful country,” she says.
Bianca says that travel has provided the best education. Enjoying the exuberant colors of South America, she has been sourcing accessories from Mexico and Colombia.
Her greatest inspiration is her toddler son, Matias. She brings him to work so he can learn how her free spirit is the blueprint of originality and distinction. “I want to show him that he can learn to do something that he is happy with, and that he has worked for.”
Lanai is at C-4 The Alley, Karrivin Plaza, 2316 Chino Roces Ext., Makati, tel. no. 0917-6202906.