Contemporary Classic: A Timeless, Asian-Inspired Revamp

This renowned interior designer refurbished a 300-square-meter apartment, transforming it into a functional, comfortable, and elegant space with Asian leanings. 

This is an excerpt from Lifestyle Asia’s July 2023 Issue.

For those who know her well, Nina Santamaria’s remarkable sense of color and composition isn’t surprising given the fact that she attended Fernando Sena’s summer art class when she was just seven years old. Santamaria was even taught by Sena’s friend, the National Artist, Jose Joya. “Jose Joya would visit and help Mr. Sena out, sometimes as a guest teacher,” Santamaria recalls. “Joya would guide me with my drawing, and teach me shading, coloring etc. In fact, my certificate for that summer class was signed by the National Artist himself!” 

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 Nina Santamaria design
The apartment’s color scheme is a creamy, silvery palette with touches of ebony and walnut-finished wood to ground all the light colors

Many years later, she channeled her creative inclinations to another field as the principal of top interior design company, Grupo Santamaria, which, in the past 20 years, has accumulated a robust portfolio to include a broad range of clients from residential to commercial and institutional spaces. Some shining examples of Santamaria’s interior design prowess include the full renovation of a hillside house in Baguio, with its American Colonial roots preserved. 

 Nina Santamaria design
The open layout allows fluidity between the different sections of the apartment

In Zamboanga, Santamaria spearheaded the decoration of the tantalizing Palacio del Sur, which incorporates Filipino Hispanic elements with the city’s iconic symbols, like the vintas, within a modern architectural setting. For a David’s Salon outlet in a hospital compound in Cebu, the interior designer conveyed a soothing lightness by grounding the interiors to two elemental features – a pristine palette and transparent glass.

 Nina Santamaria design
A droplight made from fabric by Kenneth Cobonpue softens the look of the space; art on the walls echo the colors of the homeowner’s collection of celadon jars in a display.

Among her growing list of projects, a sentimental favorite would have to be the full revamp of her aunt’s 300-square meter apartment in One Roxas Triangle. Santamaria says, “I grew up knowing she and her husband – who is my dad’s first cousin – had elegant taste in everything, from fashion to interiors. So with her new lifestyle as a devoted mom, wife, and lola, I jumped into the project with much enthusiasm because I could see she was ready to give their home a new and updated look.” 

 Nina Santamaria design
The kitchen was overhauled but still attuned to the overall theme

The homeowners decided to renovate when the place started to show signs of wear after living in the unit for over a decade. “I was given instructions to change the paint, flooring, bathroom tiles and fixtures, lighting and ceiling design,” Santamaria explains, “and adding new furniture while refurbishing old ones that would still fit the new design.” 

 Nina Santamaria design
The carefully modulated color scheme is achieved with the beige carpeting, gray and off white bedding and curtains.
 Nina Santamaria design
The walk-in closets are some of the major additions to the space

Grupo Santamaria’s team first worked on the layout “for better traffic flow.” Client and designer then settled for a contemporary classic look, with a color story revolving around eggshell white, and proceeded to equip the space for modern needs. The sweeping renovation included a complete overhaul of the kitchen and a resting place for the homeowner’s grandchildren who visit regularly. 

There is also a home office, and what Santamaria describes as “a strategically placed TV where they could enjoy watching basketball games together as a sports-loving family.”

Read more by purchasing a copy of the Lifestyle Asia July 2023 magazine via or select newsstands in National Bookstore and Fully Booked. Subscribe to the E-Magazine via Readly, Magzter, and Press Reader.

Photos by Paul Jeffric Del Rosario.

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