Elaine Cooper takes us through her newly launched showroom just before she sits down to pose for the photo. Housed in a raw-finished room in one of the newer buildings in IT Park, the collection of furniture and décor ranges from fun and colorful, to sleek and sophisticated.
“I have a particular look in my mind when I go around looking for pieces,” Elaine explains, sharing that the pieces were sourced from various showrooms around the country, mostly from Manila. “Sometimes I get inspired with a certain concept, and I go hunting for the pieces to compose a setting.”
The showroom is Elaine’s answer to the growing real estate and construction industries in Cebu. With so many developments and buildings popping up in the city, there was an inevitable rise in the demand for bespoke lifestyle furnishings. “Also, there was the awareness that there is not one place like this yet in Cebu,” she adds.
Although she is someone who thrives on her sensibilities for design, Elaine is foremost a businesswoman. Since she started Elaine Cooper Design around 20 years ago, she has moved through various aspects of the design industry—the result is a well-rounded offering of services, amassed from years of continuously adapting to meet clients’ needs.
“I started from visual merchandising for a department store, to arranging furniture pieces for a local furniture chain. They had clients who didn’t know how to arrange the furniture after their purchase, and they would ask for help,” recalls Elaine, who had actually graduated with a degree in fashion design from Slim’s School of Fashion in Manila. “My training in fashion design came very handy in doing interior work. They have similar disciplines. Both require a play of colors and textures. In fashion, you study your client’s physique and character when designing an outfit. In interiors, you need to understand the space and the over-all concept to effectively deliver the design.”
From then on, she worked with clients to develop her skill, and addressed her lack of technical training with research and advice from friends in the industry. “I was learning as I went along,” she continues. “I took note of past mistakes, learning from them.”
Now, Elaine has a network of suppliers that allow her to work with clients more efficiently—she provides curtains for large-scale projects such as Radissson Blu and Marriott in Cebu, and also makes uniforms for hotel staff. “We did Shangri-la’s pioneering batch for their back-of-the-house staff, as well as Marriott and Waterfront,” she adds.
As for her interior work, Elaine describes her aesthetic as one that is constantly evolving. “I still have yet to find a word to describe it. It depends on the mood I’m in for the moment,” she admits. “One moment I’m so taken by Juan Luna’s The Parisian Life, and the next I’m staring with excitement at a piece of corroded metal I picked up from a project site.”
Contributing to this constant change is the fact that Elaine believes the design process begins with the client. “First I interview the client, then do an ocular and research,” she says, emphasizing that personality and preference play a big role in her designs. As a result, she has begun to develop lasting relationships with the people she’s worked with. “It makes it easier, too, because I already know their taste and they already know how I work,” she laughs.
These personal connections, she believes, is how she remains competitive in the industry, and what really brings her fulfillment. “At the end of the day, projects will come to an end but friendships are there for a lifetime,” Elaine declares. “I think it’s more valuable to be appreciated as a person, rather than just being their designer.”
For now, Elaine Cooper is happy where she is, and as she poses for the camera, we give her some pointers on how to avoid a nervous-looking smile in the photo. “Just pretend that you’re admiring all the work you’ve done here,” I tell her, gesturing at the beautiful pieces she put together in the space. She laughs—considering the story of how she got where she is, I don’t think any pretending was necessary to show admiration.
- Photography by Nath Ybanez