Cynthia Almario on finding balance in and out of interior design

Daisy Ratnasari

In this exclusive interview, interior designer Cynthia Almario welcomes us into her home, lets us in on her beginnings, and shares what it means to pay your dues



As far back as she can remember, interior designer Cynthia Almario has always appreciated beautiful spaces. 

“Growing up, my aunt, Tita Myrna Adriano, an interior designer, had the most amazing house. In addition, my uncle, Tito Jun Almario, owned a beautiful white house. I loved that it was clean and modern. I think the image of this house stayed with me because when it was time to build, I wanted my house to be white and modern.”

To enter the home of Almario is to virtually step into her mind. Her design philosophy is evident in every nook and cranny, with each corner reflecting an element of her personality. 

Just the right amount of greenery is integrated into the space–contrasted by stark, white walls. Her pool is tiled a deep shade of indigo; almost black, but not quite. It surrounds her home, almost making an island of it. Look beyond and you’ll see towering stalks of bamboo grazing over from the exterior of her home. It offers a natural zen to the environment, both visually and mentally. 

The pool, which surrounds the outdoor sitting area and parts of the living room, is a perfect spot to entertain guests

Leaving Los Angeles 

“I was very fortunate to practice interior design in Los Angeles, California during the heyday of design. The Pacific Design Center was my playground. I would spend hours selecting furniture, fabrics, carpets, tiles, lighting, bathroom fixtures, and accessories. I also had the opportunity to meet interior design luminaries like James Northcutt, Louis Cataffo, Howard Hirsch, and Michael Bedner.” 

Alongside her sister and business partner Ivy, Almario co-founded the interior design firm Atelier Almario. During their time in Tinseltown, the two absorbed their environment like a sponge, taking in everything the city had to offer. It was the perfect backdrop to the design duo’s beginnings. 

“One of the things I learned there was the sense of scale,” Almario says. “All the furniture pieces were the right scale, some would be oversized and designed for generous spaces. The look was very California.” 

Now, if you’re not sure what that exactly means, Almario describes the style as something that focuses on creating indoor spaces that seamlessly blend with the outdoors. Lush greenery and the marriage of indoor living with naturalistic elements are some of the things that would define a “California-style” home. This design aesthetic is evident as we delve even further into her space.  

The living room, encased in glass walls, seamlessly blends into the front patio where her pool and outdoor sitting area are located. It boasts natural light—something Almario’s home has no shortage of.

Exceptional pieces by local artists also populate her space. In one corner, you’ll find the work of Dennis Bato. Mini figurines of men that make out the silhouette of a human are set against a white resin backdrop. 

Originally designed to be laid out on the floor, Almario decided to hang it on her wall. There, it sits diagonally across shelves occupied by storied objects she has collected over the years: trinkets acquired from previous travels; books on design and fashion; and Fornasetti plates that make for a contemporary touch. In her dining room, a painting by Cris Villanueva rests, featuring his unmistakable bubble wrap signature.

Cris Villanueva, known for his use of bubble wrap, can also be found in the home of Cynthia Almario
Cris Villanueva, known for his use of bubble wrap, can also be found in the interior designer’s home

“Returning [to Manila], was brain gain for us. We absorbed the very best design practices and solutions from Los Angeles, seamlessly integrating them into our design Atelier in Manila. We were happy to collaborate and share the knowledge we learned with our furniture suppliers as well.” 

When asked what drew her to return to the Philippines, Almario recalls a sequence of projects that felt like a calling. “I worked on the Manila Hotel renovation and the Holiday Inn Clark with my sister Ivy and her old firm, Asian Design Resources, alongside Conrad Onglao. Later on, my former firm, Dennis Reedy Design Consultants, secured the EDSA Shangri-La Hotel in Ortigas and the Shangri-La Hotel in Mactan. That’s when I thought: ‘Why don’t I try it?’”

Another view of the house and the lanai
Another view of the house and the lanai

Atelier Almario 

Upon her return to the Philippines, Almario subsequently co-founded Atelier Almario alongside her sister Ivy. Citing her sister as one of her inspirations, she also underlines the value of collaboration within their dynamic as creatives. 


“There’s nothing like collaboration. There’s nothing like the gift of bouncing your ideas off another person and being like – what do you think? We’re lucky to have each other because we’re a team.”


Much like a pendulum swinging from one side to another, the duo’s allocation of work is reliant on one another. With Ivy spearheading each project’s interior architecture, Cynthia describes her part as “everything that falls if you were to reverse a house.” 

Think furniture, fabrics, bedding, lighting, accessories, and artwork. Using a 10-step staircase as a metaphor, she describes her sister’s work as the first five steps, and hers being steps 6 to 10. This arrangement also keeps them from stepping on each other’s toes, establishing a balance in their relationship as entrepreneurs and designers.

Throughout her practice, Almario has consistently drawn inspiration from travel. Having only gotten back from a business trip to Siargao a few days before our shoot, the designer shared how she reveled in the nature of the island, its strong sense of culture, and its laid-back disposition. A paradise not only for surfers and tourists but also for those looking to find inspiration. 

Cynthia Almario shows the Lifestyle.INQ team how her living room opens up into her outdoor space. “This is a party house,” she says jokingly as we are given a tour around the home
Cynthia Almario shows the Lifestyle.INQ team how her living room opens up into her outdoor space. “This is a party house,” she says jokingly as we are given a tour around the home

Gradually, we find ourselves making our way to the second story of Almario’s home. A staircase that starts off wide then narrows as you approach the top. While we shuffle down the hallway leading to the main bedroom, I notice her wooden cabinet. Almario later reveals that apart from serving as a design element to her home, it is also meant to conceal her abundance of footwear. We both laugh. Even in the tiniest of details, she marries form with function.

A recurring theme you’ll notice throughout Almario’s work is her affinity for symmetry—a philosophy practiced even in her own home. There is always harmony when your eyes land on any surface. Woven rattan wraps the bedroom’s walls. It not only offers a grounding personality to the space but also absorbs sound, making the room virtually soundproof. Delicate china blue fu dogs, paintbrushes, bookends, and vases complement the room’s classic wooden furniture—various shades of cream also provide depth to the space. Almario’s bedroom feels like a cocoon away from the bustle of the metropolis; a necessity when working in such a demanding industry. 

While giving us a tour around her bedroom, Almario fondly recalls needing to hand-carry one of her heavy china pieces from a business trip abroad a few years ago. Despite the physical struggle, the experience not only made a good story, but more than anything, the trip provided her with the opportunity to recharge. 

“Travel is our antidote to being burned out.” she shares. “Everything, all ideas emanate from Ivy and myself. As much as we have a design team, the ideas have to be generated by us. So because of that, we decided consciously not to accept too much. It’s so important to have a work-life balance. For me, it’s playing tennis. It’s traveling. It’s doing stuff with my family. Getting out.” 

On her design principles and advice for aspiring designers

When asked about her non-negotiables in interior design, Almario goes back to the basics: Symmetry. Scale. Understanding the dimensions of a space. “People think that if you have a small house, you should buy small furniture. It’s the opposite. If you have a small house just ground it with one correctly sized sofa so it hugs the space. Then, a proper coffee table. So when guests enter, your space is grounded.” 

But beyond the visual responsibilities that come with her profession, Almario explains that the greatest principle she and her sister live by is kindness—a value they ensure is passed down to other designers they work with as well. “We pride ourselves on being very kind to our suppliers. We treat them as our industry partners. We have to set a good example.” she explains. 

Accents of Madagascar rattan, Nancy Corzine chinoiserie blue textiles, and ceramics contrast the cream interiors of the main bedroom.

Having guided many young talents through their studio, Almario beams with pride as she shares how each of them has tremendously grown under their mentorship. “Interior design is relationship building. You can’t be afraid to collaborate. Collaboration is the best because you learn from everybody. I believe in lifelong learning.” 

To aspiring designers making their way through the industry, Almario has much wisdom to impart: 


“You have to pay your dues. There are no shortcuts. People label themselves so easily nowadays. Be humble and always curious.”


On what makes a house a home

What makes a house beautiful? While the answer to this question may vary depending on who you ask, Almario’s answer is simple: “When there’s an authenticity to it.” 

Despite having been the mind behind countless beautiful spaces, Almario’s understanding of beauty remains uncomplicated and uncontrived. 


“For me, a successful house project is when you see the personality of the owner and not the designer. Because then you would have succeeded in bringing their ideas to life. We are just the ones responsible for interpreting their ideas into the best design solutions.”


Interior designer Cynthia Almario
Interior designer Cynthia Almario

Throughout her career, Almario has remained steadfast in her personal beliefs as a designer. And while kindness, collaboration, and respect may seem basic, they are unfortunately not always necessarily integrated into many creatives’ design practices. 

Despite this, these standards have served as pillars, forming the foundation of Almario’s work, and creating a foolproof formula that has resulted in loyal clientele, dedicated staff, passionate team members, and exceptionally beautiful homes. 

Almario’s personality shines in spite of the demands of her work. It radiates when she enters a room. She exudes absolutely no artifice. Call it a linchpin, or perhaps the secret sauce to an enviable recipe. Either way, her authenticity has unmistakably unlocked the doors to success only some of us can hope to experience a fraction of. 


Photography by JT Fernandez

Produced by Sophia Berbano Concordia

Creative direction by Julia Elaine Lim

Sittings by Lala Singian and Colleen Cosme

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