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Fascinating Women 2023: Ivy and Cynthia Almario

An inspiring reveal on the dynamic duo’s journey towards design stardom and their best advice for the younger generation

The design, construction and building industries are said to be a man’s realm.  This is the environment that Ivy and Cynthia Almario conquered with their style, sophistication and polish.  The interior design profession is blessed, indeed, to have not just one, but two Almario sisters practicing.   Anybody who has ever worked with this dynamic duo agrees on their professionalism, kindness and over-all cheerful demeanor.  "It doesn't seem like they've ever had a bad day," is a comment that many resonate with when asked about the ladies at the helm of Atelier Almario.

(L) Cynthia and (R) Ivy Almario are at the helm of award-winning interior design firm, Atelier Almario. | Jar Concengco

These sisters’ journey has seen them traveling and working abroad, and then back to the Philippines, where they have brought with them a wealth of design experience.  

“First and foremost, it bears saying - although it might sound like it’s everyone’s answer - even if it’s not in our career, significantly [the woman who has influenced us the most] is our mom. She was widowed at 42 and raised 8 children. Why is it, at a professional level I twisted it to a personal level? Because Cynthia and I are one of the pioneering interior designers who are women and are sisters. Most of our peers are [male] architects, interior designers. So very few women really mentored us.  [Also], exposure cultivates,” Ivy reveals, when asked who nurtured her sense of style.

Cynthia also recalls their developing years. “Growing up we had a Tita - Tita Myrna Adriano - who had such a beautiful house in Horseshoe.  Also when we went to the States. Of course that was a different environment. It was the heart of the design trends at the time. Pacific Design Center was the hub. It was the best place to be during the… 90s. For the floral scapes, [my interest was piqued by] Butch Valdez and Manny Samson because they did the floral scape of my brother’s wedding. It was an eye opener and exciting for me. Since then, my desire to do floral scapes was practically born over night,” she reveals.  

Ivy and Cynthia Almario | Jar Concengco
Fascinating Women 2023: Monique Santos-Roxas


Fascinating Women 2023: Monique Santos-Roxas

The design profession contends with demands that are very physical and obvious.   Decisions about space, furnishings and finishes are revealed to the human eyes and senses, making mistakes and mishaps very real and easily felt.  Rooms and spaces can’t lie.  In the end, they speak volumes about the designer's dexterity.  In such a high-pressure environment, the Almario sisters have taken on learning experiences that have made them evolve into the design stars that they are now.

“Deadlines. There is a point in your life especially when you have fortunately mastered your craft at a young age - everyone will want you. So you have to have the discipline to consistently deliver. What does that mean? Late nights, no sleep, multitasking,” Ivy shares.

Believing in hard work and meritocracy, Cynthia adds, “You pay your dues. No shortcuts. We’re such perfectionists. It’s really Ivy and myself who go to the factories and do the job site layouts and we’re there for the installations [whereas many] will just send their assistants and will come back the next day. For us, we’re there from the start of the installation. Bakbakan. We smell all the fumes.. it’s a real deadline. Ivy and I pride ourselves as treating the deadline as the deadliest deadline. We’re really there.”

In a profession that is endowed with the proverbial glass ceiling, the sisters believe in supporting other women in the work place.  

“There’s already a 30% bias. Women doing the same work as men and getting paid less. That is something we have to work on worldwide. If we don’t bond together, we cannot move that needle forward,” Ivy states.  

“If we support women, there’s a positive environment that’s created and there’s inclusivity. Because of that we can start breaking down barriers,” Cynthia reveals.

The Almario Sisters belong to a caliber of professionals who have seen enough to share their best practices to younger generations. 

“As we’re getting older, we want to do things just one time. At the onset of any project, if we have the opportunity to go to the job site, we bring everything. We bring our mock up kits, our suppliers, all our staff. We just really want one big meeting to start everything. Normally you stop, digest the space. Now it’s like, ‘Let’s do this!’," Cynthia imparts, giving an important lesson in making the most of an opportunity.

On the other hand, Ivy underscores the value of the interior design profession as a service first before the glamor.  

“Pay attention to your client.  Your clients are there for you to study like a book. There are things that they will say, even their body language. Develop the best bedside manners. Why? You could be their psychologist, arbitrator, judge between a husband and a wife. They say that the biggest stressors in a marriage is building their first house or their dream house.”

Most importantly, Cynthia says, “We believe that we have to be kind first before being correct.  It’s our company culture. We pride ourselves in treating other suppliers equally and kindly.”

In the gallery below, see the results of the Almario Sister's stellar work ethic:

Fascinating Women 2023: Martie Datu


Fascinating Women 2023: Martie Datu

Earlier this year, Ivy and Cynthia Almario were among the 33 artists and works that were recognized at the annual Ani ng Dangal ceremony at Malacañang Palace. This is to add to their many accolades throughout their prolific careers. Here, they get candid and reveal who their dream clients are and why authenticity may be the most important trait of the next generation.

Who is a woman you admire and what do you admire about her?

Cynthia Almario (CA): Oprah. She has this amazing ability to motivate each and every individual to fulfill their goals, their dreams, their ambitions. I always listen to her. She’s so positive. She always believes that we have to make our cups full. It’s only when our cups are full that we can be generous because there’s something to give. If you’re dry and negative, there’s nothing to give and offer to the world. She’s a trailblazer. She’s the first African-American billionaire who actually developed a foundation to empower women and children in Africa. She wrote her own rulebook. When she started as a reporter, she didn’t really feel out of place even though she was surrounded by white men. It wasn’t in her head that she was a minority. She was really positive. 

Ivy Almario   (IA): I live with someone everyday. It’s Cherrie Atilano. Seriously. How can I say that? Her fight to dignify farmers and fisherfolk. Who she does not even know. For her the statistic is real. For us we say, “oh the average age of farmers is 57”. We don’t personalize that fact. She personalizes it. She really wants to change their lives. For me that’s inspiring.

CA: I want to be like her when I grow up. [laughs] You’re such an inspiration so, locally for me, it’s also Cherrie Atilano of Agrea.

What advice can you give to your 25 year old self?

CA: Eat all you can, honey! When you turn 30 your metabolism slows down. But seriously I think you have to realize that you are enough. If you really put all your energy into doing something you set your mind to you can accomplish it. You are strong, you are loved and you are beautiful.

IA: While you have the energy. Just like Nike’s slogan: Just do it. Fail fast. Fail often. And learn. Don’t get attached to the result. You have so much wax to burn, honey. Your candle is quite long. That’s what I would tell my 25 year old self. You have a passion for something? Pursue it. You fail, you’ve done it. Check! Every mistake builds character and builds to your experience.

CA: Invest in yourself. Don’t stop learning. Travel. I encourage yourself to travel and come back. 

IA: In your 20s, already establish an exercise regimen. It’s important. Because it’s something you cannot just pick up in your 40s. You have to have done it in your 20s so that by any decade your age appreciates, you miss it you will do it.

CA: This is a beauty tip. Start moisturizing your neck, honestly. You will love me for it. I did as I turned 20 I started moisturizing my face and my neck.

"We believe that we have to be kind first before being correct.  It’s our company culture," imparts Cynthia Almario. | Jar Concengco
Fascinating Women 2023: Mirei Monticelli


Fascinating Women 2023: Mirei Monticelli

What, for you, makes a fascinating woman?

CA: A fascinating woman knows her worth and isn’t afraid to show it. She has a very strong presence and she’s not afraid to be her self. She’s very confident, articulate, witty with a good sense of humor.

IA: A fascinating woman is also one who truly knows herself. She knows her weaknesses. She’s not afraid to show that to people around her if she’s in a safe space. You can’t always wear armor 24/7. We also enjoy women who are strong but not abrasive. You can be charming but strong.

Who are your role models and design heroes?

CA: Patricia Urquiola - her versatility. She really survived in a male dominated industry - furniture design. I love her furniture design and use of color - it’s really whimsical. She really thinks outside the box. She’s just so creative and very prolific. I totally dig her.

IA: My design heroes are local. I am really enjoying Rita Nazareno, Amina Aranaz and Zarah Juan. How they are organizing communities and raising skills and paying them fairly. I love women like that. Aside from nationalism - using what’s local - it’s women helping women.

What would you like to impart on the next generation of women?

IA: Their biggest challenge is, amidst all of this noise, they really have to find who they really are. The proclivity towards fake is there. You can show your fake food, your fake face because you beautified it, your fake friends - who can be bought. For me, authenticity because you’re beleaguered on all sides. There are too many shiny objects to chase. Find your authenticity so you know exactly what to chase that will give meaning to your life.

"There are too many shiny objects to chase. Find your authenticity so you know exactly what to chase that will give meaning to your life," advises Ivy Almario. | Jar Concengco

Name a woman whose home you’d love to grace with your creations or design and why?

CA: Oprah of course. Imagine if you do a good job? The clients that follow? Because I already admire her, I want to be her BFF and text mate.

IA: There’s this South American writer who has since moved to America - Isabel Allende. I have read a lot of her books. I have a great curiosity about how she lives. Because she has such an amazing imagination. For you to be asked by a person of such an imagination to imagine and do up an environment for her would be very interesting.