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This UP Sports Science Grad’s Homeware Brand Is A Love Letter To Craftsmanship

Filipina designer France Malvar’s Lu France Interiors is a pandemic pivot that has landed her curated collections in the pages of World of Interiors because of their reverence for sustainability and the maker’s narrative

A collection of artisan creations that are ethically-sourced and environmentally-conscious, Lu France Interiors curates select homeware products that hatch stories from its original makers. More an ode to creative processes and craftsmanship rather than just results, the brand’s belief in the creator’s narrative cements Lu France’s direction. 

Its founder and designer, France Malvar, shares with Metro.Style, “From the start, I knew I wanted to create a brand that would share my style, eye, and love for design while also highlighting values such as sustainability, love for tradition and artistry, and an appreciation for communities and makers whose hands and stories make beautiful handmade pieces.”

“That's really such a huge part of my why for Lu France Interiors,” she continues, “the goal to honor the makers and artisans and their stories.” Sold on the idea of the artist’s inner truths and untold tales, France stands her ground. “More often than not, their stories get lost from their products' point of origin to their big brand destinations and I hate when that happens.”

“I wanted to create a brand that would allow their journeys to be shared, too. I hate when big brands take the work of other artisans, turning the products into home decor and yet completely missing the point of the piece's purpose—the culture and tradition where the product comes from; the maker's story,” France says.

An art greenhouse that aims to protect the product’s history and the humanity that comes with it, Lu France Interiors is a cradle of joint experiences and journeys of expression. “I believe that good design takes time and carries within it powerful stories and journeys that deserve to be shared and heard,” France speaks of it. “And so, with this belief, Lu France Interiors was born.”

A Sports Science graduate, France Malvar’s growing-up path has never been linear, and is nothing but loud science. Hailing from a seed of doctors, her direction could have caught up on her parents’ medical practice, but it seems that the stars have barged in. “I never really had design education growing up. I thought I'd end up working in the sciences, too.”

“But ever since I was young,” France narrates, “I think I've always had a penchant for design. I'm fortunate enough—and have my mom to thank for this—to have grown up in a home with beautiful furniture and a garden that was intentionally wild and beautiful.” Having nested in an art-laden abode, France’s interest in all things art has started to spark.

“I remember waking up on weekends and hearing my mom rearranging furniture and I'd go out of my room to see just that—chairs and decor in different places; plants in and out of the house,” the Lu France Interiors helm recalls. Now leading an intentional life, France has a noble approach in making art—she hovers round the process rather than the products.

Scroll down for Metro.Style’s Q&A session with Lu France Interiors’ France Malvar:

Metro.Style: When did you start Lu France Interiors? What steered you into this direction and what vision did you have in mind when you ventured into this industry? 

France: Lu France Interiors is a pandemic pivot which I officially launched in October 2020. Design in its various forms has always been an interest of mine. I've always had an appreciation for well-designed spaces and objects, too. I've dabbled in designing for weddings—styling intimate events and floral arrangements. I've had workshops on textiles and natural dyes before I launched my brand. Yet, all these were actually just things I gravitated towards as a means to relax and keep my sanity while teaching children. My journey to my brand has never been linear—much like everything else in my life.

I'm a graduate of Sports Science from the University of the Philippines and I thought I wanted to go into medicine after undergrad. Yet, at some point during my studies, I realized I wanted to go into early childhood teaching and so I worked as an early childhood educator for 14 or so years, teaching both in the Philippines and here in the US up until the pandemic hit. I guess you could say the shutdown presented me a moment to reflect and think of what else I can do when schools shut down. There was an opportunity for me to finally go for something I've enjoyed doing on the side and create a brand that would hopefully allow me to share my appreciation for design forms I love—textiles, interiors, objects—and show that I can do it while staying true to the values that I believe in. The latter is just as important to me as my design aesthetic.

Metro.Style: How did you come up with the name? Why is it called “Lu France?”

France: Lu France is actually from my real name—Lu Frances. I was named after my two lolas—Grandma Fran from my paternal side and Lola Lucy from my maternal side. My family and friends either call me France for short or Lu. I was lucky enough to have really spent time with them and helped take care of them during their last years before they both passed a while back. I realized then what truly remarkable, strong women they were. I think of my brand as an extension of myself—France but in business form so I used my actual name. Origin stories matter to me so I think it's apt that I named my brand after my own name and see it evolve as a business as I also evolve as a person. I also like that it automatically, constantly reminds me to stay true to myself, true to my values, and a way of honoring people who shaped me. 

Metro.Style: What is the overall concept behind your collections? What objective does your company or brand carry?

France: When creating collections—whether it be with my naturally dyed textiles, collaborations with other makers, or my curated collections—I always consider my design aesthetic and/or the values of the makers I collaborate with. I love pieces that have patina, that are imperfectly beautiful, pieces that have an organic, lived-in quality about them. I feel like their imperfections are part of their makers' stories, a tangible reminder of life—beauty unearthed, lessons from experience, journeys, stories. When I choose the artisans, makers, or other small business brands I work with, I also carefully consider the values they represent—how they treat their communities, how they value their people, their sustainable practices, and business ethics. When all these things align, then it's easy to create collections that truthfully represent the vision I have for my brand.

I've worked with Anthill, a social enterprise from Cebu. I've curated wood decor from a US-based small business, Acacia Creations, that also ethically works with Filipino artisans in the Philippines. I've collaborated with a Filipino-American candle maker, Terra, to create my memories of growing up and living in the Philippines and turn them into scents. I've worked with different artisans and small business owners and whether they are Filipinos in the Philippines or the US or of a completely different ethnicity in the US and beyond, I can proudly say all of them carry within their own work values that Lu France Interiors stands for, too. Sharing those values with others through beautifully designed, handmade pieces is what makes Lu France Interiors a brand I am proud of.

Metro.Style: How is your studio different from the others? How do you operate? Do you have a physical store? What products do you sell?

France: I work on my naturally-dyed textiles from my home in San Diego, California. My studio is actually the patio. So, I work on my patio and work with my natural dyes outside and then work on everything else wherever else I can—my room, the living room, wherever an idea hits me. I am particular, though, about where I face when I'm working and you'll probably laugh but I do follow Feng Shui and have to be facing Southwest when I work. This attracts my best work energy and it's something I constantly observe especially when working on new ideas, designing new pieces, or having Zoom meets with other makers and artisans. Much like every other micro-business, I play many roles from creating and designing, handling social media, shipping and packaging, sourcing furniture and decor for interior decor clients, etc.

I'm my own boss and I'm also the employee and while I do not have a physical store, I have an online shop as well as a couple of stockists who carry my products in their brick and mortar/physical shops. Aside from my naturally-dyed silks, I also carry a collection of handwoven pillow covers in collaboration with Anthill, an exclusive Philippine inspired candle and room/linen spray collection in collaboration with Terra, wood decor pieces, ceramics, original art and art prints, handwoven throws, and other home decor products from various artisans around the globe. Every piece I carry is something I genuinely love and I often have to stop myself from keeping them at home!

Metro.Style: Can you give us a brief backgrounder on how you gravitated to this creative path? What propelled you to pursue the arts? Has it always been a passion of yours? What did you use to do before Lu France Interiors unfolded?

France: I feel like it was because of those moments and of having had the opportunity to be exposed to other art forms—ballet recitals at the beautiful Cultural Center of the Philippines, frequenting gardens and different beautifully-designed spaces whenever we'd go on trips, among many other memories planted in me. Those memories are what I pull from when creating my silks or working on collections or even designing spaces. If you browse through my website, you'll see that I often share stories of home (the Philippines, where I grew up) on the product listings. I also sometimes name the pieces I create after Filipino words that were ignited by a memory from home.

In addition to my mom and her love for rearranging and decorating our house in the Philippines, I was also inspired by another woman, an aunt. Years ago, we visited an aunt of mine in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She's a sustainable textile and fashion designer who works with natural dyes and fibers and I think that's also one of the moments that really stayed with me. I remember being in awe of her work and I'd say to this day, she continues to be a source of inspiration. 

Metro.Style: Did you come across any challenges when putting this project together?

France: Definitely. I always knew it wouldn't be easy running and growing a brand, especially one launched during a pandemic. From trying to put your name out there to learning the ins and outs of managing inventory and how that relates to cash flow—all these are challenges I'm still navigating as I continue to grow my brand. Growing a brand takes much time, so much time and isn't absent of challenges. During my first year, I've had pop-ups where I only sold a piece or two. Those moments were really discouraging. Pop-ups take so much effort—physically, emotionally, socially. So, when I'd have somewhere, I would only sell one product, I'd always be crushed after. I'd question myself, doubt what I do, etc. But businesses do take time, things are never instant, you put in the work diligently and hopefully along the way, you build a community of supporters who will rally behind you.

There have also been occasions when I'd get mean or hateful messages because of something I would voice out on social media—supporting causes and values I believe in and not shying away from being vocal about them. But, I've also been really fortunate enough to have found a community online—fellow artists, makers, small business owners who share their wealth of knowledge from their own experiences. I'm also really grateful for the community of supporters and customers I've managed to build for Lu France Interiors. So while there are challenges, there have also been opportunities for growth and meeting a network of people who believe in what I do and represent.

Metro.Style: What are the future plans for Lu France Interiors? Do you plan on furthering your reach? Is there anything that you wish to add to your range of products? What do you want to promote?

France: For 2023, I plan to do more pop-ups. Markets and pop-ups can be so exhausting, especially for an introvert like me, but they've also been a fun way of really connecting with my audience and introducing my brand to people who wouldn't usually see me on social media or online. So for this year, I have pop-ups lined up almost every month in my home city of San Diego and beyond as well—Los Angeles, San Francisco, and other cities outside of California. I'm also part of an art exhibit in Italy later this year, and I plan on joining more art shows, too, if opportunities present themselves. 

You can also expect more collections—I'm working on a framed collection of naturally dyed textile art as well as collection collaborations with more artisans and small businesses from the Philippines. I'm also sharing more of my interior decor projects this year—this is something I haven't been good at but I'll work on taking more photos of these projects and sharing them on social media. And lastly, I hope to have more of my naturally-dyed pieces stocked in more retail stores around the US and hopefully beyond, this year.

Metro.Style: What is/are your most memorable interior design project/s? 

France: I have to say my youngest sister's apartment. She's in med school and lives in an apartment on campus. The apartment itself already has beautiful bones with floor to ceiling windows and an open layout but it was fun to bring warmth to the space through furniture and decor. We also had to balance her young, quirky personality, her lifestyle and needs as a medical student, and of course, a student budget. It was so fun picking out furniture for her, adding warmth through color, plants and lighting, and seeing her so happy with the space when it was all done.

Metro.Style: Why are you interested in natural dyes?

France: We only have one planet to live in so I've always been conscious of sustainability and just really trying to be aware of the environmental impacts our day-to-day lives bring. Natural dyeing has been my way of spreading awareness about sustainability and has also, through my practice, been a meditative process for me—a reminder to slow down and give thanks to nature and our planet. I use kitchen waste like onion and shallot skins, avocado pits and skins, tea leaves, coffee grounds, as well as flowers, nuts, and leaves to dye natural textiles with. I love how circular the process feels, how these raw materials lend their beauty to us even at the end stages of their life cycles. Every time I see a piece I create, it's just such a reminder to practice gratefulness and sustainability.

Metro.Style: Who are your design heroes?

France: On a close, personal level, it would have to be my Tita Celeste, a sustainable fashion and textile artist in Columbus, Ohio, and my mom who isn't a designer by profession but has influenced my style ever since I was a kid in the Philippines. Then, my favorite designer would have to be Athena Calderone—her eye for design and the way she uses design as a means to tell a story just moves me every time. I also love that her career was never linear and she is a constant inspiration. Danielle Siggerud is also another because…well, have you seen the spaces she creates? Every corner, every room, every wall is always so serenely beautiful. Then, Teo Yang would be my third design hero. His amazing ability to inject warmth to a space is so awe-inspiring. I also love that you can see his culture in the spaces he creates.

Browse through the gallery below for France’s tips on spicing up a space to make your home a masterpiece:

Lead photos courtesy of Lu France Interiors/France Malvar