Town & Country (Philippines) - - TASTEMAKER - By Pierre A. Calasanz Pho­to­graphs by Toto Labrador

For C. Mark Wil­son, a child­hood Christ­mas present turned out to be a gift that just keeps giv­ing. When he was 13, he re­ceived a cam­era; over the hol­i­days, spent with his cousins at the an­ces­tral fam­ily home, Mark could not put the cam­era down: “I just pho­tographed and pho­tographed the house and its many de­tails. It was a beaux-arts house, maybe by Juan Arel­lano or An­dres Luna. It made me fall in love with ar­chi­tec­ture, pho­tog­ra­phy, and com­po­si­tion at the same time.”

Later, when he went to Har­vard to pur­sue a de­gree in Art His­tory, spe­cial­iz­ing in Western Art, he took pho­tog­ra­phy as a minor. There he learned valu­able les­sons that he still makes use of to­day, as the cre­ative di­rec­tor for Wil­son Escalona De­sign, a firm spe­cial­iz­ing in light-cen­tric in­te­ri­ors and ar­chi­tec­ture. “My pro­fes­sors al­ways said to use the four edges of the cam­era as your frame, so when you are shoot­ing ‘in the mo­ment,’ you are al­ready com­pos­ing. You don't want to do a lot of crop­ping after­ward, you want to im­me­di­ately de­velop an eye for form or sil­hou­ette com­po­si­tion, us­ing your frame,” says Mark. “When I’m de­sign­ing spa­ces, I’m al­ways fram­ing. I like to at­ten­u­ate perime­ter—the cen­ter to pe­riph­ery— which comes back to that les­son. How do you de­sign edges to make the spa­ces ap­pear larger than they are? There are a lot of par­al­lels. All those les­sons are fun­da­men­tal to de­sign and art.”

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing from col­lege, Mark joined Knoll In­ter­na­tional, the firm fa­mous for pro­duc­ing mid­cen­tury fur­ni­ture, for a year in New York, be­fore de­cid­ing to come home to study ar­chi­tec­ture at the univer­sity of the philip­pines. The po­lit­i­cally tu­mul­tuous mid-1980s scup­pered those plans. “It was dif­fi­cult to get to school and classes were spo­radic, so af­ter a year I moved into other fields. My par­ents re­ally wanted me to get an MBA, so I did, at IEsE in Barcelona, partly so I could en­joy that city and see the gaudi build­ings,” he smiles.

Af­ter earn­ing his MBA, Mark’s ed­u­ca­tion con­tin­ued a few years later in Cal­i­for­nia, where he took In­te­rior De­sign at the highly re­garded santa Mon­ica Col­lege. He was on his way to earn­ing a mas­ter’s de­gree at the pratt In­sti­tute when he had a change of plans: “I de­cided I needed a niche. Although it was a re­ally good course at pratt, I needed a spe­cialty. so I did the two-year MFA in Light­ing De­sign at par­sons the New school,” he ex­plains. It was there that he met his part­ner at his de­sign firm, ar­chi­tect Nikki Escalona-Tayag. “We got along like a house on fire. We started work­ing to­gether in stu­dent orgs, and I love her as a busi­ness part­ner. We do dif­fer­ent things re­ally well.”

Bel­las Artes out­post, the art space of Jam Acuzar in Kar­rivin plaza, is a re­cent ex­am­ple of the team’s work, where they con­cep­tu­al­ized every­thing from space plan­ning to sur­face de­sign, from light­ing to fur­ni­ture. Mark’s in­ter­est in that last as­pect, fur­ni­ture, was in­flu­enced by his brief stay at Knoll, and fur­ther stoked by vis­its to the show­rooms of leg­endary an­tique deal­ers Kit roxas and ra­mon vil­le­gas. There, he fell in love with Filipino fur­ni­ture; in his mind, the best ex­am­ples are of­ten un­der­val­ued and un­der­ap­pre­ci­ated: “they are hand­made, made in small quan­ti­ties, ver­sus mass pro­duced and in­dus­trial.” For se­lect clients, Mark sources an­tiques and gives them new life through metic­u­lous refin­ish­ing, “tak­ing some­thing that’s var­nished and dark and then turn­ing it into some­thing beau­ti­ful,” he says. “I’m not ca­pa­ble of do­ing car­pen­try, but I have very good fin­ish­ers. They bleach and ex­pose the wood, putting it in a state where the wood just feels like vel­vet. It’s about tac­til­ity, sur­face, and form. peo­ple love unique, one-of-a-kind things that you can’t re­ally find any­more. The pieces I re­fin­ish can be com­bined in an eclec­tic way in mod­ern homes, and they just lift up the room.”

An­tiques of an­other sort have led to Mark’s lat­est pas­sion. Af­ter pur­chas­ing a col­lec­tion of anting-anting—tra­di­tional philip­pine amulets—a light bulb went off in his head. “I thought about re­cast­ing them and cov­er­ing them in dif­fer­ent fin­ishes, sil­ver and gold, and com­bine them with stones and pearls,” he shares. This project re­flects Mark’s pas­sion of putting to­gether old things in a new way, much like his in­te­rior de­sign projects, al­ways done in good taste.

on that sub­ject, Mark has this to say: “My def­i­ni­tion of good taste is taken from va­clav Havel’s, which is it is about sen­si­tiv­ity to oth­ers. sen­si­tiv­ity to the way you present your­self to the world, con­sid­er­a­tion, and al­ways try­ing to put your best foot for­ward. so, that comes into a de­sign point of view as how you ex­press your­self, or wish to be ex­pressed, in your en­vi­ron­ment. Not flashy, a lot of un­der­state­ment, and at­ten­tion to qual­ity and de­tail.”

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