C. MARK WILSON
THE INTERIOR AND LIGHTING DESIGNER REVEALS WHAT GETS HIS CREATIVE JUICES GOING AND UNVEILS HIS LATEST PURSUITS.
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.”