KAREN SAN­TOS

IN WHAT­EVER FIELD SHE HAS EN­TERED, EN­TRE­PRE­NEUR KAREN SAN­TOS IS DRIVEN BY HER PAS­SIONS.

Town & Country (Philippines) - - TASTEMAKER - By Pierre A. Calasanz Pho­to­graphs by Kai Huang

Ev­ery so of­ten, the uni­verse sends Karen San­tos a sign, and every­thing else just seems to fall into place. Best known th­ese days for Kassa, her brand that sells fine linens and ta­ble ac­ces­sories, Karen now also of­fers fine fur­ni­ture—every­thing from Louis XVI-style chairs to mid­cen­tury col­lectibles, from 18th-cen­tury mir­rors to Napoléon III pieces—brought in from a net­work of an­tique deal­ers abroad. This month, Karen, who has been dubbed by friends as a “life­style provider,” gives her clients a peek into her new, par­tially com­pleted show­room where she will have her fourth sale of trea­sured pieces.

Pin­ning down the per­fect lo­ca­tion wasn’t too dif­fi­cult, as usual. “I was at a din­ner—it was my birth­day—and I just men­tioned to a friend that I was look­ing for a space, and he said he had a prop­erty in the area I had in mind and he was will­ing to rent it out. I thought to my­self, wow, this is just too easy,” she laughs.

With the new show­room, Karen is back in the re­tail busi­ness, some­thing she’s been flirt­ing with since sell­ing her knitwear busi­ness, Kashieca, to the Suyen Group 14 years ago. Founded in 1988, Kashieca was named af­ter Karen and her sis­ters Shiela and Camille. “At the time, the Ayalas had just opened Park Square One and they wanted my mom, who was in the knitwear busi­ness, to open a shop. I had just come back from Italy, where I learned more about

maglieria, knitwear, so my sis­ters and I de­cided to do it,” re­calls Karen.

Af­ter more than a decade, it was time to move on, she re­flects, adding that she has no re­grets. Be­fore the sale was fi­nal­ized, Karen was al­ready dip­ping her hands into an­other pie, dis­tribut­ing nat­u­ral stone floor­ing. “I had a friend from In­done­sia liv­ing in the Philip­pines, and her fam­ily had a quarry back home. She asked if I could help her bring in stone, and that was it.”

Soon enough, the need to ex­press her­self cre­atively cou­pled with other cir­cum­stances pushed Karen to start Kassa. “For linens, I was so frus­trated by not be­ing able to find the right printed table­cloths. I couldn’t get the right size or a cer­tain length. It was such a pain. Some­one pushed me to make them my­self, and I did. I wanted to go back to work­ing with fab­ric and col­ors and be­ing cre­ative again, with­out hav­ing the pres­sure of meet­ing a cer­tain price point. When you want linens, it’s a lux­ury. I do it at a cer­tain price point be­cause I give peo­ple the best prod­uct and the best qual­ity,” she says.

It’s the same idea with her luxe fur­ni­ture finds, her lat­est ven­ture fu­elled by a deep per­sonal in­ter­est. “It all started be­cause I wanted to fix my flat. So I went on a trip and met a few deal­ers. I thought, ‘What heck, I want it all but how am I go­ing to bring all of it back?’” the lo­gis­tics seemed dif­fi­cult, but she didn’t give up on the idea. Karen showed snaps of the items avail­able to her in­te­rior de­signer friends who agreed to or­der some pieces through her. Soon she had enough or­ders to load three-fourths of a ship­ping con­tainer; the rest Karen filled up with fur­ni­ture for her­self.

The first Kassa fur­ni­ture pop-up took place in Oc­to­ber 2016, and so far each one has been suc­cess­ful, close to sell­ing out. Some­times, Karen ac­knowl­edges, her in­stincts have been wrong. “Of course, I think I’ve made some mis­takes with my pur­chases, and I’m sure that there will be some more, but I do be­lieve that ev­ery piece will find a home,” she says con­fi­dently. One of those “mis­takes” cost her a tidy sum. there was a chair that was be­ing passed up at her pop­ups, de­spite be­ing rea­son­ably priced. She even­tu­ally found a buyer, but af­ter the sale was agreed, she learned the shock­ing truth. “We de­ter­mined it was an orig­i­nal Pierre Jean­neret, worth, ac­cord­ing to an­other dealer, 10 times the price. I was sit­ting on a gold­mine, but I didn't know it. Ob­vi­ously, the one who sold it to me orig­i­nally didn’t know it too. It’s a les­son learned, I didn’t do enough re­search.”

But why was the piece ig­nored in the first place? Maybe the an­swer to ques­tions like this all comes down to per­sonal taste. Karen diplo­mat­i­cally skirts around the is­sue. “taste is an ex­pres­sion of your­self, and who am I to judge?” she says. “It’s in the eye of the be­holder.” Look­ing around her eclec­ti­cally fur­nished liv­ing room, awash in muted pink tones, Karen lets out a hearty laugh. “de­sign­ers who like black and gray might come around and say, who does this woman think she is, giv­ing ad­vice?”

SOURCE OF IN­SPI­RA­TION

“The eye has to travel,” Diana Vree­land fa­mously said. In my case my eye has been trav­el­ing all my life—to the places I go, to the mu­se­ums I have vis­ited, to the mag­a­zines, books, and blogs I read.

GREAT­EST PRO­FES­SIONAL IN­FLU­ENCE

My mother. She taught me the value of work.

FA­VORITE ITEM YOU’VE DE­SIGNED

I love the ta­ble linens I de­sign. I don’t have a fa­vorite, I love them all.

MOST AD­MIRED DE­SIGNER

If I were to choose one, it would the late Jaya Ibrahim. In­done­sian in ori­gin with no de­gree in de­sign, he trained un­der Anouska Hem­pel. Jaya’s in­te­rior de­sign was about bal­ance and har­mony, Western and Asian. He later re­turned to In­done­sia and de­signed the Le­gian in Bali, Aman­jiwo in Borobudur, and the Dhar­mawangsa in Jakarta; to date, they are my fa­vorites among his work.

WAYS TO DIS­COVER NEW DE­SIGN TRENDS

Go­ing to fairs and see­ing what is out there, chat­ting with my deal­ers, fol­low­ing peo­ple on In­sta­gram.

THINGS ON YOUR WORK DESK

At any given mo­ment I can have fab­rics, nat­u­ral stone sam­ples, cat­a­logues, a cal­cu­la­tor, and of course my com­puter and iPhone.

YOUR IDEA OF THE PER­FECT HOME?

One that gen­er­ates good en­ergy.

FA­VORITE PART OF YOUR HOUSE?

My room.

MOST TREA­SURED PIECE OF FUR­NI­TURE?

All my fur­ni­ture is spe­cial to me; each one has a pur­pose and a story.

WHAT DO YOU CON­SIDER A MUSTHAVE ITEM IN ANY HOME?

You can never go wrong with a good set of ta­ble linens.

FA­VORITE STORES

Sel­fridges in Lon­don, Bon Marche in Paris, and the Dries van Noten store in Paris not just for the clothes but also for the beau­ti­ful in­te­ri­ors done by Gert Voor­jans. But my ul­ti­mate shop would be my store Kassa.

STYLE ICONS

My choices per­haps re­flect my age, but their style has al­ways been time­less: Anna Win­tour, Carolina Her­rera, and Donna Karan.

DE­SCRIBE YOUR STYLE

Ageap­pro­pri­ate!

SOME­THING YOU’D NEVER LEAVE HOME WITH­OUT?

Blue jeans and a black dress. I al­ways throw

them in my lug­gage whether I end up wear­ing them or not.

FA­VORITE WEB­SITES Ha­bit­u­ally Chic and The Busi­ness of Fash­ion.

FA­VORITE PHONE/TABLET APP?

With the traf­fic in Manila, I can’t live with­out Waze, and for my im­me­di­ate news up­dates, I turn to Huff­in­g­ton Post.

FA­VORITE PART OF MANILA? WHERE WOULD YOU BRING FOR­EIGN GUESTS?

I would send them to take part in a tour of Manila led by Car­los Cel­dran!

FA­VORITE CITY TO VISIT Lon­don.

FA­VORITE UR­BAN HO­TEL L’Ho­tel in Paris, Oscar Wilde’s last home, re­mod­eled by Jacques Gar­cia.

COUN­TRY­SIDE HO­TEL OR RE­SORT

Aman­jiwo in Yo­gyakarta de­signed by Jaya Ibrahim.

TRAVEL MUST-HAVES An open mind and a sense of ad­ven­ture.

VA­CA­TION SPOT To be hon­est, I am so happy to just be in my room!

PLACE YOU’VE NEVER BEEN, BUT WOULD MOST LIKE TO VISIT I would

love to see Africa one day. WAY TO RE­JU­VE­NATE Sleep and more sleep!

FIT­NESS REG­I­MEN A brisk walk with Spo­tify. Hav­ing said that, I must get back to my Pi­lates.

HAP­PI­EST MO­MENTS When my eye

is trav­el­ing.

WORDS TO LIVE By Every­thing in mod­er­a­tion, noth­ing in ex­cess.

GUILTY PLEA­SURE Home-made chicharon from a dear friend’s kitchen!

FA­VORITE CHEF My cook, whom

I trained.

FA­VORITE DISH Oh, lots! But I must say that af­ter a trip my com­fort food is a home­cooked adobo with boiled rice.

FA­VORITE PLACE TO CEL­E­BRATE I think a cel­e­bra­tion at home is al­ways spe­cial.

DRINK OF CHOICE Ap­par­ently, vodka has less su­gar so I have been drink­ing that lately; other­wise a good bot­tle of wine would make me happy.

DREAM DIN­NER GUESTS A din­ner

ta­ble of women in­te­rior de­sign­ers with Elsie de Wolfe, the woman who in­vented in­te­rior dec­o­ra­tion as a pro­fes­sion, as guest of honor, with the likes of Anouska Hem­pel, In­dia Mah­davi, Muriel Bran­dolini, Kelly Hop­pen, Kelly Wearstler would be fan­tas­tic, but alas that would be im­pos­si­ble.

MUST-HAVE ITEM ON YOUR DIN­NER TA­BLE

Table­cloth or place­mats, but def­i­nitely cloth nap­kins— no pa­per, please!

DESSERT Sans ri­val.

WRITER OR BOOK I just fin­ished Bel­gravia, by Ju­lian Fel­lowes, and am now read­ing Madame de Pom­padour, Mis­tress of France, by Chris­tine Pe­vitt Al­grant.

FILM My all-time fa­vorite ro­man­tic come­dies are When Harry Met Sally and Brid­get Jones’s Di­ary and my all-time ro­man­tic drama is The Way

We Were.

FA­VORITE FORM OF EN­TER­TAIN­MENT

At the mo­ment, watch­ing Net­flix! When I travel, mu­se­ums are a must. My fa­vorites are the Sir John Soane’s Mu­seum in Lon­don, the for­mer home of the 19th­cen­tury ar­chi­tect, which he de­signed him­self and which houses his col­lec­tion of world-class art, an­tiques, and draw­ings; the Wal­lace Col­lec­tion at Hert­ford House, Lon­don, where my in­ter­est in 18th-cen­tury French fur­ni­ture, paint­ings, and porce­lain was brought to the fore. What I love about th­ese types of mu­se­ums is that it gives one a peep into the way peo­ple lived.

WHAT’S CUR­RENTLY ON YOUR MU­SIC PLAYLIST?

My work­out mix, SparkPeo­ple’s Car­dio Mix, and 2018 Dance Work­out Mu­sic, to keep me go­ing when I brisk walk.

FA­VORITE AC­TOR OF ALL TIME Meryl Streep. FA­VORITE WORK OF ART

To choose one is hard, though I re­mem­ber very vividly at the very im­pres­sion­able age of 15, I was at the Na­tional Gallery in Lon­don. I was study­ing the paint­ings of the Re­nais­sance pe­riod and ex­hausted with in­for­ma­tion over­load from my tu­tor, I de­cided to rest and sit down in front of Monet’s

Wa­ter-Lily Pond and felt a sense of tran­quil­ity.

thE MAIn EVEnt Le Bernar­daud Li­mo­ges plates, Ve­trerie di Em­poli and water­ford glasses, Lalique salad plates, J. perez cut­lery, and Kassa table­cloth and han­dem­broi­dered tou­can nap­kins and doily; Karen’s fa­vorite cock­tail rings and fra­grance with her Fit­bit.

In LIV­InG coLor clock­wise from top: David hicks wall­pa­per on Karen’s faux bam­boo-bor­dered book­shelf, hous­ing books, a celadon vase, and ster­ling sil­ver birds; a Louis XV-style chan­de­lier above her din­ing ta­ble; a vin­tage 1970s brass flower lamp; 19th-cen­tury Jules Moigniez sculp­ture and a 1970s lamp with a tinalak shade.

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