JJ Acuña introduces his Makati studio, shares his favourite design trend, future projects and more
By Shauna Jay Popple Williams
Courtesy of JJ Acuña / Bespoke Studio
06 May, 2024
Tatler Homes speaks with JJ Acuña at the inauguration of his Makati studio and second home

It was only a matter of time before the celebrated Filipino architectural designer, James “JJ” Acuña, dropped his other foot firmly on home turf. With his first rooted in Hong Kong since 2005, after a ten-year stint in corporate architecture, the soulful aesthete removed himself from the hellacious equation to launch his very own multi-disciplinary interiors and concept architecture practice, JJ Acuña / Bespoke Studio, in 2015.

Almost a decade later, and with several gratifyingly meaningful projects in between, the studio now has a second outpost Manila-side—a shopfront in a four-storey creative hub aptly named Comuna (Spanish for commune) by the building’s architect. 

Read more: Homage to Filipino Culture: Inside Designer JJ Acuña and His Sister Geraldine Acuña-Sunshine's Family Home in Manila

The Hong Kong-Manila connection was so strong, in fact, Acuña recalls the chance encounter with Comuna’s designer at Soho House Hong Kong, giving impetus to his unrealised dream. When Acuña conveyed how he yearned for a dog-friendly studio space in Manila, the gentleman promptly introduced him to the owner who developed the unique community concept, and sans hesitation on both sides, hit the sweet spot of the Comuna tenant mix.

Having left the Philippines during the 1986 People Power Revolution, Acuña takes this as a sweet reinstatement of his legacy. “I’m so happy I get to be a part of the Comuna community and call this the home of our design studio,” he shared.

Read more: Design & dining: Notes on building a restaurant with JJ Acuña

What do you love most about splitting your time between Hong Kong and Manila?

It allows me to keep a broader perspective and vantage point about everything and to not take little things that happen in each city too seriously. It also allows me to be a tourist in both cities, which keeps the experience fresh. They’re both my homes, but I can also discover something new I never noticed before every time I return.

Which design Apps do you swear by?

I’m currently into the Pattern and My Human Design because I love knowing more about who I am and why I am the way I am. I still really love Instagram. People like to hate on it, but there’s so much on there to inspire you. I’ve hacked the App so I only see beautiful things.

In another life, what would you be?

My mental self would probably say a lawyer. My heartful self would say a painter.

When did you feel you “made it”?

Have I made it? I don’t know about that...I’m always torn between feelings of trying to be happy with the present moment and where I am now and dreaming of a larger and more expansive future. But for now, I can definitely say that, “I am to live a creative life on my own terms and in collaboration with God as my boss.”

What Philippine design trends have you picked up on or that are on the rise?

I think Filipinos have started to effortlessly combine the Filipino vernacular with a more contemporary aesthetic. It used to be very clunky and very “balikbayan” handicraft-sy, and now it’s really stylish. If the Thais and Japanese can easily take their vernacular and make it “now,” then of course we can do it, too.

Future projects we can look forward to?

We’re opening a very cool Italian-American concept in BGC with restaurateur, Carlo Alvarez, second quarter of the year.

JJ Acuña / Bespoke Studio:

Unit 202 Comuna Bdg., A 238 Pablo Ocampo Sr. Ext. Makati City, Manila; Viber: +63956.620.0191.