Habitat President and Chief Designer Chris Lacson re-defines the word ‘design’ to encompass the way we live and go about with our businesses

With half the world’s population now living in urban areas, cities are facing dramatic changes in terms of how they adapt to rising populations and effectively provide for the businesses feeding their economic growth. Whether from a macro or micro perspective, the success of a city—or a country, for that matter—all boils down to how its shared spaces and functions are planned, managed, and ultimately, designed.

“Nowhere is there no implementation of design,” asserts Chris Lacson, the President and Chief Designer of renowned lifestyle store, Habitat. “If you take a look at how people get around—bullet trains, planes, automobiles; how they eat—ovens, stoves, utensils; even what they look at—their cell phones, TVs and media, design is always involved.”

Design, if you take it from Lacson’s perspective, is becoming an increasingly fundamental tool in improving the social, cultural and economic life of cities. “This is not to sound elitist, but I think that what really separates ‘first world’ nations from developing ones is also design,” he says. “If you look at the United States and talk about their graphics—in terms of their TV and their international marketing materials and so forth—you think high quality. If you look at Germany, brands like BMW and Mercedes come to mind which immediately tells you it’s high-end, fastidious, passionate, well-thought out, spent for and spent on. Even Italy with its arts and architecture, its Armani, Gucci, Prada, Ferrari and Maserati—why is Italy, Italy? It’s because of design.”

‘Life Styled By Design’

Today if you had to list down the topmost aspects of design, they would probably be idealistic, serious and public-spirited. Solving the environmental crisis. Tackling social problems. Turning technological breakthroughs to our advantage. And while these are all worthy objectives and bring forth inspiring projects, there’s also the more indulgent side of design—creating things that aren’t necessarily world-changing, but are beautiful, luscious, fun, and in one way or another, make our lives more pleasurable.

This is exactly what lifestyle store Habitat seeks to achieve with the progressive new motto the younger generation Lacson has coined upon taking over his late father’s business: “Life Styled By Design.” More than just the common preconception that style translates to what’s seen only in fashion and beauty magazines, Lacson relates it more towards how his clients want to live. “Zen, modern, eclectic—these are all catchwords for ways of life,” says Lacson. “When you say modern or Zen, it’s a loose way of saying these are people who want less in the house—less clutter, less stuff, less abubot (knick-knacks) everywhere. But the stuff they do have is high quality and extremely comfortable.”

Habitat’s timeless furniture pieces deliver exactly that. “We sell investment pieces that are all tailored to the client and we adjust our designs to make our pieces higher, shorter or wider, depending on their preference,” says Lacson. With Habitat’s portfolio spanning over 8,000 designs that range from classics like the 37-year-old Sheriff Chair and the Bastiano Sofa to Lacson’s award-winning Frame Chair Series, clients are afforded a vast selection. “Ninety percent of our sales are custom. We also have off-the-floor sales and that’s also very good, but a lot of our sales are from people of discerning tastes who already have an idea of what they are looking for and are willing to invest in something long-term,” he adds.

‘The Milan of Asia’

When you step into the Habitat showroom in Makati, there’s plenty interesting to see. Slowly finding their way into the best-selling list are furniture that champion sustainability, invent new ways to use digital technology and objects that strike an emotional chord with people who will use them.

A fine example would be the Kartel Stereo Chair, part of Lacson’s Amplifine line, which features a built-in sound system. “It’s the kind of chair you can have a cigar and hibernate in while listening to music,” says Lacson. “Its amplifiers and block speakers were all designed here. In fact, what’s interesting to note is that all products under the ‘H’ brand are local. While we do carry international brands that fit cohesively with our designs, Habitat’s products are all made, designed and fashioned here. Because when you keep selling imported, what you’re losing is a chance to do something good—if not better than—imported.”

Most people are not really aware that Filipino products exhibit high demand the world over. “Our country, believe it or not, has been called ‘The Milan of Asia’ in terms of furniture and accessory design,” shares Lacson. “That’s no laughing matter. Even Gaetano Pesce, a famous Italian designer who was here for the International Furniture Show, said that the Philippines and Italians are similar. I think that the local furniture industry is on the edge—it could really be one of the places people from all over the world come to for very high-quality, well-designed and sought-after medium to high-end pieces.”

According to Lacson, Filipino artists and designers have it in themselves to help make the world a better place. “Education is really the key,” he says. “By education, designers can help change and raise the level of awareness people have about what design is, what it can do, and what it can bring to the table.”

Published in Manila Bulletin’s Business Agenda section. June 28, 2010.