It was the Manila skyline that first inspired Cathrine Dela Cruz to become an architect. Growing up in Manila, Cathrine was surrounded by classical and colonial Spanish architecture, along with towering contemporary buildings and it was her appreciation of both styles that led her to pursue a career in architecture and interior design.
Today, she has built a career in interior design in Asia and MENA region and has become a handful of few women in Qatar to have founded their own firm, Casa Lujo Interiors with her co-founder and mentor, Shaikha Al-Sulaiti.
“The Philippines has such a diverse culture and Manila reflects this with its unique architecture and iconic structures and enables us to see the history of the city, with both modern and local contemporary designs that decorates its skyline. It was here where I started having an interest in the field,” she said talking about her initial attraction to architecture.
FINDING MY TRUE CALLING
After studying Architecture in the Philippines, Cathrine arrived in Qatar in 2015 as an interior architect for a design studio and found her true calling in the interior design of luxury residential.
“When I first arrived in the Middle East, I was overwhelmed with the type of designs because in southeast Asia we looked at more contemporary and modern designs but here, I found myself interested in architecture that drew on classics and Islamic designs, and it all broadened my knowledge.”
“I had no idea how much I would love classical and Islamic architecture, and since being here, it really developed my interest on its history. It’s not just about the design, but also the technical aspects and materials that drew me in.”
Designing the interior of several palaces for high profile clients remains one of the highlights of her early career. “We worked on the overall Interior of some of the palaces in Qatar, from conceptualisation to executing everything from fit out to furnishings. It was amazing.”
THE START OF SOMETHING NEW
In 2022, Cathrine and her mentor, and previous Creative Design Manager, Shaikha Al-Sulaiti decided to branch out on their own and formed Casa Lujo Interiors.
Today, while the company is still growing, they have a list of high-profile clients on their roster and a portfolio of luxury residential projects with plans on the horizon to break into the hospitality design space.
“For me, mentors are so important, my business partner, Shaikha Al-Sulaiti has been such a mentor to me and guided me in the design space. She helped me understand what clients in the Middle East want and how to navigate consulting for clients. She also became a really good friend and so it was natural to want to partner with her and start our company and really disrupt the design space in Qatar” she said.
The company has already carved a unique identity for itself – modern contemporary with a mix of art and collectible pieces. They ensure that each project that they work on is unique. “It’s all about personalisation,” says Cathrine.
“We combine our design principles with our client’s character. So, at the beginning we sit down with our clients and really get to know them, find out their routine and design requirements to create a better canvas. Our projects reflect our customers lifestyle and their personal design preferences”.
Casa Lujo Interiors is one of few female-founded architecture and interior design studios in Qatar and in the Middle East, and was recently awarded the Best Luxury Villa Design in Qatar by the Luxury Lifestyle Awards.
“It’s changing, we’re starting to see more female-founded design studios coming up across the Middle East, sure there is a long way to go, but there is such progress being made and it’s hard to ignore,” she said on how the industry is changing for women.
“Starting our own design company has made me realise that as women, we have to let our credentials and experiences speak for themselves and step out of our comfort zones. I would advise young women in the industry to get as much experience as possible. Don't be afraid to ask questions and be confident even on the days when you're not. You're going to experience discrimination and rejections along the way, but don't let it define you. You can always start over so never doubt yourself,”she said.
KEEP CALM AND THINK BEFORE YOU SPEAK
One of the best pieces of advice that Cathrine has gained over the years from mentors is to ‘compose yourself and keep calm’, something she seems to do with ease.
“It’s something that I have been using a lot lately. Going to construction sites weekly and meeting different contractors and suppliers, and seeing how quickly things can change, I’ve learnt to take the advice of my mentor and just be calm during stressful situations and more importantly think before speaking,” she said.
Working more than 12 hours a day, this advice has really helped Cathrine to stay grounded and stress-free.
“I sometimes tell my husband that I wish there was 36-hours in a day,” she laughs. “Working for your own company is a labour of love and so I find myself always working. Even during the weekends, I find myself researching for inspiration and looking for new ways to challenge me from a design point of view. I’m always thinking, what can I do to make a project unique.”
It’s easy to see the sheer passion that Cathrine has for her job, not only because it allows her to be creative, but because she gets to meet a lot of people and “it gives me the opportunity to learn and build my skills further in so many areas inside and outside of design, plus I can help bring their design dreams to life,” she says.
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