Cover Gonzalez in an Ulla Johnson raffia top, ALC pants and Linya Disenyo bracelet

Stephanie Kienle Gonzalez authors her first book on design, published by the international publishing house Rizzoli, and shares her ethos on living every day with love and intent

“I love the idea of creating a home for inspiration and not as a showcase,” writes Stephanie Kienle Gonzalez, president of the homegrown and family-owned furniture brand, Philux. “The elements in it should move you and convey aspects of your life, personality and individuality.” The newly minted author of Embracing Natural Design published by Rizzoli is an advocate of purposeful and intentional living. “I fill my space with a mix of simple and notable pieces that I hope to pass on from one generation to another.”

Read more: Philux Spaces: The Kienle Sisters Share Their Top Interior Design Tips

Known for her exceptional sense of style, the beautiful Swiss-Filipina has been the face of many campaigns since her teen years. She’s graced many magazine covers and was awarded Tatler Asia’s Most Stylish in 2016. Her fashion sense is a mix of well-tailored pieces infused with touches of glamour, vintage or bohemian, depending on the occasion. Whether at a business forum, a beach cocktail party, or home with some friends, she is always impeccably and thoughtfully dressed.

It is with this same sensibility that Gonzalez approaches her design ethos: “A home is a sacred personal space that grows and evolves with your life story, it is an extension of your identity, where you can be your truest self, where you feel at peace—inspired and surrounded by the things and people you love.”

 

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Above Stephanie Kienle Gonzalez at the front entrance of her beautiful home in Lapalala, South Africa

Although it was not necessarily a straightforward path to the world of interiors, Gonzalez eventually joined the family company after studying E Economics at Sarah Lawrence in New York and a year at Sciences Po in Paris, closely collaborating with her parents, Philux founders Max and Zelda Kienle, and her sister, Jessica Kienle Maxwell.

Read more: Stephanie Kienle Gonzalez Shares Her Beauty Routine

“I grew up with furniture being the family business,” she muses. “I fondly recall visiting my dad in the workshop filled with the 1970s-era Italian woodworking machines and leaving my child-sized handprints on freshly poured cement in front of his office. My sister and I accompanied my mother on her regular visits to our showrooms. I was exposed to furniture making and interiors at a young age through Philux’s manufacturing and retail capacity. While I did not formally take this up in school, I developed a keen interest in the world of design early on.” “I was always a creative soul”, she shares, “though I expressed it initially through my love for performing arts. My sister Jessica would d doodle quietly in the corner of our room, and I would indulge in effervescent songs and dance, the expressive singing-in-the-shower kind!” Those close to her will attest to the fact that one of her most precious items at home is her Magic Mic. She will invariably brandish after a dinner party and boldly belt out the iconic lyrics of Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive. Her love for the stage almost landed her a spot in an international all-girls band in her twenties, which she forwent for a career in her family business.

“My years of studying in New York City, Paris and London sparked my interest in interiors. The cultural and architectural sights wowed me, and that’s when I started truly appreciating design,” Gonzalez explains. “During my time in Paris, I lived in the dreamy 7th arrondissement, near the Eiffel Tower, but I had this little 25-square-metre Chambre de bonne where I had to walk up and down a hundred steps every day. Despite my meagre student budget, I would fix it as nicely as possible. Imagine I only had a sofa bed! It was the key piece because it was the only piece!” she laughs. “But I bought a nice blue and white Ralph Lauren quilt to make that sofa bed feel extra special. I also hung some nice prints to fill up the wall and make it brighter.” However, she recalls it was more of the little touches that made her student flat feel homey. “I would light a scented candle when I came home and fluff my pillow—it’s these small things that felt luxurious at that time and brought in design in a humble way.”

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Above An outdoor breakfast infused with natural elements from both South Africa and the Philippines

This sentiment still resonates today and is keenly reflected in how she has put together the two homes she shares with her husband, businessman Christian Gonzalez, and their three daughters—Andrea, Arielle and Anouck. “When I envisage our home, I imagine them as stylishly charming, functional and filled with sentimental possessions—treasured artwork, furniture I partly designed, hand-me-down pieces, artefacts from family travels and the odd kiddie item,” she writes in her book. “Objects tie your look together; the small details make your space original and authentic. Treasured possessions remind me of the twists and turns of our family journey.”

Her light-filled Manila flat is an elegant juxtaposition of urban sophistication and nature-inspired pieces—whether that’s a stone top coffee table with aged brass work, a shagreen bar cabinet or Kelly Wearstler’s stunning Trancas credenza made from Russian birch. It is almost always spotless, with nary a pillow awry. However, a surprise afternoon visit will reveal a giant puzzle in the works spread out on the coffee table or a diorama of their Elf on the Shelf on a beach trip, lounging on a chair by a Barbie pool. The inference is that, although impeccably stylish, her home is not just for show but is very much in use and provides a livable canvas on which to paint the everyday memories.

See also: 8 Southeast Asian Furniture Brands that Celebrate Local Craftsmanship

With a completely different vibe than her primary city residence, her home in Lapalala, South Africa is exceptional because her design ethos is less of a “style” but an innate flair for putting things together. “When I am asked, ‘what’s your style?’ I can never give a simple answer because my style evolves as my life and experiences do. My design sensibility transforms as I discover new artisans and artists who resonate with me. I have never felt obliged to adhere to a particular look.” Like with her fashion choices, Gonzalez is quite the chameleon. “I feel that eclectic has become an overused word that describes a combination of styles, but it defines best how I enjoy mixing textures and elements from different periods—a modern take on traditional pieces that includes natural elements.”

Much like she would match a frilly Zimmerman number with minimalist footwear and sculptural jewellery, the design enthusiast loves to play with surprising pairings. “I enjoy creating a visual oxymoron,” Gonzalez explains. “Juxtaposing old and new, classic and contemporary, masculine and feminine, patina and polish. Unexpected combinations energise me, allowing me to fashion evocative spaces that resonate with their surroundings.”

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Above The author with her husband, Christian, and their two daughters, Andrea and Arielle, with Anouck on the way

A very ornate Italian pedestal sits at the corner of the dining and was a subject of much debate for Gonzalez: “When I purchased it, I found that it was a little too rococo for my taste, but it was refinished in a more modern, ashy style. Even if I was unsure, something was calling me, and I took the plunge! Sometimes you need to get out of your comfort zone.” It adds a layer of interest in her otherwise very modern dining area.

“My family’s Filipino, European and African roots inform much of my aesthetic philosophy,” she explains. “My sources of inspiration tend to be diverse, ranging from the mundane, as when we study our wood off-cuts to upcycle and integrate them into new designs, to unforgettable images I see online, from thought-provoking articles, the work of renown architects and designers to exhilarating travels.”

The setting doesn’t matter to Gonzalez; it’s truly the people who move within the most significant spaces to her. “My friends inspire me to nurture good connections for the soul. My family drives me to be the best person I can be. My colleagues and employees inspire me to learn, be empathic and guide.”

The entire process of crafting and building their homes was so momentous and special that Gonzalez was in her words: “keen to chronicle the design process to preserve the experience”. She also felt that it would be a wonderful way to share her learnings to a broader audience. “I started writing notes on my personal spaces and having them photographed. Once I saw how it turned out, the idea of consolidating this into a book turned up. It was a far reaching project, but I was excited at its prospect and chipped at it until a first draft of the book came to life. When Rizzoli expressed interest in publishing it, I was finally convinced that it was ripe to pursue. It was a dream to have my work appreciated by a publishing house of that prestige so I seized the opportunity.”

Read more: Home Tour: A Hotel-Inspired Renovation of a Historic House With Dreamy Details

Gonzalez’s book showcases her love of collaborating with great minds with pages dedicated to the work of Philippine design greats Kenneth Cobonpue and sisters Bea and Marga Valdes; artists Olivia d’Aboville, Lionel Smit and Fernando Zobel; international designers Yvonne O’Brien, Tim Steyn, Nate Berkus, Lauren Buxbaum Gordon, Hadley Wiggins-Marin and of course, the ever-iconic, India Hicks. The latter wrote the foreword to Gonzalez’s book, calling her a “kindred spirit” and lauds the author for her “commitment to supporting Filipino craftspeople” and “her gentle nudges toward an environmentally conscious lifestyle.”

She is an active member of the Next Generation Council of WWF Philippines and sits on the board of trustees for Habitat for Humanity. “Mother Nature is the greatest artist, and she inspires me every day,” she declares. Her husband shared her passion for sustainability and conservation, which pushed them both to take that leap of faith to invest in a reserve in South Africa.

“When I first experienced a safari on foot, I realised that you see things in a completely different perspective,” shares the author. “You feel so much humbler because the animals and the landscape around you are on such a large scale. You feel like this itty-bitty thing, and it’s an almost spiritual experience that I am so grateful to share with my children.” Her children also join the vet expeditions on the reserve and actively help with on the ground conservation work. “Up to this day, Arielle and Andrea keep mentioning these up-close moments with elephants and African wild dogs.”

Aside from a deep respect for nature, she would like to impart her philosophy for inspired living to her daughters. “It’s important to me that they learn to live gratefully. That they find their purpose and chase their dreams unapologetically. They make conscious choices, give boldly and, above all, leave love wherever they go.”

This story was originally published in the March 2022 issue of Tatler Philippines. Download it on Magzter for free.

  • PhotographyFrancisco "Paco" Guerrero, Elsa Young, and Dana Allen
  • HairJan Edrolosan; Saadique Ryklief
  • Make-UpRia Aquino; Tamaryn Pretorius
  • StylingBea Constantino
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