Beyond good design, the Casa Bella Home & Living co-founder believes homes should be built around people’s lives.
Stephanie Coyiuto-Tay knows the joy that good design brings to our living spaces. “Home furnishing is very personal,” says the co-founder of Casa Bella Home & Living and DesignStory.
Over the years, she and her husband Joseph Tay have built strong relationships with clients whose design needs were the origins of the couple’s other exciting ventures. These include Fig & Vine Floral Studio, a new bar design concept at DesignStory, office furniture company ContractWorld, and Taylor Living, which offers American contemporary pieces.
Coyiuto-Tay is touched deeply to know that has done a project well as this gives a deeper meaning to her work. It means that “the trust went beyond the home furnishing but to the family’s general lifestyle,” she says.
Stenie, as family and good friends call her, shares she got her passion for design from her mother, Elena, who she describes as a “person of eclectic tastes.” Her mom appreciates contemporary and classic designs, often mixing iconic European pieces with Philippine Art. This heavily influenced Coyiuto-Tay’s taste: she fell in love with modern and minimalist pieces, more than her husband. Fortunately, they found a way to compromise their preferences.
Now, she describes their abode as “transitional.” This versatility carries on to how she manages all their businesses amid the ongoing global crisis.
Adapting to change
Any business owner and entrepreneur can attest to how challenging the past year has been. The early days of the pandemic were particularly difficult. It was a time of uncertainty, studying strategies, and reworking policies to keep businesses afloat. Before COVID-19 reached the country, Coyiuto-Tay shares DesignStory was about to launch a café bar. However, it got canceled and she had it transformed into a plant haven. Later on, when the quarantine measures eased, they opened to internal clients, all while keeping everyone’s safety in mind.
“It’s very fluid,” Coyiuto-Tay describes her approach to handling the businesses. “We change our policies based on what we feel is suited for that particular point in time.” Prioritizing people must come first and so she maintained only a skeleton workforce, enforced remote work setup for most, provided company shuttles, and limited showroom hours.
The remote work setup, however, proved to be difficult. “The biggest challenge I face is culture creation,” she says, explaining that limited interaction between her team makes this more difficult.
That’s why, as a leader navigating a global crisis, she knows she must keep herself aligned with her values to guide her.
She shares what her father, First Life Financial president and CEO Peter Coyiuto, taught her. “A brand is not just one’s personal property,” she quotes her father. “It’s the culmination of hard work of many people, built over many years of good products and service to clients.” Coyiuto-Tay sees herself as a steward of the Casa Bella brand, to have “a strong sense of stewardship leading to calm, honest and open discussions.”
As more people spend time indoors, Coyiuto-Tay witnesses a surge in home design trends. There is a “willingness to invest in good outdoor furniture. Due to the pandemic, people are spending more time in their lanai and gardens, as well as building houses out of town,” she clarifies.
Apart from returning to nature, she says “In the Philippines, there’s been a growing interest in mid-century modern designs and iconic pieces.” People like to own collectible items so among the ones Coyiuto-Tay brought in is the Taliesin 4 Lamp. This was crafted by the architect Frank Lloyd Wright whose designs she admires.
The pandemic has reshaped the way people treat living spaces, a fact that Coyiuto-Tay and her team are well aware of. “We see a clear emphasis on having flexible spaces in the home to provide work areas for the adults, and study and play areas for the children,” she says.
She believes a house is no longer simply a place to rest, but a safe haven. This is why she remains intent on bringing high-quality furniture through her companies. “We believe in giving more choices to the Filipino homeowner, in an environment that is welcoming and non-intimidating,” she says.
Strength in connections
As with many of us, the pandemic has drastically changed routines—especially for someone like Coyiuto-Tay, who describes herself as “always on the go.”
Now, her work and personal life have merged by virtue of the space it occupies—home. From Zoom calls to alignment meetings, she focuses on the sales and marketing aspect of their companies while her husband handles logistics, operations, particularly for ContractWorld.
“I have always made it a point to make the children a priority over business, so I devote a big part of my day being with the kids,” Coyiuto-Tay shares.
But, like most mothers, it can be a challenge to work when there are young children around. “My kids always stay in our room. I don’t even know how that started,” she says with a chuckle. “We started watching movie nights in our bedroom during the weekends, which extended to them sleeping over even during weekdays.”
She admits this led to having little personal space but she treasures these bonding moments. There is even a running joke within the family about a “fourth son” of Coyiuto-Tay. She loves collecting art and one of her pieces include a four-feet sculpture they call Harry. Coyiuto-Tay’s three boys tease that Harry is her youngest son, attributing to its human-like size.
And, when she needs to take time for herself, Coyiuto-Tay visits her mom’s place and lets her sisters take care of the kids for a while.
The foundation of a home
When the pandemic ends, Coyiuto-Tay is looking forward to traveling again with her family and seeing her friends. They want to visit their relatives in Los Angeles—as is their annual summer trip—and travel to neighboring destinations such as Taiwan, Japan, and Singapore.
For now, Coyiuto-Tay is content to be with her family as they face the challenges of the pandemic together. “What I also realized is that relationships, if strong, can withstand any crisis… I realize how important it is to make the effort to keep in touch,” she reflects. Although people have been dwelling indoors in the past year, Coyiuto-Tay shares “home is what we make it to be.”
While the design of the house reflects the family’s personality, she knows it should work for them as well. “Over time, we build relationships with our clients, and we don’t just advise them about the furniture… it extends to ‘when you entertain, what kind of flowers do you put on the table?’ ‘where do you recommend, they get the plate or centerpieces?” Such questions evoke the importance of building the house around people’s lifestyles.
Fulfilling this is a mark of a good, working design. This is when the charm of the house spreads all around, offering visual ease and comfort to its inhabitants. After all, Coyiuto-Tay believes “beauty in the home starts within ourselves.”
Photos JOSEPH TAY
Shot on location RESIDENCE OF ELENA COYIUTO