A serpentine staircase snakes up to an indoor balcony in Lor Calma's residence.


Iconoclast: Life lessons from Lor Calma

Why should I imitate anybody? Lor Calma asked, and paved the way for Modernism in the Philippines

  • August 8, 2017

  • Interview by Judith Torres

  • Photographed by Ed Simon

His first job was essentially to produce knock offs of imported furniture. But Lor Calma didn’t like the idea of copying when he could improve on their design. As a young designer who had just opened his one-man office, he went against what was trendy, even when it meant fewer jobs. Here’s a hero whose example—and designs—are as relevant today as ever before. This interview took place in mid-2013 at Lor Calma’s office on Salcedo Street in Makati.


Tell us about the early days.

Noong mid to late-1950s… si Arturo Luz nagsisimula ng bagong gallery sa Dakota. Si Lindy Locsin nandoon sa likod ng gallery yung opisina niya. Ako naman nasa Taft Avenue, umupa ako ng space sa may House of Décor—lahat kami nag-umpisa ng maliit. Si Joe Joya nag-umpisa rin ng maliit… Yun ang mga ka-grupo ko nung araw.

 

What was your first job?

During my college days I worked at Aguinaldo’s Department Store. I was introduced by my third-year professor in Mapua, si Gabino de Leon. Siya ang architect ng Aguinaldo’s, eh. Parang Rustan’s yan, ang pinakamalaking department store, may department of interior design and furnishings. That was in Echague. In front of us was Henry Sy, with his small accessoria, nakikita ko siya, nagdadala ng leather for Shoemart.

Tatlo o apat kaming pinadala ni Gabino sa Aguinaldo’s. Ngayon, pinapili kami ng architect in charge kung anong gusto naming department. Sabi ko, mas gusto ko sa factory. I don’t want to work in a showroom, it’s so boring! During that time, Aguinaldo was importing a lot of furniture from the US. Ang furniture, modern! Very modern. Pinadi-dismantle. Sabi ni Mr. Aguinaldo, “You know, Lor, you try to work it out in the local method of construction.”

Ang American kind of construction, iba eh. They use metal works. Tayo, mga dovetail, dowel ang joinery. Pero hindi ko pa alam yung mga yon, kasi I was just a student that time, baka 22 to 23 years old lang. [The Japanese occupation in 1942-1945 had interrupted schooling.] Sabi ko sa foreman, “Binaklas ko na, paano natin gagawin ito na gaya nung local construction?” Sinabi sakin, “Sige tulungan kita.”

 

Nagre-reverse engineer kayo ng imported furniture!

Oo. But I was so ambitious, sabi ko, bakit naman ako kokopya? Gusto kong mag-deviate sa original! So sabi ko naman sa boss ko, si Boni Ramos: “Boni,” kako, “pwede bang i-modify ko yung silya? Tingnan mo, upo ka. Are you comfortable?”

Sabi niya, “Medyo.”

“I’ll do a design that’s more comfortable. It will support your lumbar,” sabi ko sa kanya.

Tapos sabi niya, “Sige, you design a chair, have it prototyped, kung okey, then you produce six pieces.”

Nayari na yung prototype! Iniba ko yung detalye, pati inclination nung silya, pero yung skala pareho rin, tapos sabi ko: “Sige, subukan mo, sir.”

“Aba, okey ito, a!” sabi niya. “O, design a table to complement your six chairs and I will display it in the showroom!” Wow, okey na incentive, diba? Okey na inspiration! That’s how I got started in furniture design.

READ MORE: Succeeding Success: Eduardo and Lor Calma

Lor Calma at the opening of "Architect Lor Calma: Paintings & Sculptures" exhibit at the Ayala Museum in 2009
Lor Calma at the opening of “Architect Lor Calma: Paintings & Sculptures” exhibit at the Ayala Museum in 2009

How long did you stay there, and how much did you make in those days, if you don’t mind my asking?

Two years ako sa Aguinaldo’s. Five pesos a day lang ang sueldo dun e. Eh, five pesos a day, okey na rin yon, kasi one is to two lang ang dollar noong araw eh. Nakatira ako sa Avenida with my cousins, we were renting a house. Avenida to Echague, dalawang sentimos lang ata ang jeep. Pagbaba mo roon, if you want to eat an early breakfast, meron don donut na mahaba, at kape. Yung limang sentimos mo, hindi mo mauubos. Donut dati hindi bilog, mahaba eh. Nakasawsaw ng kaunting asukal; ang pambalot dyaryo. Then from that corner, just walk a little mile to Aguinaldo, kinakain mo yung binili mo. That was life in 1948, 1949.

I met Mr. Del Rosario of DRB before I left Aguinaldo’s. Del Rosario Brothers—their office was at the corner of Sta. Cruz Bridge. Merchandiser of cooking appliances, kitchenware, furniture—lahat yan imported from Japan. Dumadating sa kanila yun lang component ng mga radyo at TV, walang cabinet.

Pumunta siya sa showroom ng Aguinaldo. It was about six, wala nang tao dun. Pero ako, from the factory pumupunta ako upstairs sa department store, kasi mahilig akong tumingin sa mga damit.

“Sino bang in charge dito?” sabi niya.

“Wala na po sir, sarado na.”

“Can you help me?” sabi niya.

“Why not?” sabi ko.

Nandun siya, turo ng turo sa lahat, “I like that living room! I like that dining room!” Naka setting kasi yan eh, gawa nila Ched Berenguer, sina Myrna Cruz, graduate yan ng interior design sa Amerika. So, sabi ni Del Rosario, “Kunin mo yung presyo ng lahat yan and call me up.” So itinawag ko.

“Eto po yung presyo,” kako.

“Sige, pa-deliver mo,” ang sabi niya. Bahay niya nasa compound ng Roberts, sa Pasay, puro bahay ng mga mayayaman doon, sina Quezon, Lopa—parang Forbes Park yan noong araw. Limang bahay ang meron ata dun sa Del Rosario brothers. Mga bahay nila mga American homes itsura eh, yung may balcony, style plantation houses painted white and blue, ang flooring kahoy.

Tapos, tumawag si Del Rosario. Sabi sa akin, “Lor, hindi ata bagay mga binili natin, luma na itong bahay ko! Eh ang ganda ng mga binili natin!”

Sabi ko, “Meron akong remedyo diyan.”

Sabi niya, “O sige, bahala ka na, I’ll give you a budget.”

Sabi ko, “Huwag nating galawin yung bahay. Puede ba papinturahan ko ang lahat ng puti?” That’s when I started using white. Eh yung flooring naman, sira-sira na, pina-stain ko ng black, para ma-disimulado yung sira. So sinetting ko. So nagmukha nang okey, ‘no.

Sabi ko kay Del Rosario, “You know sir, you need some area carpets para lumitaw, para ma-elevate yung components.”

“O sige,” bahala na daw ako. Eh nung araw wala naman yung mga Tai Ping na yan e. Ang binili ko mga abaca from Ilocos. Yung bedroom pina-pintura ko, pinalagyan ko ng kurtina, pero hindi yung tela na kurtina, yung matchstick. Alam mo yun? Pinapintura ko rin yun ng puti. Namili ako ng maraming palmera—one of the cheapest indoor plants yun eh. Malalaki! Pinapintura ko rin ng puti yung mashetas, yung vase. Siguro mga sampu yon, kinalat ko. So nagmukha nang outdoor-indoor environment.

So sabi niya, “Okey na ngayon, ah!”

“Pero may kulang pa kayo,” kako. “You need a lamp for your night table, you need a hanging lamp for your dining table, you need some small accessories.”

“Bahala ka na!” Lahat ng binibigay na pera sakin, pagka may sobra, binibigay sa akin! Incentive, ano? So finally, nayari. He was grateful. Then he said, “You want to work for me? Magkano ang sweldo mo diyan?”

“Limang piso lang po,” kako. “Paalis na nga ako dahil graduating na ako, I cannot live on five pesos, I want to look more professional, I want to buy new shoes!” [Laughter]

You know, in any profession, the client will not respect you if you’re shabby! Even our architects dito sa opisina, I tell them, you have so much money, you go to a nice shopping mall, may taste naman kayo, wag naman kayo bibili ng mura. Complete three or four suits na magaganda, black or white, mag mix and match. Para meron kang konting personality! Hindi ba? Ganon ako nung araw.

Philippine High Modernism is very much alive in his home. Lor Calma keeps the purity of his intent with a lifestyle that is controlled, disciplined, and uncluttered.
Philippine High Modernism is very much alive in his home. Lor Calma keeps the purity of his intent with a lifestyle that is controlled, disciplined, and uncluttered.

From whom did you get your sense of style?

My father. My father was a gentleman farmer. He had a hacienda planted with sugar and rice in Pampanga. May kaya. Ang bahay namin ancestral, eh. Namana ng lolo ko sa tatay niya. They owned almost the entire area in Magalang, at the foot of Mt. Arayat. Ang father ko was the youngest among four—two boys two girls. Eh yung lolo ko, siempre yung youngest paborito eh.

Sabi ng lolo ko, “If you can manage [the farm] you can just give them something pag nag-harvest na. Ikaw na ang bahala, ikaw ang lalaki, eh.” Alam mo naman noong araw, honest to goodness, ang sinabi ng tatay, yun ang susundin mo, e. So napunta sa amin lahat ng parte ng mga sister niya, yun ang pinalaki sa amin. I was 12 years old that time, my youngest sister was only six months old.

Namatay yung father ko 1942. May sakit siya. Pinasok ng nanay ko sa San Juan de Dios. Yung intestine niya lumiit yung butas, hindi na pumapasok ang pagkain. They had to cut that and then join it. Pero inabutan nung guerra, ayun. 1942 siya namatay. Japanese time. [Lor would have been 14 years old by then.] Nakiusap yung tinyente ng barrio, he’s my uncle, sabi niya, kung pwede ilibing yung tatay ko sa sementeryo. Pumayag naman. We were just a few. Close relatives lang pwede pumunta. Siguro we were only twenty.

Ang namana ko sa daddy ko, taste. Nung mina-manage ng daddy ko yung napunta sa kanya, mahilig! Mahilig sa magagandang bagay, yung bahay namin I still recall, yun bang ancestral nakapatong sa bato. Bato sa ilalim, tapos yung bintana, naii-slide ng ganun, yung pasamano—windowsill—malapad.

Pagka fiesta sa amin, sasama ako sa kanya, pupunta kami ng Aguinaldo’s, bibili ng lace, lalagay ng kurtina sa mga pintuan. Father ko noon may kotse, Ford. We were the first to own a car in our barrio.

Yung kusina namin, wala pang kuryente noon, yun lang bato saka sawdust. Nakabitin yung mga wild deer, wild pig, wild ducks, kinu-cure ng mother ko parang hamon. Saka meron kami noon sa tapat ng kusina ang tawag dun “dulang,” a big square table, very low, you sit on the floor, it can accommodate at least eight people, pagka lunch time. Pero mayroon kaming mesa, good for 34 people. Yun ang binibili ng lace ng daddy ko. Malaki! Sa ilalim, may plain cotton sheet. During Japanese time, mahirap ang damit, so ang nanay ko pinagawa niyang mga shirt at saka chaleco namin yung mantel na yon ang ginamit! [Laughter]

Nung namatay yung father ko Japanese time; sabi ng mother ko sa akin, “Lor,” sabi niya, “tayong dalawa magtutulungan dito sa kapatid mo.” I am the eldest kasi. Well, okey naman. Naka-manage kami ng mother ko, napag-aral kami ng isa-isa, tapos nung college na kami nagtulong-tulong na kami, kung sinong may trabaho, kung sinong may kita, tinutulungan yung iba. Kasi na-land reform yung lupa. Kaunti na lang ang natira.

 

Ano naman po ang trabaho ninyo sa Del Rosario Brothers?

Ngayon, sabi ni Del Rosario, “You’re gonna stay in the design department. You design furniture, design the cabinet for the radio, TV, everything. And then create a name.”

Sabi ko, “Okey!” Nagdi-design-design lang ako until I was able to get six designers for my department. Ang sweldo ko noon P1,500 a month. Malaki yun.

So na-create ko yung image ng Del Rosario. Yung living room, pinangalan kong “Live Rite.” Ang cooking naman, “Cook Rite.” Ang dining naman, “Dine Rite.” “Sleep Rite.” Ganun. Lahat “Rite” meron. I designed a logo, pero I had to coordinate with Sales, sabi niya. Baka daw kasi ang gawa ko masyadong modern, and “Our Sales department cannot sell your line.”

Sabi ng marketing department, “You go with the logo, and we’ll put it on the market.” Kasi sila namimili kung saan-saan lang, walang taste eh.

“Ang furniture ni sir walang ka-taste-taste, eh,” sabi ko.

 

How would you describe your taste?

Ang taste ko? Chanel! I like beautiful things. I like Chanel, I like YSL, Balenciaga. Hindi yung mga pok! pok! [Gestures with hands to indicate ornamentation] ngayon na iba na. Ang sabi ng daddy, “When you go to a party, you don’t have to be admired right away. Yung hindi ka mapapansin kaagad, but when they come closer, ‘Oh! Very simple but outstanding.’ Simple. Yan ang taste!”

 

After the Del Rosario Brothers?

May konting savings ako don, I put up my office. My first office was on Azcarraga. One room, 30 pesos a month. Pagbaba mo sa elevator, turn right, it’s right there, facing Azcarraga. One room, I divided it into two. Square yan, pagpasok mo reception, sliding ito, the motif is very Japanese. Very minimalist. Pagpasok, it’s like a Japanese garden. And then my reception table is low, glass on top of a rock. And then I have three stools made of acacia trunk, duon umuupo ang bisita ko. Yung aking kalahati, meron akong bookshelves at isang mahabang mesa against the wall, para pag maraming trabaho, I can hire some of my former classmates to work with me.

 

How do you want to be remembered?

I want to be known as Lor Calma from a barrio in Mt. Arayat! [Laughter]

 

Sounds minimalist indeed!

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Noon pa, ganoon na ako, ayoko yung borloloy. I like Richard Neutra, Philip Johnson. Si Frank Lloyd Wright, well-known noong araw pero hindi ko tipo. Maarte e. I like Saarinen, malilinis. Mies van der Rohe. Yun ang tipo ko, maski bata pa ako. Ched Berenguer, Mediterranean; si Willi Fernandez, ethnic; si Tony Zamora traditional; Joquin Imperial, antique. Lahat ng kasama ko dati, marami silang cliente eh. Sabi ko, I’ll stick to modern. Kaya kokonti lang client ko, they don’t like modern eh. Sabi ko, magtiyaga ako muna, one of these days I might hit the jackpot. Para akong nagtatanim muna.

Meron akong ginawang bahay 40 thousand lang, it’s a box. Bagong kasal. Why a box? Can you afford more than 40 thousand, tanong ko. Alam mo yung box na yon? I divided it into four. The cross in the middle, all open space. Around it are four square volumes. So when you enter, it’s an alley of green. And then you go to the living room, dining room, bedroom, garage. Apat lang. Hollow block lang, pinapintura kong puti. The flooring, pebble, black. In the living room, just two Barcelona chairs. Statement! Saka yung duyan nung araw, yung gawa ng Rattan Arts, sa corner; then katabi non naglagay ako ng capiz na bilog, hanging. Yun lang. Statement. Dun naman sa dining for six lang, modern din, and then ang ginamit kong silya, designer chair ni Saarinen, parang Lotus Chair na white.

Ayon, padagdag ng padagdag ang trabaho, but I was making more money in interiors than houses. So yun ang gawa ko, living room, dining room, kung minsan buong bahay.

 

How did the Cancio-Calma partnership come to be?

I met Mr. Agustin Cancio and Mr. Agusto Gamboa because of the old airport [Manila International Airport by Federico Illustre]. Dala-dala nila ang plano na galing sa Public Works. Almost one year sila naghahanap ng designer. Nakita nila ngayon sa Yellow Pages ang House of Décor. So pumunta sila doon, sa P. Paredes sa may Far Eastern University.

“Hindi ho kami ang designer,” sabi nila, “pero may listahan kami ng mga arkitecto at interior designer. Ano pong hinahanap niyo?”

“Ang gusto namin modern, eh.”

“O, eto, tawagin niyo si Lor Calma. Kapampangan yan.” Kampampangan kasi yung dalawa. Si Toy Cancio was the first cousin of Ninoy Aquino. Si Mr. Gamboa naman is a landed guy from Pampanga, mayaman, asawa niya number one socialite from Cebu, parang siya ang Chona Kasten doon.

Anyway, pumunta sila sakin, dala-dala yung plano. Nagulat sila sa opisina ko eh. Ngayon lang nakakita ng modern Japanese minimalist. Ang sabi nila, ang budget natin dito ay 500 thousand, for the interiors and furnishing.

Sabi ko, “We have to facelift the interiors kasi sobrang simple lang. Give me 10 percent of 500 thousand, 50 thousand pesos, and I can produce the contract documents, designs, all in one package. Sabi ko, “Bigyan niyo ako ng kalahati pang downpayment. I have to pay my architects.” Muntik na ako bumili ng kotse nun! Alam mo, ang isang Mercedes, P8,000 lang. Yung Volkswagen P5,000 lang. Yun ang first jackpot ko!

Tinawagan ko yung dalawa kong kasama sa Aguinaldo. “Mag-part time kayo dito,” kako. “Anong sueldo niyo? 150 a month? Doble ko,” kako. “One week natin tatapusin ito.” After five, nasa akin na sila. Hanggang 12 kami, overtime. At 12, kumakain kami dun sa Aroma Café. Bino-blow out ko sila. Umaabot pa kami alas kwatro ng umaga.

So, nayari. Dumating sila, di pa binibigay sakin yung kalahati, nabigay ko na lahat-lahat na yung design. Sabi nila, ang problema natin dito Lor, in-approve na ng Department of Public Works yung design and everything, nakakuha sila ng down payment na 250,000. “May deadline tayo dito to produce the furnitures and interiors.” Kaya ako nang bahala, madami ako pinaggagawan na sideline, mga galing Aguinaldo. Pinagawa ko lahat. Na-furnish nila. Nung inauguration, nakuha nila yung pera nila ng kumpleto, ang nagasta lang namin, 250 thousand siguro, kasama ang fee ko. So meron pang sobra na mga 250 thousand.

Bumalik sila sakin. Ang sabi sakin, “Alam mo, Lor, magaganda ang nalalaman ko. Yung balance mo na 25,000 gawin nating corporation. Gawin nating paid up yung 25 mo, dagdagan namin ng 75,000. Kami, 75% equity pero ikaw ang presidente, ikaw ang lahat. I’ll receive a salary and a car.

“Pag-isipan natin,” kako. Ayaw ko nang maging empleyado. Gusto ko mag sarili talaga. Eh, hindi ko naman talaga sila kilala, hindi ko alam ang ugali. Baka ma 1-2-3 lang ako. Baka, pag natayo ko na yung corporation, “Goodbye, Lor!”

Ginawa ko. Nagtayo ako ng showroom, kumuha ako ng factory to make the furniture. Pinangalan kong Gamboa-Cancio. Sabi nila, lagay mo nang Calma o kaya, Calma-Cancio. Ayaw ko.

“Hindi maganda yon. Kayong dalawa na lang,” kako. So inauguration kinumbida si Presidente Garcia, nag-cut ng ribbon. Lahat ng showroom naming display eh, turo ng turo yung mga congressman, all sold out. Dami naming pera! Eh lahat designs ko, pati building. Sabi ko sa kanila, talunin ninyo ang Aguinaldo’s.

View from the foyer, Lor Calma residence
View from the foyer, The main door is the elevation of the Filipino capiz panel, a theme recurring in the home’s architectural composition. A yellow objet d’art by Lor Calma hails people upon arrival.

 

What happened to Mr. Gamboa? How did Gamboa Cancio become Cancio Calma? 

Nag-away sila ni Mr. Cancio at saka si Mr. Gamboa, pinag-aagawan nila ako. Gusto ni Mr. Gamboa, sa kanya. Gusto naman ni Mr. Cancio, sa kanya. Nag-split yan eh, hanggang sa natira si Mr. Gamboa, kaya hindi ko na maiwanan yung kumpanya, committed ako sa mga senador, congressman. Sabi ko kay Mr. Cancio, tapusin ko muna ito kung gusto mo ako kasama. Si Mr. Gamboa naman, meron siyang Alfa Romeo, sabi niya, “Sa iyo na yan, Lor, huwag ka nang umalis sa akin!” [Laughter] Para akong isang alahas na pinagaagawan. After a while, kinausap ako ni Mrs. Herminia Layug, nanay ni Budji, kapatid ni Mr. Cancio.

Kaya na-form yung Cancio Calma. Sabi nila ngayon, partnership nalang tayo. So ako na nagtayo ng showroom nila, ako na ang nagtayo ng lahat, furniture nila. Yung capital 25% sakin, yung 75% sa kanila. Yung 75% hindi nagalaw yan because of down payment. Well, kaunting capital dahil yung stock ginawa. Pero, bumalik naman din kaagad. After that, magkasama kami ni Mr. Cancio, we became well-known for modernism. Nag-iinterior na ako noon. Gumagawa na ako ng isa-isang bahay, at dumadami na ang clients ko. Kasi ako ang in-charge ng sales and design. Binenta ko lahat ng share ko 1974.

Nagtayo ako ng sarili. Tinayo ko yung Lor Calma & Partners. Nagtayo rin ako ng furniture company. Lahat dinesign ko, office system karamihan, pero marami rin kasi humihingi ng pang living room, dining room, so it was a complex product line. I had a showroom sa Paseo, Esperanza, and then binili ko ito. Showroom din ito, so I had two showrooms. Ang tao ko sa pabrika mga 350 people, it was a four-storey building sa EDSA. And then I closed shop. Five years ago I sold the factory, including machineries and everything, kasi yung mga bata, ayaw nilang pumunta sa furniture, kasi pumasok ang mga Chinese-made. Yung cost namin 10 piso, sa kanila 1 piso.

Now I’m making sculptures. Ang dami kong ginagawa ngayon. That’s how I make my money for coffee. [Laughter]

 

Where did you get your ideas from?

Spontaneously lang. Punta ka sakin, sabihin mo sa akin ano gusto mo, from your words I interpret. Don’t dictate on me. Kaya pumunta ka sakin, eh. Kung gusto mong maniwala sa akin, I want at least 90% of my ideas to be there. Ayoko ng magtuturo ka sa magazine, ganito ang gawin mo. Maghanap ka ng ibang arkitekto pagka ganon.

The interview is cut short because Calma is feeling unwell. He asks to be excused. The interview is continued a month later, in his home, which BluPrint featured in its Vol. 6 December 2013 issue. As Calma shows us around the house and entertains us with anecdotes about the trees he planted, where he bought the piedra china flagstones in the garden outside the living room, or the cocktails accompanied by music played on the grand piano in the main hall, and the parties held by the pool and the roof deck, we pick up where we left off. The man has done it all—architecture, interior design, furniture design, sculpting, painting.

 

How do you want to be known? How do you want to be remembered?

I want to be known as Lor Calma from a barrio in Mt. Arayat! [Laughter] Alam mo, ang daming workers, they excel after working with me. Kasi ang aking attitude towards young designers—you have to excel! If you think your idea is better than mine, magsalita ka! Dahil yan ang formation mo to be a designer, eh. Kung palaging sinusunod mo ang sabi ko, hindi ka nagsasalita, robot ka!

Never be a robot! Hanggang ngayon, etong mga architect ni Ed [Eduardo Calma, Lor’s son] kasi, takot sila kay Eddie, eh. “Huwag kayo matakot,” kako. Si Eddie, alam mo, American educated yan, he can adapt. Sa dami ng ginagawa niya ngayon, kako, “Singkwenta kayo diyan, marami kayong ideya. Yung ideya na binigay niya sa inyo, maaaring instant line lang yun, pero hindi yun ang ideya talaga. Ngayon, dahil busy siya, yan ang binigay sa iyo. If you can improve on that design, sabihin mo! Maski sino, kung talagang tama yung sinsabi niyo, maski sino pang magaling, sasabihin sa inyo, ‘Tama!’” Eh, ako noong araw, inuunahan ko yung boss ko sa Aguinaldo dahil mukhang mas magaling ako kesa sa boss ko eh. [Laughter]

 

You founded the Philippine School of Interior Design. How did that happen?

Itinatag ang PSID dahil ayaw kong mag-compete. I am one of the founder, kasi ako ang medyo agresibo noong araw, ang lifestyle ko moderno, sila conservative. During one meeting, sabi, “Bakit hindi tayo gumawa ng asosasyon para hindi tayo inaapi ng mga arkitecto!” [Laughter] O, diba? Arkitecto kami pero ang gusto naming line, interior design, e inaapi kami lagi, kako. “One of these days,” kako, “pag naging maunlad yung asosasyon natin, tayo ang boss!” [Much laughter]

First Board of Examiner in Interior Design kami. My license number should have been number 1, pero that time, we have to respect the architects, eh. Kasi we are under them. Sabi ko nga kay Belen Moray, naging assistant ko sa PRC, Belen, kako, pagbibigyan ba natin ang mga arkitektong to, parang sinasabi nila na dapat sila yung maging number 1, 2, 3, 4. Eh malambing ako, hindi ako controversial, what’s in a number? Kaya ako naging number 5. Supposed to be number 1. [Laughs]

 

Lor Calma residence grand hall
At the center of the grand hall volume is a sensual spiral staircase to the second floor, which leads to a private staircase leading to Lor’s studio on the third floor.

What would you consider your proudest achievement?

To be nice to people. Don’t say anything bad, kung wala kang kailangan sasabihin. Kahit masama yung tao, wag ka nalang mag-comment kung wala kang magandang sasabihin. Ang achievement naman ng isang tao, marami, maski hindi sila masyadong successful, eh. It could be you helped people who need help. Hindi naman porke ikaw magaling, mayaman, yung pinaka-importanteng ginawa mo can be comparable to a poor guy who has been helping others maski hindi siya kumakain, nakakatulong. Pero ikaw naman, sobra ang pagkain mo, hindi ka nakakatulong. There’s no comparison. Ako, in life, kailangan simple lang. Kung simple ka lang, hindi mo aambisyonin ang maraming recognition.

Alam mo kasi sa buhay, tulad ikaw, naging journalist ka—or whatever line—you have to excel in that line. Mag depende ka sa sarili mo. Walang tutulong sa iyo kundi ikaw at ikaw lang, eh. So yung isang achievement mo yung naging magaling ka. From that point, you can expand that knowledge. Ngayon, tumulong ka sa iba. Yun ang responsibility, yun ang privilege mo dahil yun ang alam mong gawin, eh. Wag kang gagawa ng hindi mo alam. Kasi in a crossword puzzle, kailangan tama lagi yung ilalagay mo, hindi puwedeng mambola, kasi pag mali yung nilagay mo, hindi mo na masasagot yung iba! Help other people in the line that you excel in.

 

Personal Timeline

March 4, 1928 Born in Barrio Magalang, Mt. Arayat, Pampanga

1954 Graduated from Mapua Institute of Technology (26 years old)

1962 Designed the interiors and furnishings of the Manila International Airport

1962 President of Gamboa-Cancio

1963 Established Cancio-Calma Associates

Sept. 30, 1964 Established PIID with Ched Berenguer Topacio, Wili Fernandez, Mel Gana, Rosario Luz, Edgar Ramirez, and Antonio Zamora

1967 Established PSID with Edith Oliveros

1975 Established Lor Calma & Partners, an architecture, space planning, interior
design, furniture and lighting manufacturing firm

1982 Appointed to the Board of Interior Design under the Philippine Regulatory Commission with Julio Matias and Belen Morey; served as the country’s first ID board examiners 

 

This article first appeared in BluPrint Volume 5 2014. Edits were made for Bluprint.ph.