BIPOC’s new company weaves various arts, culture and history into design

by Patranya Bhoolsuwan

(This article originally appeared on International Examiner and was reprinted by agreement.)

“We often looked around and asked, ‘Where do Blacks and Browns work and where are the Black and Brown clients? For this reason, we really wanted our customers to represent who we are.

It’s more than just a business motto for Sonia Lynn-Abenojar and Sergio Max Legon-Talamoni, the co-founders of La Union Studio, an architecture, interior and design consultancy firm. The husband and wife (newly married) team have put their passion for architecture and design, along with their love for the diverse communities of the Pacific Northwest, to create a business that reflects who they are as individuals and entrepreneurs.

Interior of BAHTOH, a flower and hair styling studio in Chinatown-International Chinatown and a client of La Union Studio (Photo: Stephanie Hsie and Cody Cobb of Geometric Pursuits, courtesy of the International Reviewer)

“The Chinatown-International District is an integral part of our childhood and our education. We’re both from South Seattle. We were part of the exercise team for the Filipino youth activities, ”said Legon-Talamoni. “I’m actually part American Samoa and part Cuban, and Sonia is Filipino, but we really embrace this mix of cultures in our community. We try to weave the arts, culture, history into a lot of projects.

One of their most visible projects so far in the CID has been Hood Famous Cafe + Bar. The owners had seen the work Abenojar and Legon-Talamoni had done at BAHTOH, another Asian-American and Pacific Islander-owned business in the neighborhood, and reached out to the couple to design their space.

“A lot of the details you see in Hood Famous are reminiscent of things you would see in the Philippines,” said Legon-Talamoni.

“Or what you see in your aunt and uncle’s house!” adds Abenojar, laughing. “We love the history of the Hood Famous building. It housed Filipino workers when they worked in the cannery and lumber industry. We were inspired to create these geometric bamboo shaped walls inspired by a Filipino tribal tattoo. It means “day and night”, which corresponds to Hood Famous’ coffee-cocktail concept. We want to highlight the permanence of the Filipino culture in the Pacific Northwest and the resilience, if you will. “

Photo illustrating the interior of Hood Famous Cafe + Bar
Interior of Hood Famous Cafe + Bar (Photo: Jordan Nicholson, courtesy of the International Examiner)

The couple, both in their early 30s, saw firsthand the challenges blacks and brunettes face when it comes to starting a new business. The Union Studio was created to be part of a solution to break down barriers and make design more accessible.

“What we do is approach customers with empathy. This is what we do from the start – trying to understand the situation with which people come to the project, ”said Legon-Talamoni. “Understanding the process is one of the biggest obstacles. Know when and how to hire an architect and find the right people for the project. The other big problem is financial. Many small businesses don’t always have the capital to do all of these wonderful designs, hire an architect, or pay for a permit. We understand their resources are limited and we need to think creatively about how to maximize aesthetics to stay on budget.

Getting creative also became essential when the COVID-19 pandemic struck and La Union Studio had to pivot with its clients. One of them is Phin Coffee, the Vietnamese cafe that opened in CID / Little Saigon in the summer of 2020.

Photo showing the interior of the Phin cafe.
Interior of Cafe Phin (Photo: Stephanie Hsie and Cody Cobb of Geometric Pursuits, courtesy of the International Reviewer)

“Phin was our project that was built during COVID. The owners didn’t see it coming. We didn’t see it coming, but we were under construction during COVID, ”Abenojar said. “Our hearts go out to all of the business owners who have been affected. Everything from budget to shipping issues has cropped up, but we’ve persevered, and it’s so successful right now, and their coffee is great! “

When asked about the next step for La Union Studio, Abenojar and Legon-Talamoni said they eventually wanted to scale up and take on bigger projects with bigger budgets. For now, they are excited to help help their hometown develop in a way that embraces both diversity and design.

“Our upbringing and ancestral history has really defined how we present ourselves to the world and how we present ourselves to our clients,” said Abenojar. “Really, we’re just trying to be true to our identities as we try to figure it all out.”

?? Featured Image: La Union Studio co-founders Sergio Max Legon-Talamoni (left) and Sonia Lynn-Abenojar (right) (Photo: Sam Fu and My People Studios, courtesy of the international reviewer)

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