by Patranya Bhoolsuwan
(This article originally appeared on International Examiner and has been reprinted under an agreement.)
“We have often looked around and asked, ‘Where are the Black and Brown people working, and where are the Black and Brown clients?’ Because of this, we have been really intentional that our clientele represents who we are.”
This is more than just a business motto for Sonia Lynn-Abenojar and Sergio Max Legon-Talamoni, the cofounders of La Union Studio, an architecture, interior, and design consultancy. The (newly married) husband and wife team have taken 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.
“The Chinatown-International District is very much part of our childhood and our upbringings. We are both from South Seattle. We were part of the Filipino Youth Activities drill team,” said Legon-Talamoni. “I am 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 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 that 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 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 auntie and uncle’s house!” Abenojar adds, laughing. “We love the history of the Hood Famous building. It used to house Filipino laborers back in the days when they were working in the cannery and the timber industry. We were inspired to create these geometric, bamboo-like feature walls which were inspired by a Filipino tribal tattoo. It means ‘day and night,’ which fits Hood Famous’ coffee-to-cocktail concept. We want to highlight the permanence of Filipino culture in the Pacific Northwest and the resilience, if you will.”
This couple, both in their early 30s, has seen firsthand the challenges that Black and Brown people face when it comes to starting a new business. La Union Studio was created to be part of a solution in breaking down barriers and making design more accessible.
“What we do is approach clients with empathy. That’s what we do right off the bat — try to understand the situation that people come to the project with,” said Legon-Talamoni. “Understanding the process is one of the biggest barriers. Knowing when and how to hire an architect and finding the right people for the project. The other big issue is financials. Many small businesses don’t always have the capital to do all these wonderful designs, engage an architect, or pay for permitting. We understand their resources are limited, and we have to think creatively about how to maximize the aesthetics to meet their budget.”
Getting creative also became critical when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and La Union Studio had to pivot along with their clients. One of them is Phin Coffee, the Vietnamese coffeehouse that opened in the CID/Little Saigon in the summer of 2020.
“Phin was our project that got built out during COVID. The owners didn’t see it coming. We didn’t see it coming, but we were in construction during COVID,” said Abenojar. “Our hearts go out to all the business owners that were impacted. Everything from budget to shipping issues arose, but we persevered, and it’s so successful right now, and their coffee is great!”
When asked about what’s next for La Union Studio, Abenojar and Legon-Talamoni said eventually they want to scale up and take on larger projects with bigger budgets. For now, they are excited to be part of helping their hometown grow in a way that embraces both diversity and design.
“Our upbringings and our ancestral history really defined how we show up in the world and how we show up for our clients,” said Abenojar. “Really, we just try to be true to our identities as we are trying to figure it all out.”
📸 Featured Image: Sergio Max Legon-Talamoni (left) and Sonia Lynn-Abenojar (right), cofounders of La Union Studio (Photo: Sam Fu and My People Studios, courtesy of the International Examiner)
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