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coop manila

THERE IS A SUDDEN CLEARING in a crowded, narrow street in San Juan, a large open parking yard shaded with old trees, where an unlikely modern house with four huge letters beckons. The place is CO/OP Manila, a hybrid space mixing a lifestyle store with a restaurant- café. Sisters Christine and Michelle Chan and cousin Polly Caragay run the roughly 200- sq.m. joint, and they have filled it with all the things they love, from an assortment of cute and quirky items to a menu of satisfying meals and deadly rich desserts.

According to Michelle and Polly, Christine is the visionary behind CO/OP. Although she prefers to remain behind the scenes, it was her penchant for kitschy items and “a little bit of a hoarding problem” that led to the business, says Polly, who takes charge of operations. Michelle, on the other hand, is the pastry chef. She graduated from the International School for Culinary Arts and Hotel Management (ISCAHM) only last April, but already concocts her own creations here, such as the popular smores cupcake and salted caramel cheesecake. CO/OP, Polly notes, is a result of their “common denominator”: what they like to eat and what they like to shop for.

Building a cohesive unit

This is why they named their passion project CO/OP. “It’s a collaborative effort among the three of us,” says Michelle. The idea, though, was to originally create a beach vintage vibe, and not the industrial chic design that currently characterizes the space. They wanted to simply renovate the house and retain its old charm and personality. However, it was a condemned piece of property, and so the concept evolved.

Architect Fredric Chung of Atlas Urban Homes and interior designers from Jagnus Design Studio helped rebuild the place. They suggested creating a cohesive unit instead of having two distinct structures for the store and café. They also incorporated Christine’s preference for midcentury design, as seen in the powder blue single-molded chairs that are a nod to the Eames Shell Chair.

And together with walls of bricks and glass, plus ample use of wood and exposed steel beams, the owners and designers developed an inviting ambiance, perhaps a tad on the hipster side but perfect for the cousins’ curated goods and for customers wishing for idyllic afternoons (with specially made lemonade in a mason jar, please!).

Eclectic appeal

The items on sale add to the eclectic appeal. There are offbeat mushroom lamps, gnomes in different colors, stacked trays and plates with a dinosaur or duck for support, felt bags from M.R.K.T., and ring holders in the form of a melting ice cream or popsicle stick from Canadian design company Imm Living. CO/OP also carries home and lifestyle products by Jonathan Adler, Cynthia Rowley and Helen Dardik, among others.

Filipino makers likewise figure in the trendy landscape with Star Wars-inspired knickknacks by Habil Crafts and stuffed toys by Plush and Play, a social enterprise working with Gawad Kalinga. The goal, the cousins explain, is to have a 50:50 ratio of local and international artists in their line-up. They are always on the lookout for non-mainstream items that complement their concept, they add.

Polly, Michelle and Christine are keen on receiving and working on feedback. “We want to keep improving,” says Michelle. “We want people to know that we hear them… At the end of the day, we just want them to appreciate what we like also,” she points out.

This, of course, gives new meaning to their name. The collaboration is no longer just among the cousins, but between owners and customers. Now who wouldn’t want that, together with a slice of their Big, Bad Brookie?

Originally posted 2016-05-09 13:15:54.

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