We all want a piece of Europe. From the first few bites of Neapolitan pizzas to the French perfume on our sleeves, we can’t help but wish we could easily be transported there, sans long flights and traces of a lingering headache.
But, curiously, my most recent (and fond) memory of the continent was not my latest trip. Rather, it was a lunch Karen Santos and Inquirer RED hosted with artists and friends who love design as much as I do. We gathered for a few hours at Nest, where we were surrounded by exceptional pieces that inspired our conversations and moods that day.
Among them were items curated by Karen Santos for Kassa, her very own lifestyle brand that brings together a tasteful selection of European décor and other accents for the home.
The fashion designer-turned-curator of beautiful things from table linens and accessories to unique furniture, credits her early exposure to period furniture from her stay in Europe as a student in England, Switzerland and Italy.
“I saw how people lived contemporary lives with furniture from different periods. They were house-proud, their home was alive with the things they loved and used on a daily basis,” recounts Karen. “The home, I realized, is the centerpiece of one’s style and individuality. It’s the ideal platform for self-expression.”
Made to design
A fashion designer in the ’80s, Santos first tried design when she went into retail with Kashieca, which was eventually sold to Bench some 10 years ago. Later, she built a successful stone flooring business that complemented her natural affinity for design.
“Like with fashion, linen and furniture, the appeal of stone is visual as well as tactile, and the construction and finish, not to mention installation, are important components of any project,” she explains. “Otherwise, the beauty of the raw material is not shown to its best advantage.”
But it was only in 2014 that she harnessed her creative talents, once again, to create Kassa, a line of table linen—at once timeless and modern, inspired by Philippine embroidery traditions. “It brought me back to my passion for working with fabrics and reignited my creativity,” says Karen.
This burst of creative activity was inspired by the renovation of her home. “I was looking for furniture and accent pieces, and I realized there was a niche in the market,” she says. “I wanted, in particular, 18th and 19th century pieces, as well as mid-century furniture, European pieces which I couldn’t find locally. So I decided to source them myself and bring them in.”
The rest was beautiful history that Karen now recalls, as she keeps traveling for exciting finds and special sources, meet designers, dealers and collectors, as well as other like-minded friends who share her passion for beautiful pieces with a story.
Back to the future
That said, Kassa promotes individual expression, with the home as a personal venue and playground for possibilities. Karen often plays with fabric and color to bring out the youthful spirit of a period piece, making it fun and contemporary while keeping it sleek and classic.
Drawn to the versatility of European furniture, no matter the period, Karen aspires to create permanence with her pieces to avoid careless and wasteful disposal—an unfortunate habit she thinks we owe to modern life.
Ultimately, it’s all about mixing and matching according to our whims and tastes. And Kassa gives us the liberty to do this. “The fun part,” Karen says, “is finding unique things in different iterations that people can integrate into their homes.”
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