Inside the cool offices of a Filipino design supergroup

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Hydra Design Group is an amalgamation of four different successful design groups — Plus63 Design, KM Interior Design, Inksurge, and The Acid House Post. Photo by JL JAVIER

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — I’m in the belly of the beast, past Poison Coffee & Doughnuts and inside Hydra Design Group’s inner workings. Today is different, as the offices are abuzz with people. Working on different schedules, the heads have decided to dedicate today to various shoots and interviews. Hydra is an anomaly. It is an amalgamation of four different design studios that function as one but still maintain their independence — hence their mythological name.  

I find myself in a room facing some of Manila’s best creatives. A slight tinge of worry creeps up as they begin to take their seats. To my left, sits Bernice Yumul and Dan Matutina of Plus63 Design. In front of me, Kaye Llanto and Maybs Uy of KM Interior Design, together with The Acid House Post’s Ivan and Pauline Despi. To my right, Rex Advincula and Jois Tai of Inksurge. Absent from this group of partners are Rhea Alarcon of Plus63 and Charles Paw.

How did Hydra start? Was it like, “O, tara start tayo ng group.

Parang ganoon,” replies Matutina with a serious nod. “Parang ganoon nga,” confirms Ivan Despi. Everyone bursts into laughter.

After playing six-degrees with everyone, it was apparent that their Kevin Bacon was Dan Matutina. Both Inksurge and Acid House have been working with Matutina for some time now, while a chance project with KM brought the interior design firm into the circle. Kay Llanto recounts Matutina’s text about a possible collaboration, “Naalala ko sabi niya sa text, ‘Uy, Kay, mag-volt-in tayo. Plus63. Inksurge. Acid House. Tapos kayo!’”

Hydra Design Group In the reception area of the office is the supergroup's logo, the design of which is a collaboration between Hydra Design Group's studios. Photo by JL JAVIER

Photo-34.jpg After one impromptu meeting to check out an available space in Karrivin, an emerging creative hub in Makati, the heads of the four design groups decided to volt-in there. Photo by JL JAVIER

Hydra Design Group The names of the supergroup's respective studios are set in steel panels with illumination underneath. Photo by JL JAVIER

In 2016, each of the members of Hydra was working on their own, in separate offices scattered around Metro Manila. Despite that, the idea of coming together had always been at the back of their minds. It’s a familiar dream among creatives: working with friends in the industry and creating something big. However, the trend had always been for creatives to detach from big companies and start their own little studios.

A big-commitment-collaboration like this, done by themselves, would have taken time, but it was Charles Paw, Tasteless Group CEO (who is behind culinary concepts such as Hole in the Wall and Le Petit Soufflé), who jump-started the creation of Hydra. Paw had been a client of both Plus63 and KM Interior Design. He approached the groups and opened the possibility of bringing everyone in.

After seeing a post regarding an empty space in Karrivin, an emerging creative hub in Makati with art galleries, stores, coffee shops, and restaurants, Matutina asked for its rates, then all the heads met to talk about the possible union.

Upon Paw’s insistence, everyone headed for Makati to check out the intended office space, and decided right there and then: Hydra was going to happen.

Ivan explains the encounter, “Si Charles talaga ‘yung catalyst. ‘Yung coffee meeting na ‘yun, sobrang unbelievable. Personally, hindi ko kaya mag-decide ng ganoon. ‘Yung parang, ‘Hello. Hello. Nice to meet you tapos ‘o, go na!’”

Hydra Design Group The personality of Inksurge's Rex Advincula and Jois Tai is reflected in their choice of wall and office decor — from influences to inspiration. Photo by JL JAVIER

Hydra Desgin Group In Inksurge's office is a selection of toys and action figures, including Louie Cordero's Nardong Tae sculture. Photo by JL JAVIER

Hydra Design Group Glass windows give visitors a peek into the offices. “May kanya-kanyang stories behind the studios. When we brought this together andyan parin ‘yung kanya-kanyang character,” says Inksurge’s Rex Advincula. Photo by JL JAVIER

Hydra opened its doors last August 2017, almost a year after their impromptu meet and greet “business meeting.” The past six months have been a learning experience, but not in terms of creativity. “May kanya-kanyang stories behind the studios. When we brought this together andyan parin ‘yung kanya-kanyang character,” explains Inksurge’s Rex Advincula.

The first two months were spent adjusting into the new environment. On a scale of rowdy to recluse, Plus63 and Inksurge were on different ends of the spectrum, respectively. The months that followed were for the non-creative side of the business.

Sobrang organic ‘yung structure ng Hydra. Mga creatives usually walang planning,” says Jois Tai. This was followed, of course, by side comments from the other heads asking about marketing and janitorial services. Again, everyone bursts into laughter.

“Of course, we felt the benefit [of working in one space], we can go down the hall, kausap na namin si Acid House, si Inksurge. And it gave a vibe and energy to us and our team,” shares Maybs Uy.

Each of the Hydra’s studios is ripe with creativity and it was inevitable that they would fuse with each other. The KM designers are slowly discovering the role of graphics and branding in interior design. The animators of Acid House — as seen in the animated mural of Poison Doughnuts — have begun playing with intangible products as part of one’s interior. The free-spirited nature of Hydra eventually bled into the groups and their designers.

Photo-50.jpg Dan Matutina of Plus63 Design was the one who came up with the group's name which, according to him, started out as a joke. As with the mythical creature, "More heads are better than one,” says Jois Tai of Inksurge. Photo by JL JAVIER

Hydra Design Group Sample works and designs by Plus63, whose clients include UP Fighting Maroons, Summit Media, and Theo & Philo. Photo by JL JAVIER

Hydra Design Group The library and reading area. Photo by JL JAVIER

It takes a certain kind of maturity for something like Hydra to work, not just with age but time spent in the industry. “Dito sa studio, we check our egos at the door,” tells Ivan. With four design groups working together on a project, you have to be open to opinions and open to going outside your comfort zone. It’s common to hear the excuse of “That’s not my forte,” but that isn’t the case here.

I ask who came up with the name Hydra and everyone points to Matutina. “Dapat kasi joke joke lang siya tapos nagustuhan ng mga tao. Pero perfect kasi siya.”

Tai responds with, “Oo. Perfect. More heads are better than one.”

Ivan follows up with, “Parang ganun. Strength in numbers talaga.”

Rex continues, “‘Yung kanya-kanyang head iba-iba ‘yung ginagawa pero pag nagcombine sila…

“Badass,” exclaims Kay. And all heads nod as one.

Photo-41.jpg “Dito sa studio, we check our egos at the door,” tells Ivan Despi of Acid House. With four design groups working together on a project, you have to be open to opinions and open to going outside your comfort zone. Photo by JL JAVIER

Hydra Design Group The offices of KM Interior Design. The studio has worked on interior designs for Digital Walker, Red Ribbon, Le Petit Soufflé, as well as condominiums and residences in Rockwell. Photo by JL JAVIER

Hydra Design Group The material samples shelf at KM Interior Design. Photo by JL JAVIER

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For more information, visit Hydra Design Group on Facebook.