Lady contractor sees homes evolving amid pandemic

A lady general contractor and designer expects changes in the way homes, commercial establishments and public spaces are designed and built amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“COVID-19 has a huge impact on the interior design industry. Our homes, commercial and public spaces will encompass the new awareness of the personal safety concerns of the people,” says Joy Gladys Jabile-Ejercito,  the general manager and principal designer of JJE Design and Construct. 

“Though open spaces in homes, offices, public spaces will be at a decline, there will be a new definition of spaces especially at home. Spaces will be segregated so as not to be easily exposed to the virus. The foyer will become the transition zone with the sanitizing and changing areas. There will be work spaces, home-school area and virtual meet-up area. With these new spaces, the Wi-Fi connection will become one of the basic needs or necessities,” says Jabile-Ejercito, an active member and former corporate secretary of the Philippine Institute of Interior Designers board of trustees.

Despite her hectic schedule, she is also a triathlete, marathoner, cultural advocate, one of the best dressed women of the Philippines awardees, an awardee of Society for Cultural Enrichment Inc., a ramp model, an active member of Business Network International, a member of Rotary Club Makati Premier District, a mother of four children and wife of a surgeon. She taught at the Philippine Women’s University School of Fine Arts and Design and headed the Interior Design Review Center of the same university in 2008.  

She is a regular lecturer and speaker in various schools and universities in the Philippines.  In January 2018, her project was featured in the coffeetable book of My Home. In the same year, her residential project was featured in the front cover of My Home magazine.

Jabile-Ejercito says that to avoid the spread of the virus and infection, interior designers will have the role to specify anti-bacterial finishes, including those that already exist like copper. They will also include design nudges to direct everyone where they can sanitize or wash their hands and employ RFID technology for temperature screening or UV light for disinfecting spaces without being exposed to humans.

“For the construction industry, there are certain elements that are standard in the healthcare facilities might be applied in public spaces such as reduction of the number of flat surfaces where germs can sit and installation of proper ventilation systems,” she says.

Jabile-Ejercito has been in the industry for 26 years and founded her own company on Sept. 10, 2017 which marked her 46th birthday.   Today, JJE Design and Construct is one of the most aggressive and progressive in the industry with a solid roster of clients that includes residential, commercial and hospitality structures.   Their designs are considered timeless, sustainable and universal.

JJEDC’s clients include owners of residences, hospitals, clinics, offices, shops /stores, boutique hotels and resorts.  Her dream project is to design and do an interior fit-out of a whole hotel or condo building and to construct a low-rise [up to 6 floors] building. “Furthermore, I dream to have interior design projects abroad and construction projects in other regions of the Philippines,” she says.

A daughter of a military general, she wanted to become a doctor in college and enrolled for Agricultural Chemistry at UP Los Banos before shifting to BS Biology in the second semester.  “I only got involved with interior design when I was looking for a stepping stone in UP Diliman so I can transfer there. Interior Design was easier to transfer to as it was not a quota course. My plan was to shift to BS Biology after. But then, I got to enjoy Interior Design. For one, being an artist is in my blood. My dad’s hobby is painting, sketching, drawing. He was the artist in his school and I was also the artist in my school. So I pursued it and came to love it,” she says.

When she graduated from college and passed the interior design licensure examination, her father put up Arqui Interfaz Construction and Development Corp. to build low-cost housing for the military.  

“I find interior design very interesting because it does not only make the spaces aesthetically pleasing to the eyes, relaxing and comfortable but functional effectively and efficiently. Through my learnings, interior design is also psycho-social. It helps promote the wellness and well-being of the users and encourage enhanced teamwork and communication, support business process and improve staff welfare and morale,” she says.

“I find fulfillment in finding solutions to the problems. I enjoy going through the process of visualizing, looking at the details, planning, and implementing. Seeing my design and drawings come to life is simply amazing,” says Jabile-Ejercito.

Before she established JJEDC, she has done design and construct in several projects. The most fulfilling project was when she handled Diseno Lindo as the vice president for design. Throughout that time, she learned how to deal with clients, close businesses, go through the design process efficiently and effectively, execute her design, manage people and time and become accustomed to accounting, residential construction, furniture construction and project management.

The outlook for JJEDC and the building industry was bullish before it was interrupted by the health crisis.  “Before the pandemic, the interior design industry was performing well especially with the ‘Build, Build, Build’ projects of the government and the private sectors. People would buy properties and have them built on, repaired or renovated or even done with interior fit-out. People invested in properties to own or to be rented out that interior design was sought-after,” she says.

“ECQ and COVID-19 have greatly affected the interior design and general construction industry. During the lockdown, there was no client engagement. The only revenue we had was the pending progressive billing that a client needed to pay. The client was also hesitant to pay because he needed to budget his funds in these uncertain times. It was understandable. I had to show compassion and asked for understanding because I also need to support my workers who are dependent on me,” she says.

JJEDC now focuses on planning and design which they do digitally and online. “Collaboration and coordination are done through the Zoom platform.  We are currently discussing the new direction of the company. The work from home is not new in our company as we have been doing it because we spend more time visiting jobsites. Now more than ever, we just need to formalize and enforce it to protect the health and safety of the staff. The jobsite visits will be case to case and only if it’s urgent and necessary,” she says.

Jabile-Ejercito says that in the aftermath of the pandemic, builders and designers will consider adequate lighting with good audio and virtual connection, personal bubble that serves as comfortable social barriers, physical distancing, comfort zones in social environments and interior design that promotes mental and physical health through lighting, materials sound and acoustics.

“As economy acclimatizes, work from home will not be an afterthought where we can create beautiful and functional office in the comforts of our home,” she says.

More people, she says, will move away from congested residences. “During this pandemic, people all the more thought of having their own homes or moreover, in the suburbs, away from the virus and infections. They will shy away from areas where there is a large gathering of crowds,” she says.

Jabile-Ejercito remains optimistic about the outlook for the industry.  “Interior design and construction have not been completely impeded by this pandemic. This quarantine has inspired people to nest and re-decorate. In the age of pandemic, the home has become our world. Everyone wants to take care of the wellness and well-being at home to support the body, mind, and spirit throughout these difficult and challenging times.

“I am ready to meet the challenges. To meet the challenges, interior designers, here and abroad, are now rising up by offering services virtually using online virtual platforms. Some are even brainstorming new packages to meet clients’ changing needs. Most do virtual meetings and consultations with clients, architects, and the rest of the project team for the design process. Floor plans and images of fabrics and finishes are sent electronically to give the team direction. Design decisions can be made virtually to keep the design process moving forward.

She says to brace for the new world, the design and construction industry is now researching for modern technologies to specify to clients. “The public spaces will move toward more automation to mitigate contagion. There will be speeding up of the development of the touchless technology that are automated, voice-activated, hands-free, celfone-controlled. Eventually, there will also be the profuse use of Siri to control things without having to touch,” she says.

Generally, people will now appreciate more the things that matter, she says. “The materials things now have lesser relevance. That will be the family, health and safety. In this age of pandemic, people will just want to survive by not getting sick and for the business to survive,” she says. 

Topics: COVID-19 , Joy Gladys Jabile-Ejercito , JJE Design and Construct , Business Network International , Diseno Lindo , Arqui Interfaz Construction and Development Corp
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