Gets Real: Architectural couple helping design spaces for BIPOC businesses

SEATTLE — Designing for the communities they grew up in, an architecture and design couple is already leaving an imprint on the Emerald City.

They are a couple of architects from Seattle who decided to come back home after college to ply their trade in their hometown.

Then five years ago, they launched their own firm dedicated to serving clients not accustomed to working with professionals to create a space.

The signs are already there, from Beacon Hill to Capitol Hill to the Chinatown-International District, a small architectural firm is helping shape the way small business in Seattle looks.

“We really felt a need to help our community,” said Sergio Legon-Talamoni. “Business owners opening businesses, opening spaces, and really telling their story through architecture and design.”

“My mother is from American Samoa and my father is from Havana, Cuba,” said Sergio. He and Sonia-Lynn Abenojor, a “Filipina,” are a couple of architects who are a couple in life.

What is now their life’s work got its start in 2016 with friends who wanted to create a hair salon and flower boutique in the CID.

“And Bobby and Michael, owners of Bahtoh, approached us, and asked us, ‘Hey, you guys are architects, right?’ Do you know (how) to do this? Do you want to help out?’” said Sergio. “And we were like, ‘Oh?’ "

“Absolutely, yes,” Sonia said they told them.

“Absolutely, yes,” agreed Sergio.

“Yeah, that’s how La Union Studio was born,” said Sonia, “in the bedroom, the spare bedroom at my parents’ house when we were both working full time, taking projects on the side, and then kind of just grew the interest and our presence within our community.”

They set up shop in her childhood home in Hillman City. Sergio quit his day job; Sonia eventually quit hers, too, fully investing in the firm they gave a special name.

“La Union, La Union is a province in the northern part of the Philippines where my Mom and Dad’s towns are located and so, we just thought it was so fitting,” said Sonia.

“And it also, La Union means ‘the union,’ " said Sergio. “And at the time, it was just Sonia and I. But now we’re partners in life and partners in business and we thought it was fitting.”

Fitting, too, perhaps, because of the creative union they must form with clients often unaccustomed to working with a design team.

“A lot of our clients have been, you know, first-time business owners and also, you know, cultural tastemakers where they’re either showcasing Filipino coffee or Vietnamese coffee, cafes and bars, restaurants that do have a cultural element to all of them,” said Sonia.

“So, that’s the launching point,” said Sergio. “And how we can compliment the design of the space with our clients’ culture, craft, and brand.”

What they’re doing seems to be working. Five years after they formally launched La Union, the couple is moving the firm to new digs in the Mount Baker neighborhood. Yeah, they’re designing it, too.

They were asked what they hoped would happen with La Union.

“I mean, I would love if we could spread our reach to other metropolitan areas, other areas of the world,” Sergio said.

“It would be great to do projects in Los Angeles, the Philippines, Samoa, Cuba,” agreed Sonia. “Who knows?”

A world of possibilities, then, that started right there.

The couple is also making room in its new space for Sonia’s side hustle as an esthetician. She’ll divide her time between designing business spaces and designing treatments for the skin.

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