Meet Filipina architect turned entrepreneur who helped design Dubai’s retail landscape

Estimated read time 5 min read

Asiyah “Vangie” Monjardin is the owner and managing director of Multiline Design and Contracting. JONATHAN YBERA/EXPAT MEDIA

How Monjardin’s Midas touch changed Dubai’s retail landscape

Asiyah “Vangie” Monjardin didn’t even want to be an architect. “But it was one of the best decisions I made in my life. If not, the best, because until now I am still harvesting the fruits of that decision I made,” she tells Expat Media at her sprawling office in Al Qouz.

Just shortly after the interview, one of her project designers comes to her for an important consultation, showing her a slab of wood that was going to be used in the design and asking what she thinks. She checks it then takes out a tape measure from her pocket, measuring the wooden slab for thickness, and then nods. “You carry a tape measure with you?” we ask incredulously. “Yes, especially when I am at work. Every centimeter matters in design,” she says, amused.

Vangie, as she is more popularly called in the design and business community, is the owner and managing director of Multiline Design and Contracting, the Dubai-based company behind the design and interior fit out of many commercial establishments and supermarkets in the UAE and GCC, as well as in New York, UK, Nigeria, India and Thailand. One of Multiline’s oldest accounts is Choithram, covering its chain of supermarkets in the UAE and GCC.

Gilded palace rooms and golden toilets? Vangie says she will never forget her excitement when she was new in Dubai and working with a team to bring them to life from the drawing board.

“We were doing the toilet of a sheikha. The cost of the toilet alone could probably buy you at least three houses in the Philippines because of the intricate design and details, including an expensive chandelier,” Vangie recalls.

The Filipina has lived in the UAE since 1995, after joining her father, one of the first few Filipino architects in the emirates since the 80s. “After I finished high school, I wasn’t interested in anything, so he told me to just be an architect so he can guide me. I said yes,” she said.

After getting her architecture degree from Far Eastern University, one of the top universities in the Philippines, she worked for a Japanese firm before coming to Dubai on visit visa. Her first job in the emirate was at a company that designed exhibition stands for the Dubai World Trade Center. She later moved to a company specializing in interior design works for palaces and villas for royal families in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

“Other than incorporating gold leafing in the interior design, it’s the intricacy of the moulding, the corniches; things that you find in a dining room or living room but you get to do it in the toilet. You literally have your own throne. It’s really fascinating,” she says. “I realized that the intricate design in Islamic culture, especially in this part of the world, is very detailed. I learned so much from that experience,” she adds.

How Filipinos helped design Dubai

Dubai was the perfect canvas for the young creative when she first landed in the emirate in 1995. “The first mall I saw was BurJuman. There were very few buildings along Sheikh Zayed Road then. The tallest building was the World Trade Center,” Vangie recalls.

“I was assisting architects, who were mostly Filipinos. I’ve seen how creative Filipinos are. I was impressed and inspired that Filipinos are really good, not only in the Philippines but outside the country,” she says. Vangie’s own father was part of a team of architects who designed the original Oasis Mall in Dubai.

After working in the corporate world for more than two decades, Vangie decided to launch her own business along with her former colleague turned business partner and now husband.

“I had too many part-time jobs after work that gave me better income, so I felt I should start my own,” Vangie says, explaining why she gave up her job to put up Multiline Design and Contracting.

Vangie Monjardin is owner of Multiline Design and Contracting

What started as a small interior design company based in Satwa is now a corporate group with an expansive office and workshop in Al Qouz. The company has expanded to offer technical services and carpentry.

Multiline works with commercial buildings, restaurants and markets in the UAE. Overseas, some of its biggest projects included interior design work for a boutique hotel in Bangkok, Thailand. “It was an abandoned building that was inherited by one of our clients. We also designed a mall for a prominent person in Nigeria. We presented our idea in London,” Vangie says.

Vangie now employs a Dubai-based team of more than 100 professionals in designing and construction. She has expanded her business in the Philippines, where she has a real estate development business focusing on building townhouses in Tagaytay, one of the top tourist spots in the country. She also owns The Desert Wok restaurant in Dubai, an Indo-Chinese restaurant inspired by one of her trips in New York with her daughter.

Vangie says her secret sauce is sharing her success. She is an angel investor for startups. During her free time, the hardworking Filipina also mentors other entrepreneurs as Secretary General of the Philippine Business Council in Dubai, and as Board of Director for the League of Food and Beverage Entrepreneurs. She was recognized by the Philippine Overseas Labour Office with the Entrepreneur of the Year award.

Her advice to anyone working on their dream is this: “Don’t stop trying if you really believe in what you prayed for.” ICA/Expat Media

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