Do you ever wonder how the vans of our local celebrities, politicians, and businessmen look like?
Browsing through the posts of Tuned in Style on Instagram will give you an idea. The man behind it is John Lopez, designer of car interiors.
The UST Fine Arts graduate was initially into the business of advertising, dealing with large format printing and trade show exhibit construction. But John developed an appreciation for beautiful cars at an early age, which is not surprising since his dad was a car dealer back in the ‘70s and ‘80s.
The comfy seats of Gretchen Barretto's van
“At that time, wala pang mga Mercedes and BMW car dealers dito sa Pilipinas, so [my father] would bring in cars from Germany at pina-park ‘yan sa bahay namin,” he recalls to ANCX. “Pero dahil wala pa naman kaming pambili noon, hanggang tingin lang kami. Doon nagsimula ang hilig ko sa cars.”
Since he was in the business of building modular furniture and possessed a substantial know-how about cars, a client once inquired if he can turn a bus into a mobile casino. John welcomed the challenge and this started his journey in customizing vehicles. He took on subcontracting projects from a customizer, and after three years decided to put up his own outfit. Tuned in Style was officially born in 2012.
Coco Martin's armored car
One of his first celebrity clients back in 2013 was Gretchen Barretto who hired his company to customize a full-sized bus. “Yung pinagawa niyang design was Emirates na business class,” he recalls. “May pinakita siyang picture at yun ang ginawa naming peg. The design is classy—very Gretchen,” he says. The actress would take the customized bus to her shoots.
Because of Gretchen’s influential stature, inquiries and referrals from other celebrities poured in. Social media also helped a lot in promoting his business.
Customized and personalized
Asked what has been his most memorable celebrity customization projects, John says each project is memorable in its own way. “Kasi iba-ibang format since customized.” No one wants a van that looks like the next one.
The designer admits though that one of his most challenging projects was Coco Martin’s Inkas Sentry. “It’s a bullet-proof armored truck. Na-challenge kami kasi kailangan naming ilabas na hard sa labas, pero luxurious sa loob. Tapos ang tight ng space. Hindi ka pwede gumamit ng screw kasi di babaon,” he shares.
The vehicle is equipped with a privacy partition, TV, and power seats with leg rest. The air-conditioning works even when the engine’s not running, so Coco can rest inside the truck during taping breaks.
Meanwhile, Maja Salvador’s Ford Transit has four captain seats, with TV, and ambient lighting (starlights), which makes it relaxing. “Para kang nakahiga outdoor,” John describes.
Vice Ganda’s Volkswagen Crafter has four captain seats, a partition, a TV and a comfort room. Daniel Padilla and Kathryn Bernardo also got a Volkswagen Crafter in black, furnished with a shower and a bed.
The car designer also refurbished actor Albert Martinez’s Ford E150 which came from the US. “We gave it a more updated look lang,” he says.
John also customized the vans of several politicians, but he is not at liberty to share most of them. He does mention, however, that Cavite 2nd District Rep. Strike Revilla’s van has a huge TV. “Malayo kasi ang biyahe nya, Cavite to Batasan, and he likes watching TV.” He also worked on the van of Imee Marcos. “We just made the seats comfortable,” he recalls. John is currently working on the van of Speaker of the House Lord Allan Velasco, who is one of his long-time clients.
Asked how the preferences of politicians differ from the celebrities’, John says the artista vans usually have bigger comfort rooms with shower, and some have beds. For politicians, comfortable seats are an important consideration. Some have a small comfort room, which is important during campaigns and elections. Many politicians’ vans are armored and bullet proof.
Businessmen’s vans function like a mobile office. “Gusto nila on the go lahat, nandun na sa sasakyan ang mga kailangan nila—both for work (computers) and play (e.g. 50-inch TV and playstation). These vans are usually for family use, he notes. “Yung ibang mga negosyante takot na mag-eroplano. So land trip na ang trend.”
He says since car brands also came out with bigger vans, these became the vehicle of choice of some people, as these are more comfortable for road trips.
John’s job requires knowledge on a variety of things since his business doesn’t simply cover upholstery of vehicles but also electrical concerns, plumbing, and mood lighting. “Ngayon, uso ang Alexa, Smart TV, internet, so kasama na din yan,” he says.
He needs to be updated with the trends and sees to it that he has a good grasp of his client’s lifestyle needs. Some of those who come to him already know what they want, and would provide pegs or specific instructions. But for those who ask for suggestions, John usually considers the basic requirements first (number of seats, allocation for a comfort room etc.) before he creates a layout. Afterwards, the client will decide on color schemes, leather to be used, flooring etc.
“May client na gusto ang bag nila matching sa seats. Yung iba gusto nila may initials, we do that. Hangga’t kaya, binibigay namin,” he says.
His business, happily, isn’t one of those hit by the pandemic. “Meron pa kaming tinapos na mga backlog nung February and March,” he says. “Nawalan ng inquiries by April and May. Pero pagdating ng June, balik ulit. Parang walang nangyari.” As of his last count, they have ongoing 32 van customization projects. Tuned in Style has three warehouses, and one showroom called Primera Klasse, located in Quezon Ave.
Does he have plans of expanding overseas? John says they already have inquiries from as far as Dubai, and are actually doing something for a client in Cambodia. So it’s really just a matter of time before he takes the business to the next level.
“Kasi dadating ang time na pwedeng ma-saturate ang market dahil sa liit ng Pilipinas,” says John. “Siguro next is Southeast Asia, kasi ang design natin hindi na din nahuhuli sa US and Thailand. Parang pwede na din tayo sumabay.”