Makati Garden Club’s Hidden Gems

After a couple of months of hard lockdown, I was actually too scared to step out of my northern home, let alone dine out, but cabin fever was getting the best of me. So when the promise of a safe lunch and an outdoor jaunt with my friend Liza cropped up, I said yes.

The Get Cozy in Nature pop-up at Makati Garden Club.

The outdoor jaunt was primarily to take a peek at Get Cozy in Nature, a lovely little pop-up store at the Makati Garden Club. Running until January of 2022, and just in time for the holidays, Get Cozy in Nature is a collective of fashion, lifestyle and household items, gifts, and even food that’s all carefully chosen; in fact, the whole pop-up looks like the cozy home of a very chic, well-traveled friend!

Woven bags from Probinsyana, Happy Light MNL, and the Florence Fling dress that I love.

Some of the featured, homegrown brands include woven bags by Probinsyana, pretty Florence Fling dresses, Cariloo’s tropical wear, For Keeps beauty products, and my faves: Capsule Prints’ antique botanical prints (some dating from the 1800s!) and Happy Light MNL’s fun lamps made out of upcycled liquor bottles.

The jewel box of finds that is Melograna.

Of course, since we were there already, we had to make a pit stop to Melograna, Ruby Roa’s delightful jewel box of a shop. It really is like a jewel box of fantastic finds!

Inabel flats and slippers, oriental dolls, a burl wood desk tray.

Within its ruby red walls (ruby red, of course), It’s like deep diving in your well-heeled, most tasteful friend’s things. Chockfull of bits and bobs from all over the world, such as China dolls, burl wood veneer and horn desk accessories, antique sewing scissors, and carnival glass to shoes and blouses made out of our indigenous fabrics, there is something for everyone here. I bought her pom-pommed inabel shoes from HABI fair a couple of years ago.

I fell in love with the decor of this secret store at the back of Makati Garden Club.

But let’s talk about Makati Garden Club itself. I’ve been to MGC a couple of times before for events, but it was only yesterday that I got to explore it in full. I’ve been yearning for safe outdoor spaces, even in our pre-pandemic days, and have found Metro Manila seriously lacking in that aspect. MGC was established in 1957, and is still here in their permanent location, thanks to Ayala. There used to be cozy café before called Maria Luisa’s Garden Room, but it is gone now. 😦

There are winding pathways that lead to little plant vignettes. Some of the plants are for sale.

If you haven’t been here before, you’ll be absolutely surprised to see that beyond its cement wall is smoggy and noisy EDSA! I felt calm and centered walking through MGC’s winding pathways and looking at all the lush vignettes (some of the plants are for sale, and there is a flower shop at the far end of MGC) while their resident dog Oreo toddled nearby. I couldn’t believe this was in the middle of Makati, and it was so peaceful and meditative just being there. Because Makati Garden Club is the hidden gem in this story.

Will come back here soon.

Makati Garden Club is located at Recoletos Street, Makati, just a little off the corner Ayala Avenue and EDSA (access is along Ayala Avenue, there is a bit of parking). Get Cozy in Nature is open from Monday to Saturday, 10am to 5pm. All photos here are by me.

“We Learn from the Generation Before, and We Carry On”

When someone mentions their fascination with Japanese architecture, I am reminded of my late father, who was obsessed with it. Who hasn’t gone to Japan and not completely changed their view of design? “No one,” he always said.

Yoyogi National Gymnasium by Kenzo Tange; photo by STB-1 via Wikimedia Commons.

For my father, an architect, it was a weekend’s visit to a longtime friend in Tokyo back in 1969 that found him heading to the Yoyogi National Gymnasium before flying home. He told me he saw photos of its impressive, spiral roof structure in the newspapers and read about its iconic architect, Kenzo Tange, in the dog-eared design magazines in his office. And so, Dad decided he wasn’t leaving Japan before seeing it.

My Dad at the Yoyogi National Gymnasium in the late 1960s (personal photo).

Of this trip, I only have a yellowing photograph of Dad standing under the gymnasium’s magnificent, sweeping roof. “Yoyogi,” he scrawled proudly in pencil behind the photo. So, I was very much delighted that my friend Liza let me sit in virtually at Kenzo Tange’s son, Paul Noritaka Tange’s forum “Japanese Architecture: The Synergy of Culture and Design” for Federal Land last month. 

Paul Noritaka Tange, chariman and principal architect of Tange Associates, shows how they approach their architecture.

The younger Tange, who cuts a dapper figure in a well-cut suit and gray cravat (“Sorry, I have no tie on today,” he apologizes; yet I believe behind the screen he was the best-dressed amongst us), immediately went on to emphasize that their architecture, in spite of its modernism, emerges from Japanese culture: spaces defined by a magnificent roof, reminiscent of the graceful curved rooflines of traditional Japanese temples and shrines.

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Cenotaph by Kenzo Tange; photo by Abdulaziz Alfawz for Unsplash

His father Kenzo Tange’s groundbreaking projects were definitely modernist, incredibly moving (Hiroshima Peace Memorial) and oftentimes surprising (best example: the ultra-futuristic Fuji Broadcasting Center), but his architecture focuses on the people first.  

Fuji Broadcasting Center, photo by Kakidai via Wikimedia Commons

At the talk, there was also the discussion of continuity; most notably the fact that both father and son designed a building for the Tokyo Olympics—the Yoyogi National Gymnasium by Kenzo in 1964, and the Tokyo Aquatics Center for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics by Paul, now chairman of Tange Associates. It is also quite touching to note that Paul visited his father’s resting place after working on the project (the elder Tange passed away in 2005 at the age of 91).

The Tokyo Aquatics Center; photo by 江戸村のとくぞうvia Wikimedia Commons.

The Aquatics Center, with its inward-sloping façade (the screen alludes to bamboo forests), is definitely more stolid-looking that Yoyogi, but it has a practical aspect to it. Inside, the ceiling is a mirror reflection of the pool’s swimming lanes; an element that the younger Tange decided to apply when finding out from Olympic swimmers that they had to focus on heading towards the finish line; thus, any extraneous ceiling shape (like a dome) would distract them when they looked up. “It was important to have a straight line,” Tange said.

During the rest of the forum, Tange discussed the concept of the Grand Midori Ortigas, a residential high-rise development they designed for Federal Land (yes, there will be a Tange building in Metro Manila soon!). The main inspiration for the project was the Japanese basket weave, with its interlocking weft and woven lines creating a serene pattern on the residential development’s façade. In further discussions, architect Annette Gaddi mentioned that solihiya (Philippine woven split cane) patterns would be used in the interiors to complement the building’s weave concept.

Design details of the Grand Midori Ortigas

But Paul encourages designers to look beyond the façade, “We are designing a space for the people,” Tange enthuses. There is a sensitivity here to make a better place of living for the people. “We have to respect our own culture, as well as that of others. And the building has to contribute to the cityscape.”

This open forum eventually led to a discussion on designing for the New Normal; to which Tange threw his hands up in the air. “Do we need offices? Do we need hotels? We don’t know what to design anymore! But what we need to do is think outside the box.”

There was also the inevitable question about the lessons learned from his father; as we could imagine there were many. “Listen to the needs of the client,” Paul said simply. “Listen to the needs of the people.”

This last lesson should apply to everything in life, not only to architecture, I believe. 

To read more about the Grand Midori Ortigas, click here. Main image from the Tange Associates presentation.

We Did Swedish Death Cleaning and I Think Everyone Should Do It

Three years ago, my friend Jenny sent me The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnusson. The book, which was launched at the height of the Kon Mari craze, was a more delicately written and sentimental version of the year’s popular decluttering themes.

You see, the practice of Swedish Death Cleaning (the Swedes call it döstädning) was built upon the belief that you should declutter and sort out all your belongings before you die, so that the relatives who survive you won’t have to deal with it afterwards. It sounds very morbid at first, but in Magnusson’s often humorous, self-deprecating-granny prose, döstädning is a very practical move—and more than that, it is an act of love.

I read a few chapters and then chucked it into the abyss of my bookshelf which was already groaning under the weight of my tsundoku collection of hardcovers and magazines.

A couple of months later, my aunt died suddenly and my elderly uncle called to ask me to help him organize his house. They had no children, and I was the only remaining niece who wasn’t living abroad. “Just come over one weekend and help me get rid of some stuff,” he said. Easy-peasy, I thought.

My aunt and uncle’s old home

I was wrong. When I pulled up to his house, which I had not visited in 20 years, it was just full to the brim with stuff—all 500 square meters of it! I was greeted at the garage by a mound of medical equipment dating from the 1970s (they owned a medical company) that had pushed my uncle’s car to the edge of the driveway.

Inside was no better. A tiny pathway wound around piles of boxes of clothes, shoes, and bags. In the dining room, unused dinnerware and assorted ceramics were stacked precariously one on top of the other. “There’s more at the back,” my uncle said ominously, and led me to several other rooms where the sheer volume of belongings made my head spin.

My uncle assessing the clutter.

When I came to my senses and realized that everything would not disappear on its own, we asked my young cousin to come over to help sort it out—thank you, dear cousin! And then I hosted a few open house sales and asked friends to come over and buy. I told them: “Please buy…everything.”

“Are the ladies heading over?” My 80-year-old uncle asked. Yes, I said. A couple of minutes later he pulled out three large boxes of designer bags and even more boxes of china sets. I ordered pizza and some drinks, and the estate sale became a weekly thing until a bulk of the items were sold off. In a way, the constant purging and regular interaction with new people also kept my uncle’s simmering grief at bay.

Divested of all items, including his old house, my uncle moved to a smaller home, a quiet apartment with a communal pocket garden, friendly neighbors, and minimal furniture. “I don’t want any more things,” he said adamantly at the last lunch I had with him. “Do not give me another shirt for my birthday!”

Sadly, at the very beginning of the pandemic last year, my uncle passed away; not from the virus, but from a lingering cancer that he hid from everyone.

Bereft and trapped at home for the first few months of the lockdown and initially without a job, I tackled my tsundoku shelves of books. I was finally able to read The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning at length, and realized, upon finishing the book, that in spite of all the difficulties in purging my uncle’s belongings, it was much easier doing it when he was still alive, than if he were dead. I also realized that all that purging was a way of bringing my uncle closer to me and eventually becoming a father figure, and it was his way of staying in touch frequently, since he already knew he was dying.

It was indeed an act of love.

You can buy your own copy of The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning here. Stay safe.

Mid-century Modern Mom

I always use this photo of my mom from around 1970 every Mother’s Day (or on her birthday!) because of two things: 1. It’s cool (of course!) and 2. There’s a lot of my late dad in this picture, too, even if he isn’t in the photo.

I wasn’t around yet when this photo was taken, so I asked mom about it. It was a Sunday and our family friend Bob Johnson had visited from the US. She cooked lunch for everyone, and the house was just three years old. My dad designed it, and because he was just a young junior architect back then, they took a big risk and got a huge loan just to build it.

I look closely at each part of the kitchen and recognize things I’ve grown up with: the Corelle plates with red borders, the rounded refrigerator (wish we still had that), and the beer bottle at the back which she festooned with garden blooms every morning. The only pieces that remain from this photo is the cookie jar in the foreground, relegated to become a spare change catchall, and the wood veneer cabinets.

I’ve seen this particular pantsuit in real life, and it was a loud psychedelic print with sequins all over it–something that was terribly fancy and uncomfortable to cook in at home on a Sunday morning! But I guess, that’s how she dressed up back then. Dad, on the other hand, would be in his collared tennis shirt and tennis shorts, chatting up the guest and the kids on the front porch.

Mom in 1963 with my brothers in grandma’s house

The rest of my mom’s mid-century photos are of herself or with a gaggle of children (mostly my older siblings) on a sofa in my grandmother’s 1950s house. My dad designed that as well, and it was a cool house, too, but it now only exists in our memories.

Mom lives with me now, and is itching to go home (but we can’t due to lockdown restrictions). She putters around my kitchen, complaining about it lacking a second counter (it’s tiny), and missing the garden outside her own kitchen window. The old home she sometimes describes is a memory of what it was in 1973, or ’83, or ’93, or ’03–but isn’t that what comfort is? Remembering a space and time when life was at its best.

In Praise of Slow, Simple Coffee

I encountered an odd sight at a gallery once. So, there was National Artist BenCab, fresh off a car from Baguio, bringing his own coffee beans from Tam-Awan Village. Assorted guests gathered around him, as would anyone if a National Artist suddenly popped into your gallery. Then he whipped out his mobile phone and showed us photos of himself harvesting the coffee beans in the early morning northern fog. In the next photo, he was roasting those beans in a massive roaster, cranking it up all by himself—he is in pretty good nick for a 78-year-old man, possibly healthier than anyone in the room.

To add to our luck that day, BenCab brought a bag of his own hand-picked, National Artist-roasted coffee beans for everyone to enjoy. And so, the folks at the gallery decided to brew it for the guests. Everyone was excited, especially BenCab. But then he had to watch in calm amusement as five grown men tried to brew a single cup from a giant espresso machine that was the size of a small car. We ended up drinking instant coffee while the thing was brewing (it was very good instant coffee by the way, I think it was Japanese—sadly, I didn’t stay long enough for the final BenCab brew).

(Left) My coffee “machine” of choice: The Bodum BRAZIL French Press. (Right) The aspirational French Press by Le Creuset.

The whole surreal incident made me sigh in relief over my preference for simplified coffee making. I have many friends who saved up for coffee machines that are about half the price of the downpayment of a modest condo unit, and I would never be able to afford such a luxury in my lifetime.

Aside from cost and complicated operations, I also have a thing about coffee waste. I know there are now coffee pods that are completely recyclable, but its single-use packaging makes me veer away from these types of machines, regardless of how affordable they have become. I have also stopped using my two drip coffee makers, because of the thought of buying (and tossing!) those filters, and reusable filters can become yucky-doo (in my son’s words).

Another option to the French press: the classic Moka Pot (illustration by me).

So about eleven years ago, I started using a French Press. It’s the simplest, most affordable, eco-friendly, coffee-making equipment my time-hungry lifestyle could take. It conserves all of the coffee beans’ oils, making your cup more flavorful. Others would say it’s a lazy way to make coffee, but I beg to differ—French press coffee making is an art form of sorts. Serious Eats even alludes choosing a French coffee press to picking the right man (as if that were simple). Here’s an excerpt:

“A French press is often treated like Jason Segal’s character in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. He’s actually the one you want, but people tend to flock blindly to the flashy, temperamental types like coffee-siphon-somethings or Russell Brands. The French press is definitely a potential coffee happily-ever-after, but as with all things coffee, it ain’t rocket science… but it is science!”

Enough said, haha. I have been happy with my daily-coffee-via-French-press, and I am now on my third Bodum press; I call her Red. The last one was named Clunker, an eight-cup version, and the first one, long-gone, was Bo. They have all withstood my daily abuse and clumsy kitchen-keeping. Le Creuset came up with its own French press two years ago in its flashy stoneware casing in a bevy of ombre colorways. Nice to dream about, but Coffee Review said underneath the dazzle, the filtering equipment was just the same as your regular press! Get the significantly cheaper Bodum Chambord instead.

My friend Tala’s equipment of choice. Image from Go Brew.

If you don’t want the hassle of cleaning out a French press (though I’ve grown used to it, and the act itself I find meditative), there is the other eco-friendly option of the Moka Pot. This coffee classic is the Italian New Wave Sexy Film cousin of the French Press, and just as delicious. I also love seeing the coffee bubble up from the tiny spout in the middle, but of course, you’d still need a hotplate for this.

Or you could try pour-over coffee or aeropress method, the processes of which I find terribly mesmerizing. My friend Tala, who is one of the local bean purveyors at Go Brew, always treats us to aeropress coffee at our product shoots. I love watching her make it—from the weighing of the beans, to the slow pouring of fresh hot water, to the careful aeropress plunging. The whole process takes about 15 minutes to brew a single cup, and if you are fourth in line waiting for the coffee, you’ll get yours after an entire hour. But it is totally worth the wait.

Now that is satisfaction! 😊

Main photo by Anshu A for Unsplash; pour-over photo from Go Brew; Le Creuset is from Sur La Table; other photos are my own.

Last Days Before Lockdown

Around the middle of April 2020, when the whole world was put on hold and when I spent my days and nights thinking of an uncertain future, I looked at my phone’s photo albums and realized I had gone to an entire year’s worth of places and events in the last few weeks before the pandemic lockdown.

It started in early February, when reports of the first few COVID-19 cases in the country trickled in. Back then, it all felt like it was a looming, albeit frightening—yet quite distant concern (oh, how wrong I was). But still, I had this compelling desire to cram all the events and activities that I could in those short four weeks. It seemed as if I had predicted that I would be holed up at home for the rest of the year, but I did not think that at all; I just felt I had to attend all these occasions, see my friends, go to these places. And thank God I did.

As with everyone else’s, my life completely changed right after that. I had to rescue my mother from the province, jobs were lost, friends got sick, relatives stranded in one country or the other, dear uncles and cousins died. Each memory of a life pre-COVID, I held dear, knowing it would be years before I could enjoy it again, if I were lucky.

So, here is a visual diary of most of the places I went to (this is just part of it, I went to more than twenty different locations in 25 days), in the four short weeks before the lockdown.

FINALE ART FILE, MAKATI, FEBRUARY. I was invited to an exhibit at the erstwhile Archivo 1984, also in La Fuerza Compound in Makati, but it was closed. Visited nearby Finale Gallery instead, where I caught the fantastic exhibit “Something Was Out There”. Here is Froilan Calayag’s painted Volks, “I’m Working at The Zoo.”
PAMINTUAN MANSION, PAMPANGA, FEBRUARY. It was my birthday, and my dear friend Christine took me on a field trip to Pampanga, wherein we toured factories, ate Pho, and ended up at the century-old Pamintuan Mansion, where our hairs stood on end (the guard was spooked, too). Here is the main entrance, opening up like a hungry maw.
IKARUS THEATER PLAY, COMMUNE, MAKATI, FEBRUARY. The last physical play I watched. Here is Ikarus Theater member Kit Singson setting up her group’s pocket play ALTER X COMPASS, two plays about the pain, nuances, and ugly sides of romantic relationships, of which I am all too familiar with.
COLLEGE OF FINE ARTS, UP DILIMAN, FEBRUARY. I went to the new UP Fine Arts building twice in two weeks, with two different sets of friends, seeing two different exhibits, but both visits ending up eating isaw along the sidewalk at Mang Larry’s. Ah, it was so good. Here is the last pottery exhibit of students that they showed in the new building’s second-floor galleries.
RIZAL MEMORIAL STADIUM, MALATE, MANILA, FEBRUARY AND MARCH. Another place I went to twice was the newly renovated, 1930s-era Rizal Memorial, and I was so happy to see it in its fully restored state. (I’ll post a future blog about this)
MALATE CHURCH, CAFE ALICIA, MALATE MANILA, MARCH. This was my last lifestyle article assignment before the lockdown, a roundup of Malate haunts. My favorite was Cafe Alicia (right) in the Art Deco, 1930s Orchid Garden Suites, a delectable and elegant hidden cafe.
RAMON MAGSAYSAY, ROXAS BOULEVARD, MARCH. I finally got to see this beautiful, modernist masterpiece up close.
OPEN PLAZA, MAGSAYSAY CENTER. There were so many people milling around, mask-less in the open plaza in the middle of the center, it seemed that everything was ok in the world. It was at this time that Jilson Tiu, the photographer assigned to the story, said he felt a foreboding of sorts that something really bad would happen soon. He was right. After the shoot, we immediately headed straight to the groceries to stock up.
METROPOLITAN MUSEUM, ROXAS BOULEVARD, MARCH. One of our last shoots that day was the Met, which unusually had more visitors than usual that day. The PR person mentioned that they noticed more people had visited, anticipating the museum’s closure. Three days after this shoot, the entire country was put on hard lockdown. The Met has yet to open.

All photos here are by the author. Main photo is of the closed-up MRT, and a near-empty EDSA in April.

My Take on 2021 Interior Trends

You could say that, in a way, 2020 was a year that “disappeared”—or rather—was canceled, in a really big way. The interior trends of Countryside Chic, Classic Blue, ornate mouldings, and other bold trappings as reported in this 2019 article, all went the way of crowded house parties as soon as the first few reports of Coronavirus infections trickled in.

In turn, people hunkered down, planted their own food, baked pan de sal, and focused on the most important thing: staying at home and surviving. In a way, the pandemic emphasized what should be one of the most important aspects of one’s life—having a comfortable and efficient home. Flashy cars and designer bags soon became déclassé and useless; kitchen gardens, a home office, and a good-quality oven are now must-haves.

More than creating a home that one can brag about to others (please don’t invite other folks to your house for your own safety), it is all about making a home to please yourself this time. Here are some predictions for 2021 interior trends gleaned from Good Housekeeping and Insider:

WALLPAPER. Highly patterned wallpaper (such as this Robin Sprong wallpaper from Studio Eleven) and maximalist designs will replace mumsy, subtle, country-ish interiors. “Grandmillennial” or “Granny Chic,” which had its start in the early 2020s, will continue into 2021.
A HOME OFFICE. When physical offices closed at the beginning of the pandemic, the need for an actual home office or work-from-home space became increasingly important. Squeezing in a small but efficient WFH area, as seen in this study area in a bedroom as designed by Rod Lascano, can do for condo units. Read the full story here.
ENVIROSOCIAL DESIGN AND SUSTAINABLE LUXURY. “The world is healing” became the catchphrase of 2020. So why not help it along from now on? More design and furnishing companies like Hacienda Crafts (left) and The Olive Tree (right) are focusing on sustainable and fair-trade production for all their pieces.
RATTAN AND NATURAL MATERIALS. This interior design rendering by Urban Abode for KAZA Siargao, shows two major trends for the incoming year: old-school rattan and wicker furniture. The natural materials add warmth, lightness, and comfort to a home you would stay in for most of the day; not to mention, these are just perfect for our year-round tropical weather.
DARK COLORS, GRAY AND YELLOW. Everyone’s talking about Pantone’s Colors of the Year, Ultimate Gray and Illuminating (right), but there is also the other trend of bold, jewel tones (seen left in a Graham and Brown wallpaper from Studio Eleven), which can be used to express your own personality in your home.
EDIBLE GARDENS. Of course, there is the plantita/tito craze that everyone’s getting into. But instead of merely collecting ornamental plants, why not grow edible plants instead? Homeowners who planted their own edible gardens were not at a loss for food during the hard lockdown. Cedarhills Garden Center in Quezon City sells these super-affordable edible grow kits containing seeds, fertilizer, potting medium, and pot.
Here are my own sweet basil cuttings, which I’ve saved from my friend’s own garden, and repotted into new basil plants! So now I have sweet basil all year long!

Images from Urban Abode, Studio Eleven Modern Fabrics, Hacienda Crafts, The Olive Tree, Cedar Hills, Pantone; work-from-home photo by Paulo Valenzuela; basil cuttings, my own photo. Header image from Urban Abode.

Remembrances of Christmas Windows Past

One recent afternoon, I was rushing off to buy last-minute Noche Buena ingredients at the Supermarket like any other harassed holiday mother when I saw something that stopped me in my tracks. In the middle of the global-warming December rain, with shoppers covered up in jackets, face shields, and masks, Rustan’s Department Store turned on all the lights in their windows, revealing their Christmas window displays. Others were stunned as well, and approached the windows like it was some magical thing, gazing at it and taking photos.

iThe all-red, family-dinner-at-home Rustans window display

Rustan’s is long-known for pulling out all the stops when it comes to Christmas windows, and It was such a relief to see these windows in the middle of the pandemic grayness. There were better displays in the past, and these were in an all-red theme, but the sheer opulence of it all meant that in spite of all the bad news that haunt us daily, Christmas will still push through.

Kiddie holidays are a theme for SM Home this year and last Christmas.

Gawping at the windows made me forget the pandemic for about thirty seconds, and made me remember how my parents would drive me around the city as a child just so I could see all the store windows and lights. This comforting, return-to-childhood memory was possibly the reason why SM Home chose a candy theme last year, and a children’s theme this year. I loved their Christmas tree forest display in Makati, with toy trains choo-chooing around it.

Industrial designer Tord Boontje’s fabulous window for Swarovski.

I wondered about window displays around the world, and while many stores remained prudent, others still went all out in their visual merchandising. Take for example, the frosty, twinkling Swarovski window in Vienna created by Dutch Garland Light designer Tord Boontje–you can almost feel the snow falling on you.

Jean Philippe Del Homme illustrations jazz up Barney’s holiday windows in Japan.

The ne plus ultra of Christmas window displays is the work of Simon Doonan in Barney’s New York, of course, but even that yearly magic had come to an end when that particular store closed in early 2020. Barney’s Japan is still open, their windows less ornate, but still intriguing. Check out the retro Christmas-at-home display above, with Jean Philippe Del Homme’s whimsical illustrations as backdrop.

KISH’s Christmas is subdued, but still beautiful.

On local shores, I’ve always looked forward to Ito Kish’s Christmas parties in the former KISH store along N. Garcia; it was so lovely, packed to the rafters with ornaments and friends from the design industry. Kish’s Christmas décor in his new ITO KISH store in Makati is more subtle, but beautiful nonetheless. Simple trees decked either with fairy lights or pinecones, patinated gold ornaments on the wall, and sage garlands still gave off that holiday spirit.

What was your favorite Christmas window memory? Drop me a line or message me, so that I can reminisce along with you!

Images: Rustans photo by me, header photo from Crate & Barrel, Swarovski photo from Tord Boontje Facebook page, Barneys Japan photo from @barneysny on Instagram, Crate & Barrel, SM, and KISH courtesy of the brands.

Home Tour: Shades of Gray in a 60sqm Unit

I couldn’t resist a good home tour so I decided to close the year with this one! I’ve always loved interior designer Rod Lascano’s projects, whose work is quite magical when dealing with small condo units and its available space. Just look at his former project, a 17sqm unit, which has gone practically viral over the past few years.

Streamlined, modern pieces feature in Rod Lascano’s condo project.. “The furniture pieces come from different suppliers. The console with the pop of yellow together with the solid wood stool, sofa and bed are from a Pampanga furniture maker we usually work with. He’s definitely a secret gem.”

As seen in that 17 sqm unit, Rod’s projects for bachelor pads (gosh, do they still call them that? Did I just date myself??) don’t fall into the usual man-cave cliché of black leather sofa, giant entertainment system, and the clutter of assorted dude accoutrements.

Different shades of gray: heather, medium gray, and dark gray tones paired with bright accents of blue, yellow, and a hint of red, paired a light ash floor create a soothing, urban escape.

Take for example, the interiors of this 60sqm unit, which Rod worked on with design and construction outfit William Brothers Manila. The clean and cool-looking heather gray walls offset the industrial-style feel of the finish of the accent walls. The furniture pieces are tailored and sophisticated, and are versatile enough to be guy-friendly and gender-neutral at the same time, if a couple eventually decided to live in it. And wood pieces in walnut finish add just the right touch of warmth to the urban space.

A concrete-finish feature wall also serves as an entertainment center, with all its components neatly tucked inside the built-in floating cabinets and niche, The round coffee table here is from Furniture Republic.

“I guess we were going for something related but more mature or leveled-up,” the interior designer explains of this direction for his client. “He wanted a space to go home to that has a good balance of warm and cool tones. His original condo unit was more of a bachelor’s pad, for this unit our main goal was to make it into a long-term home.”

Airy modern is what we could describe the renovated unit, which is a far cry from its former state (see the “BEFORE” photo below).

“We were going for something simple and modern, but still have that punch that would make the user feel that he’s in a well-designed and planned space,” says Rod of the overall style. “We wanted something more adult that both a yuppie or an older generation would appreciate or can live in.”

BEFORE: In this “before” photo of the unit, you could see how cramped it looked even though it didn’t have any built-ins, yet!

Rod showed me the “before” photos of the unit (above photo), and it was such a shocker! The living room was dark and cramped, even if it wasn’t fitted with any built-ins, and had distracting beams that seemed to close in on the space. The airiness was masked by heavy drapes, and save for the kitchen, it was devoid of any sort of storage area.

The Jazz Woodworks dining table with mixed seating saves on floor space and gives off a streamlined look. The Alexander Calder-inspired pendant light is from Ambient Lighting.

The interior designer revealed that, in spite of the dramatic renovation, everything was done on a tight budget. “We also wanted to reuse the shell of the space, so whatever we can save for example, the carcass of the hallway cabinets and the kitchen cabinets we reused. We just re-laminated them.”

The sole bedroom is compact and soothing in light gray, and comes with a home office nook, which is a must-have in homes these days.

Even though this condo unit was considerably larger than Rod’s old 17sqm and 28sqm projects, storage was still given absolute importance, most especially in the bedroom. “Actually, the wardrobe of the bedroom is originally an awkward niche/corner in the room. To make it look cleaner, I made use of it and covered it with a cabinet. Usually, full height (floor-to-ceiling) cabinet doors look heavy or chunky, so to make it feel more open, I made the leftmost shelves and the bottom also open storage for bags, shoes, etcetera.”

“Since everything was in cool gray, I needed to add some warmth by adding a wood texture,” says Rod of the bedroom. The interior designer simply used stained ribbon-grain plywood and 25 x 25mm wooden slats as the headboard/feature wall.

Serendipitously enough, this mostly gray (with a slight touch of yellow!) unit was presented on the week that Pantone launched its colors of the year: Illuminating (a vibrant yellow hue) and Ultimate Gray. I asked Rod, Mr. Gray himself, if he was thrilled about it.

The wardrobe area in the bedroom was formerly an empty, awkward niche. Rod added a built-in closet with open bookshelves and an open space beneath the cabinets for shoe and bag storage, so it wouldn’t look too heavy.

“The 2021 Pantone colors are very familiar to me. I was actually excited to find out that it was gray and yellow. For me gray is diverse and flexible as an achromatic color,” Rod gushes. “Gray can be warmer or cooler depending on the feel and aesthetic of the space. It’s an easy color I think that you can match to either another neutral or a very bright accent color…for me the gray color gives you a depth and feel that isn’t too overbearing.” 

Photography by Paulo Valenzuela, courtesy of William Brothers Manila. Contact Rod Lascano on Instagram @rodlascano

Our Home Has a Brand New Look

I used to love the thrill of going from one furniture store to the other looking for different-styled pieces to mix and match. But with the current pandemic (and a whole lot of health and safety reasons), this kind of sourcing is not the best idea, anymore.

So, when Our Home invited me to check out their newly renovated store with fresh, new collections at SM Mall of Asia, it was just as good an excuse to get out of the house. At our extremely physically-distanced tour (I was technically the only guest there for a good thirty minutes), here’s what I saw:

Its new look is fresh, clean, and uncluttered.

Here is the modern-contemporary section, which has their best-selling pieces: the sectional sofas.

If you’re used to seeing furniture stores with a huge mess of sofas and chairs that seem to blend into each other, well, this isn’t one of those stores. Our Home’s interiors now sport a clean-lined, well-lit look with a slight European touch, and furniture sections that are neatly divided into different styles and themes: Scandinavian, Modern-Contemporary, Classic-Baroque, Industrial, and Mid-century Modern.

The Scandi section is adorable.

Millennial Pink loveseat, anyone?

This was the first section they brought me to, and it was full of pale wood and pastel colors for that light and airy feel—mostly for young, millennial home owners and condo dwellers. I’m not into the Millennial pinks and soft pistachios, but what I like about this collection are its soft beige and light gray sofas, with the emerald green armchairs for accent.

They’ve got lots of pieces for condo living.

Check out this slim bar counter/dining counter for tight spaces.

In one part of the Scandi section, you’ll find a number of versatile furnishings meant for condo living and small spaces: narrow dining tables, a portable breakfast counter with stools (seen here) for an extremely tight dining room, scaled-down accent chairs and love seats, too.

Their sofa beds don’t look like sofa beds.

For me, this is really important—a lot of sofa beds in the market look like something in a college dorm that’s ready to be used by a classmate who wants to crash for the night! Here, their sofa beds are elegant: midcentury- or art-deco-inspired, tailored, or in trendy colors with nice feet and detailing.  

Two new sections: Midcentury modern and WFH.

This retro midcentury-inspired set also includes two handsome armchairs.

Don’t forget to check out their new sections, which include Work-From-Home collections of desks, swivel chairs, and storage units that do not look like boring, corporate office furniture at all. The store jumps in on the midcentury modern trend as well, with tapered-leg benches, and couches with a lot of retro-style detailing, all at friendly prices.  

There’s a pillow for every interior style here.

Take your pick! There’s one in every colorway and fabric type.

Soft furnishings are my fave, because a few new pillows can refresh a tired sofa in a second. And there are literally dozens upon dozens of pillow styles to pick from here—from feminine and frilly to patterned or plain—several for each interior style. I love the embroidered/crewel-work pillowcases, as well as the throw pillow covers with a Bauhaus touch.

You’ll find accessories grouped per theme or type.

Beautiful blue-and-whites are all grouped together in the Classic section.

My pet peeve in home stores is when I see accessories of different colors and styles all mixed up, like in a bangketa sale (no offense to bangketa sales, tho!). Here, the accessories are grouped in the same colorways or style (like this classical-oriental, blue-and-white grouping) or by type—all the faux flowers are together, rugs, mirrors and wall art, etc., for easier picking.

Visit Our Home at the Entertainment Hall of SM Mall of Asia, Pasay City, or visit this site for other branches. All photos here by the author, except for top header photo, which is from Our Home.