An Honest Post

I’m taking a one-day break from design babble to talk about how ordinary folks are represented in lifestyle articles.

I’m sure you have your fill of “fave-celebrity-doing-normal-things” viral posts, but when a call for a lifestyle or inspirational article about people like you and me are brought up, the editors sometimes get a knee-jerk reaction to “glam up” the subject, or twist the slant of the article to make the person appear cooler than he or she is. If there was a shoot involved, the subject would be made up and styled for the camera, and there would be a lot of posing and art direction.

But who wants to be glamorous now, in the midst of a raging pandemic? Whenever I read an article that sort of makes the subject try too hard, I shake a little bit in embarrassment.

So when my writer friend Agay Llanera wanted to interview me for an honest article about dealing with middle age for informative and no-nonsense website, I said yes.

Writer and editor Ines Bautista-Yao, entrepreneur and children’s book publisher Anya Santos-Uy, and little old me. Image from

The article was about how women were thriving in their mid-life phase. It was only then that I realized that I have been middle-aged for more than five years now, and the interview made me think of where I was now, and if I was happily embracing this stage.

What struck me, aside from the extremely confident insights of my co-interviewees, was the raw honesty of all their answers. No one was glammed up, no one was forced to be cool — we just shared how we dealt with our daily lives and dreams in the simplest and most sensible ways.

If you want to read about some of our honest thoughts (or if you want to be shocked by our respective ages), check out the article here.

I’m a Fan

It was the afternoon of one of the most humid days in June when I spotted this beautifully designed appliance. Now, most commercial electric fans out there are often ugly-@ss things that come in black, white, or some weird pastel color. Let’s not include the electric fans of the world that cost an arm and a leg, such as this one. Those guys are in a league of their own, so let us not touch them in this post.

And so, it was a such a pleasant surprise to see this elegant specimen of an electric fan created by young Filipino industrial designer Joseph Rastrullo.

Joseph Rastrullo’s electric fan prototype.

The fan itself is encased in an elegant, metal mesh cage that is more sculpture than appliance. Well, you wouldn’t expect anything less from the Domus-educated Joseph, who has created dozens of furniture and accessory designs and exhibited in Manila FAME and other fairs when he was just in his 20s.

This piece is still in the prototype stage, but if you’re interested, follow him on Instagram or hit them up on the Rastrullo Facebook page.

Pod Living in Pasay

While visiting designer Willie Garcia at her JunkNot Concept Store opening last February, I couldn’t help but notice how fun and quirky Selah Pods Hotel was.

Selah Pods, upon entering the main guests area skylight, isn’t your typical boutique hotel.

For starters, it strives to be an eco-friendly hotel (this is the main reason Willie chose it for her showroom), as its main public area opens to an airy, central “courtyard” with a skylight, so it gets a lot of natural light throughout the day. There’s a lot of cross-ventilation coming from the windows that encircle the area, so it’s always breezy and there’s no need for air-conditioning.

The actual pod: a gangplank folds out and you get in and “hang” for a few moments or an hour til the staff lets you out.

And the hotel décor isn’t cookie-cutter at all. The central light-well is decorated with out-of-this-world wire sculptures and suspended metal pods (that’s where the “pods” part comes in). And if you are brave enough, you can actually “ride” in the pods—hotel staff can open the pod and you could lounge in it with friends, until you call the staff over to help you climb out.

(Left) A typical room entrance with a wire sculpture, (right) every level of the hotel offers surprises, like this row of wicker swings.

I was honestly too scared to try out the pods, so my son and I had a go at the suspended wicker swings on the 10th floor. The hotel is full of little surprises, like carpeted corners with floor pillows by the stair landings for you to hide in, and tiny nooks above the swimming pool area where you can have a few beers on your own.

Elevator (it’s see-thru) area leading the pool area and roofdeck restaurant.

The lap pool on the 11th floor roof-deck overlooks both cities of Makati and Pasay, and is especially lovely to swim in at night. The hotel is very near World Trade Center, PICC, and other trade show venues so it’s a convenient and affordable place to stay in during fair season.

The lap pool overlooking both Makati and Pasay Cities.

Selah Pods Hotel is located at 2004-224 FB Harrison Street, Pasay City, and has recently reopened after the lockdown. For more information, visit the Selah Pods Hotel website.

JunkNot Concept Store: Trash is Treasure

Interior designer Willie Garcia is the purveyor of all things upcycled, and her main vision in life is to have a zero-waste world.

She started making bags and accessories out of recycled plastic wrappers in 2009, but because of the competition in the fashion industry (“Besides, I’m not a fashion designer, I’m an interior designer!” she recalls), decided to shift gears and create upcycled furniture under the company name JunkNot! Eco Creatives.

Everything sold in the JunkNot showroom is made from recycled materials from the paper tubing sofa to the denim scrap cushions (except for the red A. Garcia chairs in front). All photos on this page (except for Yssa Craft) by Rachelle Medina.

And then in 2015, the Department of Natural Resources (DENR) hired Willie to create a livelihood program for the residents of the Taal Volcano Protective Landscape (TVPL), a small community living on the edges of Taal Volcano, an active volcano in Southern Luzon.

Willie asked them to make a waste audit in their community, and these were their findings: “The biggest cause of their trash were the residuals,” Willie says. “It was the single-use plastics like instant noodle packaging, cupcake packs…because the island doesn’t have any electricity, they live in a danger zone and It’s not allowed. Some residents have solar panels, others have generators, but basically, they consume [instant food] because they have no refrigerators.”

(Left) NCreatives’ delicate jewelry made of used coffee pods, Yssa Crafts Slumped Bottle Vases made out of used medicine bottles.

The designer then taught the residents how to segregate. Afterwards, she trained the women on how to clean the plastic wrappers and weave them into strips used in the production of Willie’s furniture pieces. The women earned money doing this, and it empowered and improved their lives, as they were able to buy small solar panels, appliances, and furnishings. After a few years, the Taal town had zero waste.

Inday Dolls are made with love by Ilongga female inmates. (Left) cross-stitch plushies, (right) Inday Kusina magnets embroidered with popular Ilonggo dishes.

And then Taal Volcano had its most recent, major eruption in January 2020, covering the outlying towns in ashfall and displacing its residents. Willie put up a fund drive for the relief goods of the townspeople, and after a few months, they (literally) rose from the ashes to begin a new project, the JunkNot Concept Store, which was launched at the Selah Pods Hotel in Pasay in February.

Inday “Bilat” embroidered patches are almost like artwork. What are they? “Bilat” literally means “vulva” – it’s a feminist piece!

Willie put up the store as a collective with fellow recyclers and up-cyclers in her showroom at the hotel, and every piece, from the paper tubing sofa to the fabric scrap rug, is upcycled. The up-cyclers come from all parts of the country, from Taguig (Siklo accessories made out of rubber tire tubing) to Antipolo (AkreH crocheted products).

Deafeye is a creative duo of hearing impaired and visually disabled artists, who made the wall mural of the store at left. They painted the drum stools made out of cylindrical shipping containers.

Almost every seller supports an advocacy or community, such as the Dumagat women, who crochet AkreH’s pieces out of garment scraps, and female inmates in Iloilo, who hand-embroider the whimsical Inday Dolls.

Thank you Willie Garcia for this fantastic advocacy! Here she is on her award-winning Anak ngTupa Chair, which saved 30 kilos of waste.

These like-minded sellers, along with Willie, hope to foster a circular economy in the Philippines, and to make the public more aware of their consumption and their production of waste. The designer says that it’s easy to live a zero-waste life, you just have to start doing it at home by segregating your trash, and minimizing consumption of single-use items.

The JunkNot Concept Store at Selah Pods Hotel is temporarily closed because of the General Community Quarantine, but you can view the products and order online at their website, or contact them at +639054244255. To read my Spot article on Willie, click here.

Cabinet of Curiosities: UST Museum

My father and two brothers studied at the University of Santo Tomas (UST). They used to share memories that were alien to me, such as eating sandwiches from a magical vending machine, and perching on the brise soleil of the Engineering Building.

And then I asked them a question that left them stumped: Have you ever visited the UST museum?

One brother said no. My other brother mentioned, in an ominous tone, that it was “Weird and creepy, like someone’s buried there.” Like who? I asked. “Like Jesus Christ,” he said. Oh.

OBJECTS: Christmas Accessories, an annual exhibit by the interior design class at UST

My late dad was the only one who got it right. “It’s like a Cabinet of Curiosities,” I remember him saying. “It’s like a European museum, with taxidermy and all sorts of artifacts.” He also wondered why most students back then hardly went there. But I finally got to visit UST’s Museum of Arts and Sciences many years later for a student exhibit.

The UST main building

The museum is located in the main building of UST, which is one of those places that is a historical artifact itself. Built in 1927 by Fr. Roque Ruano (a priest and an engineer—how convenient!), the main building is a renaissance-style-inspired, earthquake-proof structure. The classical statues perched on the roof are by Francesco Riccardo Monti, and the likenesses of Aristotle and St. Augustine are some of the favorite subjects of architecture students who burned their batok sketching outdoors.

The Llamas murals in the main lobby of the building.

Huge, creaking front doors open to an even grander interior with ecclesiastical touches, such as pilasters, ceiling rosettes, and stained-glass windows. It is cold and beautiful at the same time—mostly beautiful because of the murals by Antonio Garcia Llamas, which show the history of UST. These were restored just a few years ago.

Stuffed fowls in the main exhibit area (a few of the thousands of taxidermy animals)

A flight of stairs leads you to the museum, which is where the Cabinet of Curiosities reference really hits you. There is a central space for various school exhibits, and a mezzanine and various halls surround this. But no paintings and saintly statues here (that’s on the second floor)—all you will see are fossilized and preserved corals and plants, rare rocks and crystals, and taxidermy insects, birds, and mammals.

Is this the actual UST tiger?

Yes, mammals. Like this stuffed tiger in the middle, which some students claim is the actual UST mascot tiger (poor thing).

The two Papal chairs on the second floor; the one at left used by Pope John Paul, the one on right by Pope Francis

The museum is divided into three halls to house their Natural History collection (the “Cabinet of Curiosities”), Oriental Arts (coins, medals, pottery), the Hall of Artists (with works of National Artists like Amorsolo and former UST professor Galo Ocampo), and the exquisite and slightly frightening Hall of Philippine Religious Statues. My friend Wilan Dayrit mentioned that there is an eerie, almost mystical feel about the two Papal chairs on display.

You couldn’t talk about the UST main building without mentioning its dark past as an internment camp for Americans and other expats during WWII. We were reminded of it when the security guard approached us while photographing the exhibit. “Ma’am, okay lang ba pag 6pm, pack up na po tayo?” he asked politely. He continued: “Basta ‘pag 8, pinapaalis na namin ang mga tao, tapos lock up na.” I asked him if he “saw” things inside the building at night.

“Minsan may nakikita kami sa CCTV,” he said, still smiling, as if he were talking about the most ordinary thing in the world. “Minsan marami po sila.” Now that is an added attraction!

The UST Museum of Arts and Sciences is open from Tuesday to Saturday, 8:30 am to 4:30 pm at the UST campus, España, Manila. Admission is Php50. Though it is currently closed because of the general quarantine.

Triboa Bay Tour

Almost every local interior designer I know has bought or sourced from Triboa Bay Living, a local brand of beautifully designed, contemporary furniture pieces and accessories. So it was quite a treat to photograph their factory for the Manila FAME Touchpoint website (more on that later).

Sims nd Skor chairs, photographed by Kit Singson for Manila FAME

A bit of trivia: I only found out, belatedly from a Met Museum exhibit on maps, that there is an actual Triboa Bay in the Pampanga area. Am I the only person to know this?

Photo of the Triboa assembly area by KIt Singson for Manila FAME

Triboa Bay Living’s amazing CEO Randy Viray and his staff were kind enough to tour us around their 500sqm factory in Pampanga with stylists Dagny Madamba, Tala Singson, and photographer Kit Singson. I have to say that it is one of the cleanest furniture factories I’ve seen in my lifetime.

Photo by Kit Singson for Manila FAME

In three different factory areas, they produce more than 300 furniture and product designs, and regularly come up with new ones. They also have a special project launching this year (hopefully once the lockdown eases up).

Finishing the base of their famous Brianna staircase lamp. Photo by KIt Singson for Manila FAME.

You can read more about Triboa Bay’s last collection here in the Touchpoint website that we produced. And you can check out the rest of their products on their official site.

Dagny in her comfy mask

Another thing: we were given cloth masks to protect us from the sawdust that was flying around the factory. These came in handy a month after, when the Taal Volcano erupted and there was an ashfall in Metro Manila. (I also used them at the start of the pandemic, before it became bad.)

Museum Girl (a series): Ayala Museum

If I could live in a museum, I would. I will go there to drown out the noise from the world, and avoid people I do not want to hear and see.

My fascination with museums started here, in 1981, when on weekends, my father took me to this block-y, Brutalist building by the late Leandro Locsin:

The old Ayala Museum (from Skyscraper City)

Wasn’t it lovely? This was the old Ayala Museum, demolished sometime around 1999-2001. I loved this dark-and-moody, Brutalist Ayala Museum of my youth.

“Gold in our Veins” exhibit by Mark Lewis Higgins

The ‘70s Ayala Museum, in perfect Lindy Locsin fashion, had a simple lobby with a breezeway in the middle. There was a turnstile in front and a turnstile at the back (times were safer back then), and it opened directly to the Aviary of the old Greenbelt Park. The effect was wonderful: you’re in a dark, concrete space and then you see a bit of green peeking out. Sometimes, birds from the Aviary flew into the museum lobby.

My son at the Sanso exhibit/retrospective

Another reason for choosing the Ayala Museum for my first post is the fact that it is a “beginner’s museum”—it was the first museum schools would take the students to see the Philippine Diorama experience. Upon visiting it thirty years later with my son, I was relieved to see some local historical inaccuracies corrected (two words: “Martial Law”).

“Living Architecture” exhibit

A few people have criticized Ayala Museum, but I think it’s appropriate in its commercial/retail location—there’s a little bit of this and that, and every new exhibit (from Sanso and Legaspi, Aalto to Lacroix, Kusama and McCurry) is a surprise.

“A Taste of Gutai” exhibit

The last time I visited Ayala Museum was in May 2019, two weeks from its temporary closure. It is currently being renovated, and while I wait with bated breath for its latest reincarnation, the rest of the country awaits the reopening of all the other museums from the sleepy quarantine.

(Cover image “May 11th, 70” by Tetsuya Noda from his “The Diary of Tetsuya Noda: Steven Co Collection,” exhibited at the Ayala Museum on July 2016; image of old Ayala Museum from Skyscraper City, other photos, my own)

Hello from inside

I’ve spent a good part of 18 years shooting other people’s houses, going to museums and exhibit openings, and spending days covering junkets and far-away resorts that I could say I have spent about 80 percent of my life outside. So it came as a bit of a shock to find myself inside, nearly 24/7, these past few months of pandemic-induced quarantine.

From my little photo shoot for Seek the Uniq (read about my home later!)

While being locked up indoors, I started collecting all sorts of stories that could have gone into a home and design website (not going there). Instead, I’m putting it all here. You’ll find a bit of everything: home tips, design, culture, the arts, and design-related events once restrictions ease up again.

I hope you’ll enjoy my internal design babbling and get something out of it. So sit back, relax, read, and most importantly, stay at home.

Main photo by dear friend Grace Moslares