Interior design styles come in different shapes, forms, and functions. From a deeper perspective, the types of our home's interior spaces also differ based on cultures and locations. As a designer who grew up in the Philippines, it's an honor, and I am happy that I could experience living in a home based on Filipino culture and traditions.
In celebration of the annual Fiesta Filipino event in Calgary, I thought it would be fitting to create a blog about interior design styles that is uniquely Filipino. Like other countries, the types of houses in the Philippines have undergone many changes, from the local inhabitants who dwelt in nipa huts (Bahay Kubo) to the Stone Houses (Bahay na Bato) of the Spanish era and the modern period houses. One thing stays the same, though, most homes in the Philippines are designed for the most fundamental unit of the community- the family.
But with all the changes, development, and modernity of interior design styles? Do we still have that specific identity in our home style that is bold enough to say that this is a Filipino home?
The traditional houses in the Philippines called "Bahay Kubo" are the best examples of vernacular architecture. Most of these houses are built by local carpenters and are made of locally available construction materials. As a local tradition in most of the provinces in the country, the entire community would gather together and help to build the house. The men are in charge of all the heavy lifting and construction, and the women cook and prepare food.
When I was a kid, I remember what it was like when the community gathered to build a traditional house or move an existing home to other places (yes, that's a thing, too); we call it "Bayanihan." I also remember that it felt like there was a massive party with lots of food and drinks. And most of the people are just so happy helping each other to build the house.
Younger generations of Architects and designers are modernizing houses in the country; with the modernization and new technologies helping to build homes faster and efficiently comes the loss of the traditional "Bayanihan." It's unfortunate, but everyone needs to adapt to changes for better ways of living. However, the spirit of helping one another, which was adopted from the traditional "Bayanihan," can still be seen within the community through volunteering at other events and town improvements.
Another unique feature of a Filipino-style home is the homemade altar. It could be a piece of furniture or a wall-hung shelf where holy pictures, statues, relics, and candles are placed. In most houses, the altar is the center space in the living area or sometimes placed in the staircase with enough space where the family can kneel and pray.
October is the Holy Rosary Month; in each community, it is celebrated by bringing the statue of Mother Mary to different houses and praying the rosary every night. It is a tradition that is still being practiced nowadays, and I was fortunate enough that I was able to be part of this tradition when I was a kid. So, when designing a house in the Philippines, one primary consideration is the altar's location.
Prosperity & Good Energy from Feng Shui
Surprisingly enough, most Filipinos, especially those of Chinese descent, have adapted Feng Shui practices in their homes. The Chinese tradition, when properly followed, is believed to bring in good luck and remove or prevent bad luck from entering the house. Honestly, I'm not a strict follower of Feng Shui because I design spaces for users and not for their fortune. However, I sometimes practice some of the non-traditional parts of the tradition, such as proper positioning of building openings and suitable locations of water features and indoor plants.
Aside from good energy and prosperity, Feng Shui comes with significant advantages when followed well. It can make the house organized, clean, comforting, and relaxing. Word of precaution, though, if you want to practice the tradition, try to read books about Feng Shui or hire a Feng Shui expert rather than following the Chinese tradition based on hearsay. Following the tradition carelessly might cause more damage (especially to your budget) rather than bring luck and prosperity.
Pamana or Heirloom
Like other cultures, Filipinos love keeping things with great sentimental value, especially items handed down to them and belonging to the family for several generations. It could be furniture, home décor, artwork, or memorabilia that most of us keep and display in the house. Sometimes, even if the item is no longer working, we will try to fix it and make it work because letting go of it is not an option.
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In the house where I grew up, I remember some big wooden chest where we kept all documents and school awards. I also remember that we repurpose an old sewing machine as a display table. I thought it was clever to keep such items because they bring lots of memory to the space and tell stories that make the space personal and meaningful for the owner.
The Philippines is a tropical country, and we are blessed with abundant natural or biotic materials used in construction. Examples of these materials are wood, rattan, and bamboo, commonly seen in most traditional and modern houses all over the country. They are utilized as structural supports, walls, floors, and roofs. Most of these materials are also used as furniture, cabinets, home décor, and even dinnerware.
Another material and feature that are common in a Filipino house are natural Capiz shells. These are shells of Placuna Placenta Mollusks native to southeast Asian countries such as the Philippines and Indonesia. The shells are used initially as glass substitutes for windows because they are durable and translucent (some houses still use them as windows with wooden frames), and others use them as materials for home decors and other handicrafts. Capiz shells are materials for decorative lights such as chandeliers and pendant lights used for tropical and boho interior style homes.
Last but not least is the front terrace or covered patio. Aside from all the primary rooms in the house, the terrace is one of the most essential and used spaces in a Filipino home. It extends the living area, an afternoon snack area, and sometimes a dining area. Also, a terrace is essential because it was considered a future house expansion when the family decided to start their small convenience store. Quite clever, right?
As a country with excellent summer weather all year round, the terrace is the best hang-out space for the family for coffee and snacks and the best place to have friendly chats with neighbors (we call it "chismisan"). It is also where most of the expensive Christmas decorations are displayed during the holiday season.
What makes an Interior Design Style Filipino?
As an Architect in the Philippines and home designer in other parts of the world, Filipino interior design is uniquely tropical. Our homes represent the sun's brightness and our forests' vibrancy. It is as fresh as the morning sky and as relaxing as the sound of the beach. I always imagine a perfect Filipino house to be organic regarding finishes, flowy and open layout, and soft and comfy interior vibe.
Some designers might not agree with me, especially those who want to adopt modern and western styles in Filipino houses. Still, we already have everything in our country, including our colorful cultures and environment. All we need to do is embrace what exists and use them to create something beautiful, meaningful, and truly Filipino.
I did a space design project for an existing dining area to show you a bit of my representation and how I define Filipino interior design style. The goal is to offer the ultimate style of a Filipino dining area and to use most, if not all, the things I mentioned in this blog that makes a unique Filipino interior design style.
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