Cebu’s house on a hill



Like I said in previous post, there’s something in Cebu’s air that breeds amazing modernist architects. This is the house of Francis Noel, an architect. I always like seeing how architects live in their own house.

At first glance, it looks like just another “modern” house. But after talking with Francis and hearing him explain his concept, I was impressed. I’ve seen too many pa-modern effect homes by builders/owners who know very little about tropical architecture; homes that end up becoming one heat trap. If you’re shopping for an architect you must visit one of his/her projects at 1pm. Check to see how the house handles the heat. Francis’ house is a successful example, not just in modern style but also in terms of the functions of a tropical house.

The site posed a major challenge. Lot size is 416 sqm with a frontage of 22 metres. The shape is irregular (trapezoidal or triangular) with no sides equal. The street front had an inclination of more than 15 degrees from left to right. The highest elevation of the lot reached 9 metres above the subdivision road.

See how Francis Noel solved the challenge and came up with a beautiful and functional Filipino modern home for his family.


“The context of the site, logistics and the drive to create a Filipino Modern abode permitted me to design the house in multi-levels in a boxy form. Cubism is somewhat referred to the “ bahay kubo” ( where I always gets my inspiration). Wanting to be globally modern but yet distinctively Filipino, slim sleek flat roofs with deep eaves suggest modernity and contemporariness. The building envelope with stained wall timber cladding over massive concrete walls suggests Asian sensibility features. Wide glass window openings and doors permits daylight into the house and maximize views for most of the rooms.” — Francis Noel


“With the rugged terrain being offered, I took on the challenge to navigate our house during the planning stage through the rugged contour lines to prevent excessive earthworks and costs. This type of approach really saved us a lot of money. Difference in levels and elevations gave me an opportunity to create spaces that are visually distinctive without the use of too much walls and partitions but instead using user-friendly treads and risers (300mmx 145mm) in accordance to the Disability Act Law or Batas Pambansa 344.” — Francis Noel


The site has an inclination of 15 degrees from left to right.


Francis tried to employ as much green technology or procedures in designing and building his house. He also took a lot of inspiration from the bahay kubo and bahay na bato. Visible from this picture are the opened slats under the eaves. This allows hot air to escape from between the ceiling and the roof. Wide eaves supported by poles (or like a  tungkod) gives enough shade from direct sun. I was particularly enamored by the wooden screen.


Sun baffles or timber screens protects the interior rooms thru the  dramatic introduction of shadows on the floors. With the introductions of layered walls and berm, thermal comfort for the house is generally achieved.


The style of minimalism is adopted in this house as evident of the structural framework being exposed in the interiors.


“Another challenge was to orient the house towards the view (the blue water of Mactan Island) looming in the horizon (East- NorthEast) and the afternoon sun which is at the West-Southwest. Having to build the house within the height limit of 9 meters from the highest lot elevations ( SHHA Guidelines ), the house had to have an extensive digging of 3.50 meters or more down from the original thus created a Berm.” — Francis Noel


I asked Francis what made this house green architecture. “Through the use of recycled materials “finger joint lumber” or “retaso”, proper planning and site utilization, celestial windows and timber screens for optimum visual and thermal comfort, landscaping, rainwater harvesting with the used of cistern tanks. Also by designing the house relative to human scale (floor height elevations), adherence to disability law, passive cooling thru the introduction of cross ventilation (side walls with window openings), long deep eaves to create shadows and depth, white walls and ceiling for natural room illumination. We also employed CFL bulbs and other environmental friendly materials for optimum savings in electricity and adherence towards the principle of sustainable development.” — Francis Noel


Perhaps one of the greater things that makes this house about “green living” is that Francis built his home office within the property — no need to drive a car to go to work. Talk about reducing your carbon footprint. And just beside his home office is a separate unit for his parents’ in law. I love that about Filipino families.


Read more about the work of Francisco Noel Architects.

House of Buck Sia


This house was shown in UZ a couple of weeks ago. Designed and built by Buck Richnold Sia, a young architect based in Cebu. This is Buck’s own house. He lives here with his wife Dulce. I met Buck through the Creative Cities program of the British Council. I like his way of thinking and how he translates his ideas into real space. I don’t know what it is about Cebu and modern architecture, but it seems abundant there. So much talent.

Buck’s firm, Zubu Design Associates, is committed to the pursuit of Progressive Architecture. “Architecture that is up to the times; to say the least, modern.” More photos and plans from his website.

This house is very interesting, not only because of its modernity, but also because it is built on a very limited space. The lot area is only 145 square metres. The floor area of the house is 150 sqm. He was able to put in three bedrooms, a den, and 2.5 toilets and bathrooms all in two storeys. In Buck’s on words:

This house attempts a more international style with planes creatively stacked. It also mixes color and texture with the massing and planes. The eastern wall with the firewall connects with the clerestory canopy that creates the 1st of the many elements. The flat roof and canopies create a horizontal effect that sandwiches the yellow plane. That plane with it, also the frontmost of all the elevations, is flanked at the side with the louver enclosed glass panels and the rust-effect tiled wall. The interior also feels the linearity of the space, with the cantilevered stairs as the backdrop.


















Urban Zone: Modern tropical house



Here’s a house we featured in Urban Zone last month. It was designed and built by father and son architects – Mike and Paul Pena. We’ve shown many of Mike Pena’s work in UZ and all of them have been striking and impeccably done (in Tagalog, pulido).

This house is pretty incredible. It looks like a bungalow from the front, but it actually has four storeys, since the property slopes down dramatically. And to those who will probably ask – I have not included a photo of the facade.


By the front door. Those horizontal slats beside Mike open into a deep wind chamber that allows ventillation in the lower part of the house.


At the foyer. Check out the double doors – it’s a door within a door, much like the ones in old churches.


The beautiful kitchen is completely open to the dining room and to the view of the entire property.


Since the stove is on the island counter, a special wooden casing for the range hood was created.


This is the view from the kitchen – a giant one-piece wooden table (from Indonesia, gosh the tree!) and the view of the surrounding area.


A wide shot of the foyer, kitchen and dining areas.


A modern sungkaan (a traditional Filipino game).


Paul explaining the idea of keeping the spaces open by having vast windows with “no corners.” Another one-piece enormous wooden coffee table.


The upper balcony  (there are several)


I really hate that our wireless lapel mics were broken that day. I had hold this obtrusive microphone. But anyway, this shows one wall of the master bedroom.


Wooden sliding doors with kamagong slats allow the continuous flow of air through the house.


View from the back of the house – showing the pool and the four floors.


Very interesting feature of the swimming pool, a trickling water feature surrounding the jacuzzi.


The infinity pool.


Modern asian home




This is the house we showed in Urban Zone last Friday July 8, 2011. The architect, Alex Co, has shown a lot of his work in our show and he actually has gotten a lot of projects from the exposure. We’ve had viewers from Europe and North America who’ve commissioned Alex to design their homes back in the Philippines. He has developed an expertise in modern tropical/asian homes but he can actually do a wide range of styles.

Here is one of the newest homes he’s built – for a couple with three grown children. The property is around 600 sqm, with a gentle slope down. The main floor houses the living, dining, kitchen and prayer room. As well as the master bedroom – which shows great foresight on the owner’s part. Aging is a part of life that we cannot escape. They want accessibility and comfort later on. The top floor are the children’s bedrooms and library. The lower ground opens up into the garden. (Pardon the photos, I had my Leica D Lux 3 and it was on a wrong setting, so Denmark my segment producer couldn’t get the clarity he wanted. Otherwise, it’s a really excellent camera).


A stone wall divides the living room from the dining area.


An unusual set up. Most homes devote their high cathedral ceiling to the living room. But this family chose to give all the openness to the dining area.


Lamps over the dining area.


Chairs and table by Agi Pagkatipunan.


The dining and kitchen areas share one space. Great concept.


I love that the kitchen is surrounded by lots of windows and greenery.


This is actually just their “show” kitchen. Very little work goes on here on a daily basis. Behind that fridge…


… is their “dirty” kitchen, or what architects and designers now call “working” kitchen.


I was in a bit of a rush when I thought of taking a photo of the working kitchen. So I didn’t get to move our tripod. And I obviously was very careless in snapping this photo. But I just wanted to show you that their secondary kitchen is pretty cool too, in my books.


Characteristics of a tropical home include outdoor living and a lanai. Here is the first lanai on the upper ground floor adjacent to the dining area and kitchen. It’s also accessible from the master bedroom.


Below the upper lanai or balcony is the garden.


Instead of a swimming pool, the owners opted for an 8-seater jacuzzi.


Every part of the house tries to maximize natural light and views.


The upper floor which looks down into the dining area and garden.


I hope you are enjoying Urban Zone on Friday nights, albeit very very late, on ABSCBN. UZ schedules on The Filipino Channel vary per region.



Cath Kidston Home Decor

Debbie Palao



I was one of the three judges at this year’s Cebu Next international furniture show for the awards called Mugna. One of the designers that caught my attention was Debbie Palao. She’s not new in the business. She’s been designing furniture for over twenty years. She and her husband, Gus, run a successful furniture factory in Cebu. They’ve focused mainly on the foreign market, resulting in a strong brand that’s represented abroad but not locally (yet).

This year, Debbie granted our wish to feature her work and showroom in Urban Zone. I approached Debbie for the design auction I was organizing for UNICEF, called Auction for Action. She generously donated two Maze tables. The auction was a huge success. We raised over P1.4 million through an online auction. A lot of people were asking, who is Debbie Palao. Here’s Debbie’s world.


At the Cebu Next furniture expo in April 2011. I was with my fellow judges.


I fell in love with these chairs. Debbie named them “Pout”. Made of steel foundation with woven and tied thread. I love the mixture of hard and soft, in an exaggerated way.


This is the MAZE coffee table in natural rattan. The ones she donated to UNICEF were made of blackened rattan. Just look at the complexity of the pattern. Completely done by hand.


Me and Debbie at her showroom. I’m loving all those lamps.


Debbie Palao’s showroom in Mandaue, Cebu.


The showroom. In the foreground, another of my favourite, E’Kiss. It reminds me of telecom tower but with abaca rope criss crossing the steel bars. Again, I love the irony of mixing high tech metal against the humble abaca rope.


Another witty piece. Debbie calls this Ripples. It looks like a soft rug thrown on top of a stool. But it also looks like ripples in water caused by one pebble. I love how the piece was tied or woven together in one continuous line starting from the centre point.


One of my favourite chairs. Debbie took inspiration from one of her poufy skirts and came up with the idea of “dressing up” a chair. It’s such a stunning and witty piece.


The reason they called it Meryll was because of Meryll Streep’s character in The Devil Wears Prada who threw her jackets around. Debbie jokes that her family and staff refer to her as that same character when she’s not looking. 🙂


Cute Button stool. All her pieces are ergonomically designed. All comfortable.


The chocolate brown with a pop of orange is adorable.


Debbie’s furniture is sold in Europe, India and South America. Her work has been featured in Elle Decor, House Beautiful and other major publications. Here’s one of the recent ones, spring 2011.


It’s that stool/side table that’s completely hand painted with dots. I love it’s graphic, ethnic vibe.


And here’s another version in the showroom.


Check out Debbie Palao’s site here.