“I don’t have a dream house, just a dream space.”
“Details make the house. Art makes the home.”
“It’s not from the past. A house doesn’t age as time goes by because it’s been stripped of ornamentation.”
Budji Layug said these as we shared cheese and drinks during this quarantine, with the view of the city skyline looking softer before us as the sun set. I’ve known Budji for a good number of years that I no longer find necessary to count, yet each time we’re together, whether here or abroad, I learn new insights, quotable ones, from this guy who’s not articulate, especially not with strangers and at socials.
But—when he gets excited over something, usually design and art, his words race out and you simply must catch them, like in this late afternoon. He’s showing me around his house that was completed during the lockdown early this year—the first house he built from the ground up and designed for him to live in, basically alone. This is Budji Layug’s first home.
It’s 500sqm, a space he maximized in three stories, with a roof deck where he built a verdant garden.
“It’s my exercise going up those stairs,” says Budji when asked why he prefers a multi-story house in his senior years. It’s good that he does Pilates regularly.
From the street, the house is easy to miss. Its dark charcoal finish yields a nondescript façade, but the shaggy Peruvian ferns overhanging from the second and third stories make a noticeable design statement—natural, organic minimalism.
You step into a signature Budji Layug Asian modern design: water feature (minute pond in a kawa) set in a compact oasis of greenery; a massive dao pivot door to welcome you; picture windows that make the outdoors and the indoors one; open layout of the interiors; free flowing space, and clean lines.
At the entrance, Budji uses mirror panels to create illusion and depth—they carry the reflection of the front yard. It offers the visitor a visual refreshment—almost like the equivalent of a welcome drink.
Budji uses mirrors repeatedly in the house—“to open up corners,” he says.
The open layout gives an unimpeded view of the living and dining areas on the ground floor. “I use walls only when necessary, for privacy,” he says, so certainly not in the social area. Instead, picture windows—actually sliding floor-to-ceiling glass panels— wrap around the ground floor, bringing in the sunlight that dictates the changing moods of the day, sunny and bright or downcast and somber. The glass windows make the trees outside a part and parcel of the interiors—very Budji Layug. “It’s my way of building around the views of the trees. An 80-year-old tree serves as visual anchor of the roof deck.”
The living area and other parts of the house showcase the Budji Layug furniture—one must remember that Budji started making a name when he designed in the ‘70s the now-iconic bamboo furniture, which Bloomingdales New York carried for many years. This kick-started the Budji Layug furniture export until he got more and more involved in Citem (Center for International Trade Expositions and Missions) under design icon Eli Pinto, in bringing the trailblazing Movement 8 to trade expositions abroad and subsequently winning awards. Then Budji partnered with architect Royal Pineda to put up Budji+Royal Design, which through the years has done prominent private and public structures, including the SEA Games pavilion.
The living area has interesting coffeetables that Budji himself designed—one has burl wood top, other has stainless steel top. When the light hits them, the coffeetable tops cast shadows of patterns on the ceiling.
The central staircase adds a geometric pattern to the clean minimalism.
Everywhere, from the living, dining areas to the staircase landing and bedrooms, are paintings by Budji and artworks by his sister Jo Layug Loignon who lives next door.
A multi-hyphenate artist, Budji has been painting on and off through the decades, laying off the canvas only when he got so busy with Movement 8 in the distant past or more recently, with Budji+Royal. We’ve seen his paintings evolve in recent years up to this point when he’s veering towards the abstract.
“I don’t like things that look real. I like movement, strong colors in my paintings, even as my design for interiors veers to the neutrals. Art makes the home because it creates the atmosphere,” he describes his style he calls “figurative abstract.”
The lockdown has given him the time to paint every day. And this is just as well, because a Budji painting is never done. What you see today could be splashed over with fresh acrylic tomorrow to create an entirely new work. For like in his design, Budji is moved by his emotion and mind of the moment. Unlike his design, Budji applies intensity and fury on the canvas—his painting is free of any restraint. In fact, Budji’s cool exterior could be deceiving—he is intense.
We go up to his roofdeck garden where he’s working on a mural. It’s lying face up but we can’t see a complete image, only that it is a vibrant surface of color and texture. It is passion-in-progress.
The roof deck embodies what Budji has always wanted to achieve with limited space. “My dream space is a small area that looks spacious. This deck has the open sky— the full escape in this pandemic,” he says.
In the roof deck is where Budji comes to greet the day in the morning, and in the evening, where he tries to come to terms with what has been. We’re enjoying white wine with cheese and jamon serrano and relishing our temporary freedom from quarantine with Budji’s sister Jo and his relative/confidante Babette Aquino-Benoit who’s missing Paris but who knows she’s better off here with family and friends.
In an hour we will be joined at dinner by Budji’s son David and wife Erica, their precocious son Liam, architect/photographer Marc Henrich Go (he topped the architecture board exams yet he’s better known to IG followers as the favorite photographer of Scarlet Snow Belo-Kho), and Budji’s friend visiting from Paris, Jeff Cadayon.
But for now, we’re enjoying cocktail hour in Budji’s roof deck garden—a green carpet of ornamentals, fruit trees (sampaloc, chico), herbs, ferns, bonsai, that bears the gurgling sound of water in the kawa. Looming beyond is the city skyline that looks so inert—which is what everything and everyone has been reduced into by this pandemic.
The positive-minded Budji, however, isn’t bogged down by the hassles of quarantine. Instead he asks us to watch the sunset that is now a canvas of changing hues far in the horizon.
The house has two rooms in the second story, and in the third story, another that serves as guest/family room that opens to a balcony. Like other parts of the house, the bedrooms are free flowing spaces with functional yet aesthetic details: built-in cabinets have sliding mirror doors that give the illusion of bigger space; the view of the outside is framed by big picture windows—a sight that unclutters the mind.
There are two approaches to life I’ve learned from Budji:
Positivity is everything. He refuses to accept negative vibes.
He doesn’t dwell on the past. “I want to understand and represent the moment, whether it’s elegant or not. This moment. Not a repeat of 50 years ago,” he says.
To Budji, design signifies a new day. Like in life.