Building & Renovating

RL Spotlight: Design Trends from 1800s to Present (Part 2)

Find out more about Tropical Design, Zen Asian, Minimalist, and Maximalist interior styles


The evolution of design and architecture is as varied and colorful as our own history. With today’s free-for-all aesthetics, homeowners have a wide range of styles to choose from, to play with, and to fuse together. Knowing how design has grown through the centuries can widen your perspective on what you’d like in your home—take some tips from history, and broaden your design IQ with this primer on centuries of style.

Read the original article in the January 2008 issue of Real Living Magazine. Download your digital copy of Real Living on the Real Living App now! Log on to for more details.

Tropical (Early 1990s)

The tropical architecture in the Philippines is as varied as it is distinct—it has its roots in the bahay kubo, with its large, open spaces and the prevalent use of wood. Centuries gone by, however, have allowed tropical architecture to evolve into contemporary works of art—some highly modern, others traditionally ethnic, and others founded on the hacienda, houses designed according to the homes that have grown to be popular in local, as well as foreign, plantations. The themes span from rustic to minimalist, modernist to Mediterranean. The singular thread that runs through every style that Tropical Architecture encompasses is a love of natural materials.

See more photos and view the full home here:


Defining characteristics: Wood, whether or not it is taken in its purest form—as a tree trunk used as a column, or shaped into elegant louvers or steps is omnipresent. Openly planned interiors are also highlighted by this style.

Materials: Wood, ara-al, organic lighting

Noted designers: Francisco Mañosa, Wendy Regalado, Edong Lazatin

See more photos and view the full home here:

Zen Asian (Early to mid 1990s)

As Pinoys looked to Asia for new and undiscovered travel destinations, they slowly became exposed to calming Japanese rock gardens, intricate Thai motifs, and peaceful Balinese gardens. Zen in the early 1990s came as a reaction to the highly European and American trimmings of the 1980s—the style was a departure from untidiness and unnecessary ornamentations, and a move towards an environment that could provide one with a sense of tranquility and quiet. Japanese architecture, with its predilection towards natural materials and quiet, uncluttered spaces became the inspiration; while materials, motifs, and furniture from our neighboring countries were brought together for a distinctly Southeast Asian flavor.

Defining characteristics: Essential to every Zen Asian home is a rock garden, accompanied by running water features, ponds, and neutral palettes that all come together to create serene surroundings.

Materials: Bamboo, wenge, orchids, slate

Noted designer: Budji Layug


Minimalist (Late 1990s)

Minimalism, though popular in the 1990s, came as an offshoot of Modernism. Its purveyors believed that objects had to be purely functional—spaces ought to be stripped of any decorations so that barriers between different classes could be broken, accordingly. Decades after its inception, the movement became popular again at the end of the 20th century, where the perceived “austerity” had become a sign of luxury. The wealthy bought into this look, which favored the drama of empty space and voids, to cluttered, more lived-in rooms. Purity of space and form was top priority with the minimalists. The movement, however was disputed by many because its antiseptic quality often meant that it was impossible to actually live in these homes.

Defining characteristics: Bare, white walls or polished concrete are consistent themes in minimalist architecture. Furniture is simple, sparse, and can double as works of art amidst the empty spaces.

Materials: Concrete, steel, glass

Noted designers: Tadao Ando, Ed Calma, Joey Yupangco

Maximalist (21st century)

The styles of the 21st century are all a movement against the stark minimalism that prevailed in the 1990s. The New Asian look takes the traditional furniture and accessories of the past and puts a spin on them with newer materials, resulting in a quirky and fun take on a once serious, ultimately “mature” aesthetic (plastic Buddha, anyone?). The purveyors of the New Pretty, on the other hand, move away from the harshness of modernism by paying attention once again to arts and crafts, something that was inevitably lost to the heavy machinery that came with the Industrial Revolution. The New Pretty is rooted in seemingly mish-mashed styles and materials—Baroque furniture in ultra-modern fabrics, chandelier silhouettes in plastic, decal form, and neo-gothic inspired furniture in bright and peppy colors. Decadence and glamour are key in this 21st-century movement.


Defining characteristics: Maximalism is defined by intricate and visually rich pieces. Sensuality in textures and materials is often overt. It is “getting the most out of the least.”

Materials: Plastic, damasks, chandeliers, iconic design pieces, animal prints

Noted designers: Kelly Wearstler, Tord Boontje, Chat Fores, Ito Kish



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