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How To Achieve These 5 Popular House Designs in the Philippines

From minimalist-modern to tropical-Filipino, these interior designers and architects share how you can create these house designs and styles at home

Photography: Paolo Feliciano & Jilson Tiu (Main Photos)

When you're planning on building a home, it's very tempting to just go on Pinterest and search for the easiest Western-style look for you to copy. But try to resist that move, because there are specific house designs that are best for homes in the Philippines, meaning, the designs are appropriate for our culture, climate, environment, and lifestyle. 

To give you a rundown of those designs, the house styles that are best suited for our country are the Tropical House Design, because of our climate, the Bungalow House Design, as the house type is a beautiful combination of cost-effective planning, Minimalist Modern House Designs for those who want a more updated and sleeker house style, Small House Design for those who opt to live in CBDs and thus buy small homes and condos, and Wood House Design, a warm style that is apt for our culture. 

Here are some characteristics and expert tips on how to achieve each house style:




The words “tropical style” are two of the most abused (and misused!) words when referring to house design. But do you really know what it is? Four Filipino architects—all with expertise in tropical design—share with us the architectural and design details that make a true tropical-style house. Keep these in mind when planning your tropical home.

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1.The Filipino-tropical house is essentially a contemporary bahay kubo

For most architects, the bahay kubo is the model of a perfect tropical home. “The house-on-stilts form, while perfect for hot or humid climates…is our most economical answer to the environment. It is cheap, it is fast [to build,] it is easy to relocate or even replace,” explains architect Vincent Martin Pinpin, an architect and lecturer on Asian Vernacular Architecture, who affectionately refers to the traditional bahay kubo as “TBK.”

But before you snap up sawali and bamboo to build your hut, take heed. “It’s certainly impractical however to build a bahay kubo in the metro, for fire safety and durability issues,” warns Joel Muñoz, an architect who worked at Leandro V. Locsin and Partners and at Mañosa & Co. Inc. “But a modern tropical house may take off from its practical design. Materials may also be substituted with more modern and durable ones available today.”


2. Rain is always taken into consideration

Architect John Pangilinan explains, “rain is a part of tropical design…we have six, or even seven or eight months of rain, and that has to be incorporated into the design, and use it for sustainable purposes. I like using rain water for watering the plants, creating storage for it.”

3. It is properly oriented to the sun.



Where your house is located in a lot and the location of its openings is crucial to having a cool and comfortable home. Vincent explains; “The proper siting of the structure lessens the radiant heat…and encourages natural airflow into the space. Orienting the structure on the north-south axis where wall openings face it and keeping the east-west facing walls closed (where the sun rises and sets—Ed.) ensures that harsh sunlight will not enter the space.”

Architect John also suggests “Having more openings towards the north and south, if you want to have more openings at the east and west, you have to put more vegetation.”

4. Brise-soleil are a must

Simply put, brise-soleil means “sun shades,” exterior architectural elements made out of wood or metal placed over window openings. “Basically, it blocks out the sun’s rays and helps lower temperatures,” says Vincent.

5. It has wider eaves



Longer and wider eaves (that part of the roof that hangs over the walls of your house) shield parts of the house from sun and rain. But it also helps if you…

6. …And a steeper pitch

“A steep roof slope allows rainwater to flow down faster, and creates a larger void between roof surface and ceiling. The air in this void circulates, and cools the home,” explains Joel. The recommended pitch is 30 to 45 degrees.

7. An open plan layout is a must

“Considering that most Filipino properties are small, the lesser walls you have, the better the ventilation, and better communication in terms of interaction,” says John. “You can actually open everything.”

8. Passive cooling is utilized

Passive cooling simply means cooling the house without using artificial air conditioning. This is the trademark of a tropical home, and this means having wide window openings, and employing the next few techniques.

9. There is provision for an outdoor space


Tropical homes always have a connection with the outdoors. “The idea of bringing the outdoors in is very Asian,” surmises Vincent. “It is good for the soul, calms the nerves, and heightens the senses.” So even if you live in a small condominium, add a seating area and lush plants to your balcony, or have your townhouse’s dining room open up to a pocket garden.

10. The home thus becomes energy efficient

Tropical homes are by nature energy-efficient, as they do not need artificial air conditioning or lighting during the day. “Noong unang panahon ang mga vernacular houses natin, hindi energy-guzzlers,” explains architect Joven Ignacio, professor of Tropical Design. Vincent also suggests going further by building “a turf roof. This is literally…a ‘green’ roof since it is planted with ground cover over soil and other layers, and lowers interior temperatures.”

The need for artificial lighting is also lessened, as the wide window openings ensure proper lighting throughout the day.


11. It usually has a monochrome palette of light, reflective colors

 “A monochromatic color scheme brightens the space, gives the illusion of it being bigger than it actually is and cool to the senses—more maaliwalas,” explains Vincent. Light colors reflect heat, and can be used on any surface—from roof and walls to floors and furniture upholstery—to make an area cooler. This is why the trademark colors of a contemporary tropical home are white and beige.

12. Indigenous materials are best



“Houses should be allowed to breathe,” says Joven. “The materials used should also be allowed to breathe, para matuyo kaagad [because] we have a humid environment.” He recommends not only using traditional bamboo and nipa, but also other sustainable and fast-growing materials like rattan, and gmelina wood. 




When you mention "bungalow," you'd immediately think of those Western-style bungalow houses built on large tracts of land in California in the middle of the last century. But the truth is, bungalow house design stems from the Asia--South Asia, and specifically, in India. 

The term originates from the 1600s in Bengal, India, and the word "bangala" means "house done in the Bengal style," and describes a small, one-storey, detached house with an open veranda in front. These types of homes eventually developed into bigger, more sprawling (but still one-storey) houses for foreign officials of the British Raj. This house design eventually ended up in America in the late 19th century, and was applied to the suburban residential houses in America done in the Arts and Crafts style. 

The bungalow gained popularity in the 1950s to the 80s, in America and also in the country, which explains why most existing bungalow houses have a certain midcentury modern flavor. A bungalow house design could be a good style for the first-time homeowner, mainly because it is small, open-plan, and since it only has one storey, is quite economical to build. For more examples of bungalow house designs, click on this link. 




There is a growing trend of creating minimalist modern house designs in the country, and the use of excess ornamentation is eschewed. Homeowners are embracing a “less-is-more philosophy,” and it shows in their spaces.

If you’ve been dreaming of building this type of sophisticated and clean space, you may want to get inputs from an expert such as architect Agatha Rodis, who built the modern home seen above.


“For us, minimalism is a discipline, not a style,” Agatha explains. “The design focuses on the functional elements and excludes all the inessential. A simple and clean design is derived from this discipline, and as the saying goes, ‘less is more.’” The architect also shares a couple of key points to remember when working on a modern minimalist haven: 

1. Choose materials based on function and make sure these adapt to our tropical setting

In this property, wood, cement, and glass were used as focal points, creating a modern-meets-minimalist look. The wooden touches balance out the raw finishes and give the property warmth, while the glass windows let in plenty of natural light.

Since the common areas are found on the first floor, Agatha and the design team had to make sure that the flooring could withstand heavy foot traffic. The concrete-looking tiles not only work well with the home's palette, it's also easy to maintain. 


2. Keep the lighting simple.


Once you enter the house, it's easy to notice that there weren't too many lights turned on. The secret? Natural light streams into the space—thanks to the glass windows and high ceiling.

In the living area, the wood lighting pieces hanging from the ceiling double as decor and accents. "Simple lighting focused on the functions required for the space [is ideal]," says Agatha. Whether it's task lighting or mood lighting, make sure that it serves a purpose in your space.


3. Work with a flexible layout

"There is no standard layout for modern spaces. Modern spaces are flexible and adaptable. They [can have] an open layout or not," explains the architect. As in any other space, a flexible and functional layout is important. When arranging your furniture, make sure there is enough space for people to move around freely. Meanwhile, an open layout not only allows you to keep the different areas accessible, it adds to home's light and airy feel, too.


4. Keep all nooks functional

Whether it's in a condo or a multi-storey property, every inch of space counts. If you can squeeze in a reading nook or a tiny sitting area without making your space cramped, feel free to do so. According to Agatha, functional and flexible spaces make a modern minimalist home successful. In this home, instead of keeping corners empty and plain, they added works of art and seating pieces, too. Aside from staying true to the gallery-like feel, it gives the owners special spots where they can read a book and enjoy some quiet time.

5. Connect the house to the environment.



A green corner or an outdoor sitting area can give any property a calm and reinvigorating appeal. Investing in a wooden bench or a set of colorful chairs can turn the space into an extension of the living area or a prime spot for entertaining guests.




Small house designs, compact apartments, and condo units may be challenging to decorate and plan, but there are some advantages. “The upkeep is manageable as opposed to large spaces. Less time will be spent in cleaning the entire house,” says interior designer Rochelle Granali. “A small space also encourages family interaction. Parents can easily monitor the activities of their children, and there’s better interaction with family members.” 

Want to create efficient spaces in your small house or home? Check out these out-of-the-box ideas from interior designers and Real Living contributors:  

1. Don’t use too-small furniture pieces

“People tend to put a lot of small furniture in a small space, which clutters up the room. I have seen a lot of small sofa set out there that is not even comfortable,” says decorator Elle Uy. “Use a normal size sofa that you can actually enjoy using, and just add one accent chair. A few key functional pieces is way better than a lot of small ones.”


2. Plan for storage, first

“Work out a plan where storage is incorporated from the very beginning to eliminate future headaches of where to place things. If space is tight, look up and look down: storage can be above your desk or below your bed, says interior designer Lisa Salvador-Bringas.

3. Go for light, transparent furniture



All-wood furniture can add heaviness to an already-small room. Choose mirrored or transparent furniture pieces instead. Up close, they’re glamorous, and from afar, they visually disappear!

4. Try a dark wall

“Dark colors make a wall recede, which would visually open up the room. If you're adventurous, try a bold, dark color for your walls,” suggests Elle.  

5. Curtain a space off



Says interior designer Van Acuna-Solana: “Curtains with elaborate print can be used as inexpensive, space-saving alternatives to sliding door panels for closets, as well as offer graphic drama that accentuate the space.”

6. Tired of modern-Zen condos? Then try a classical style instead

An opulent home style with slipper chairs, damask, and crystal chandeliers can lend a jewel-box feel to a tiny space. Just offset the ornamentation by using small-scale pieces and muted colors. 

7. Plan your space based on the kind of lifestyle you have.



“If you love cooking and having people over for dinner, prioritize the dining area by perhaps adding a comfortable banquette instead of individual chairs to encourage long conversations,” says Elle.

8. Layout a floor on the diagonal

Arrange tiles on the diagonal to create an illusion of a wider floor area. Light colored tiles can also help in visually expanding the space.

9. Use space-saving stools

“In dining areas with tight spaces, instead of chairs, set up a couple of stools that can be tucked beneath a scaled-down table,” says Van.

10. Knock out a window

Says Lisa: “A small bedroom with a large window makes the space seem larger—your view extends further on the horizon. Plus it brings in more light and ventilation, which make small spaces feel large.”

11. Mirrors really do the trick

“It can ‘double’ the space, make a closet look longer than it is plus has a dual purpose: a full length mirror for yourself too. Tiny bathrooms can look a lot bigger with oversized mirrors,” Lisa adds.


12. Opt for sliding doors instead of swing-out ones

This will reduce the risk of someone bumping into open doors. Sliding doors also have a sleeker look that figures well in small spaces.



Wooden house designs are perfect for Filipino homes, as the wood lends a warm color and rich texture that is just appropriate for our tropical climes.


However, as the material has become scarcer because of diminishing supplies and a strict logging ban, it is best to be kind to our environment and go for reclaimed or recycled wood, instead.

But before you buy your reclaimed wood, learn how to identify your hardwood first, so that you’d know what you are buying. Here’s a quick descriptive guide from wood artist Benji Reyes:

1. Narra

This tropical wood has tones that range from yellowish to reddish. The grain (texture and alignment of wood fiber)I s often interlocked and wavy which creates interesting flame and ribbon figures when quarter-sawn or flat-sawn. Texture can be anywhere from average fine to average coarse. Lustrous and possesses attractive odor. Classified as endangered and vulnerable here and in Malaysia.

Ideal for: furniture, floor, and wall panels

2. Molave

One of the hardest local woods, Molave has a fine texture that makes it smooth to touch. It’s available in pale yellow to pinkish-brownish tone with lighter sapwood (outer region) and mostly straight grain, with no distinct odor.  


Ideal for: window frames, shipbuilding, structural post, railroad track, and other outdoor applications

3. Kamagong

Also known as Ironwood and Ebony, Kamagong is a wood unique to the country. With black heartwood (inner region) and gray sapwood, this produces really dark timber hence the name. The grain is often grayish and has brown streaks.

Ideal for: Small, decorative pieces and small furniture

4. Tanguile

A moderately light to hard reddish wood, Tanguile is one of the seven local woods often referred to as Philippine Mahogany. This abundant wood type boasts of fine ribbon or straight grain. It is relatively soft and easy to work on, but resilient enough for outdoor construction.

Ideal for: Interior finishes, cabinets, boat building

5. Yakal

This resinous wood with yellow to golden red tones is another local mahogany type. A high-grade timber, Yakal can tolerate harsh hot and cold weathers.

Ideal for: furniture, surface finishes, small weapons, and outdoor constructions


More on Realliving.com.ph


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