Arts & Culture

How Pinoy Homes Looked 10, 50, 80, 100 Years Ago

In these photos, see how Filipino interior styles, finishes, and furnishings evolved over the past hundred years in the ultimate Real Living throwback!

Photography: Ocs Alvarez (left main photo)

When we think of a traditional Filipino home from centuries ago, we immediately think of a bahay kubo or bahay-na-bato. But did you know that the Filipino home has gone through several permutations and styles over the years, before culminating in the contemporary, Western-influenced (and Pinterest-inspired) interiors of the 20th century?  Take a trip down memory lane with our rare photos and get a little history lesson on how old Filipino interiors evolved into the modern home of today.

2005-2007: Neo Baroque

This delicate, feminine style that bloomed in the mid-aughties showed a revival of classic period details such as Baroque ornamentation, damask fabric, and classical furniture forms in modern colors (hot pink, lime green, orange) and modern materials (plastic). A few examples of Neo-baroque style are Magis’ Proust Chair in bright orange, Kartell’s Bourgie Lamp in clear acrylic, and Philippe Starck’s Louis Ghost chairs (above), which are a modern reference to the classic Louis XVI armchair. The proliferation of local stores (like Kartell and Dimensione) that sell these imported modern furniture brands gave rise to the popularity of this style. 

To see more of this home, click here.

1990s-2008: Modern Filipino

This trend focuses mostly on the contemporary treatment of traditional Filipino-colonial materials, details, and furnishings—nipa, capiz windows, split rattan or reed—by giving these elements a sleeker, modern twist. Ceilings are pitched high (like in the traditional bahay kubo), and window and door openings are generous, allowing for cross-ventilation. This is a very timeless style that is appropriate to our tropical climate, and is a signature look of Mañosa & Company. The timelessness is seen in this modern Filipino home by architect Angelo “Gelo” Mañosa, wherein traditional Filipino details are incorporated into the architecture, and modern furniture made out of indigenous materials are used.

To see more of this home, click here.

1950s-1970s: Midcentury Modern

The middle of the last century was the Golden Age for modern design, with icons like Charles and Ray Eames, Eero Saarinen, Florence Knoll, and many others paving the way for fresh, streamlined, and friendly design. The trademarks of this style are open plan spaces, metal, brick, cinderblock walls (painted hollow blocks), fiberglass, glass jalousies, and molded plywood furniture. With our heavy American cultural influences, this style trickled down to our own Filipino middle class and upper-middle class homes in Metro Manila and other suburban areas. Favorite colors were walnut stain on wood or veneer, bright red, maroon, white ducco finish, bright orange, and rust (seen here in these mid-1960s Cavite homes).


1950s: Quezon City “project” housing

By the middle of the 20th century, Quezon City was pegged to be the country’s capital, and along with all the new infrastructure and schools on the rise, the government also built eight housing projects for middle-income wage earners and civil servants—this gave birth to Projects 1 to 8. As seen in this reproduction model Project home at the Quezon City Experience (QCX) Museum, the homes were bungalows made of sturdy concrete, glass jalousies, and red cement flooring furnished with midcentury Filipino furniture like ambassador chairs and store-bought narra dining sets.

1930s: Nipa “chalet”

While well-off homeowners resided in urban areas had bahay-na-bato, American-style white bungalows, or art deco-style mansions in the pre-war years of the 1930s, many Filipinos still lived in Nipa huts or bahay kubo. Architect, landscape architect, and heritage advocate Paulo Alcazaren writes in his column “The Modern Filipino House in 1935” in The Philippine Star: “Few Filipinos lived in big urban areas then, so the vast majority lived in small towns or rural settings. Filipinos therefore were encouraged to build homes with more Western materials and with spatial patterns that partitioned spaces.”

The rural 1930s Filipino home resembled a large bahay kubo with a higher ceiling and bigger living areas (top picture); it was also called a “chalet.” Though the walls were still made of woven sawali and the roof was of thatched nipa, the interiors were furnished with sturdy, rattan bentwood furniture and accessories.

1800s-1900s: Spanish-colonial Bahay-na-bato

According to architect Rene Luis Mata, who holds a master’s degree in architectural conservation, “…the design of the bahay-na-bato is a product of many hundred years of evolution. They solved the basic problem of living in a tropical country, where there’s rain, moisture, earthquake.” Its high ceilings, pitch of roof, and large windows are perfectly suited for living in a tropical climate, but the structure is sturdier and more weather-resistant than the bahay kubo.

Some of the characteristics of the bahay-na-bato include a ground-floor zaguan, or space for carriages, made out of stone. A flight of wooden stairs leads to the entresuelo or mezzanine, where guests are made to wait. The second floor is made out of wood, with capiz sliding windows, and ventanillas (sliding panels located underneath the main windowsills) for cross-ventilation—this floor is where the main living areas such as the living room, dining room, bedrooms, are located.


The Casa Manila museum (in photos here), which is a reproduction of a late-19th century/early-20th-century upper middle class house, shows all the fine trappings of a traditional bahay-na-bato. Intricate Calado wooden latticework grace the transoms of each room, hand-painted murals decorate the escalera major (main staircase) and many parts of the living area, and finely carved butterfly chairs, butacas, and tumba-tumba (rocking chairs) can be seen in each corner. The dining area has a punkah or fabric ceiling fan, which is operated by servants while their masters dine. The rustic but efficient kitchen has its own pugon or clay oven, and a traditional banggerahan or dish drying rack. 

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