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A Green Design for the Filipino Homes

June 15, 2011

REINERIO A. ALBA

With the world becoming aware of catchwords and catchphrases such as “sustainability” and “energy efficiency,” “climate change,” and labels on products such as “earth friendly,” a growing number of Filipino city dwellers are also now on the lookout for ways of sustaining their current lifestyles while keeping their impact on the environmental on a minimal level. And nowhere has this pro-active shift in mindset more evident than in the designs and materials of today’s homes.

Along this path to earth friendliness are the current crop of Filipino designers who are taking on the challenge of conceptualizing for such forward-looking clients. And one of these designers who also turned entrepreneurial is Wilhelmina “Willie” Garcia, interior design graduate of St Scholastica’s College Manila, and now proud owner of her own design company: W.S. Garcia Interior Design.

Right after graduation from college in 2000, Garcia found regular work doing visual merchandizing for a design company doing while accepting freelance work for house interiors at the same time. Satisfied clients referred her, giving her a steady flow of projects to work on. In 2003, Garcia established her own design company with her college batchmates as project managers and an initial three handymen working for her. As for initial capital in putting up her business, she admits that it is practically a zero-capital business except for the initial minimal cash she needed to register her business. Garcia explains that all expenses are at once charged within the budget determined during the consultation phase with the client. The client pays her the initial 20% of the contract price and this, she says, is enough to cover her operating expenses including allowances and utilities.

Though modern in “feel,” Garcia’s designs still call to mind Filipino ancestral houses with their capiz windows and balustrades. Having grown up in the family’s farmhouse in Biñan Laguna. Garcia says she has learned to look for alternative purposes for the family’s discarded furniture, later resurrecting each pieces as a center piece or a side table. “For one, furnishing one’s home need not be expensive. I would like my clients to realize that what could make their house or room beautiful could just be literally lying in their own backyard,” explains Garcia.

Garcia cites, as an example, the design she did for 33-square meter condominium unit of Oriental Garden in Makati City. The lighting fixtures over the dining table has been ingenuously fashioned out of old sofa springs and repainted white. The said lights are then attached to what looked liked a slab of a mirror overhead, which turns out to be a former mirror door of a closet. An old capiz window is painted white and re-fashioned as a sliding partition door that closes off the bedroom from the rest of the area. Inside the bedroom, is a hammock hanging over the bed like a dreamy canopy where one can also choose to put one’s stuffed toys—an interesting re-imagining of a double decked bed. The wooden bed frame itself is from their farmyard tree that was uprooted by the typhoon “Milenyo.” In Garcia’s hands, the old balustrade of an old house becomes a lamp stand, an old window in the original bathroom becomes a towel rack, jute sacks become window shades, and old newspapers become baskets, beaded curtains, and napkin holders. And not surprisingly, it was this particular design that won for Garcia the grand prize in the interior design competition of the prestigious Metrobank Art & Design Excellence National Competition in 2007.

It was the P200,000 prize money from the said competition, which Garcia funneled back into her business, investing in tools such as drills and saws, and equipment for her furniture shop. And where does she source her furniture pieces and house accessories? “The pieces I create and provide my client are unique in the sense that every piece has a story and not merely bought from the stores. I source my materials from junk shops, thrift shops, even from the closets, garage, and backyard of my clients,” says Garcia. What helps her, she admits, is the fact that she loves designing and is also into pottery, and even jewelry making. Garcia also thanks her profuse imagination. “As a child, I’ve always done craft works using newspaper and fallen leaves. I also believe that every thing has a purpose in life even things that we thought have no value at all.” These days, among the furniture pieces she re-fashions and sells are lampshades, tables, chairs, closets, and candleholders.

This passion for recycling things and re-fashioning furniture even extends to the organizations she is involved with, specially government organizations that work for sustainable environment. These include the Visayan Forum Foundation, Inc., where Garcia works closely with marginalized migrants, who are mostly children, by teaching them alternative recreation through arts and crafts projects involving the use of recycled materials. Garcia is also actively promoting the livelihood programs of the Cavite-based LIKAS Organization, a group of women, which she taps for the creation of her designs.

And why did she go into eco-designing? “It’s my own little way of saving Mother Earth. Through my profession and business, I am able to educate clients in saving the environment, and I hope that in turn, they will teach their children and their friends,” explains Garcia.

And as for the biggest challenge she has had to face in the business, Garcia admits that even at her age, most clients still consider her young, but by the end of each project, they become impressed by her work that they end up referring her to their friends, and family.

To date, Garcia has had several projects, with high rise residences, rest houses, and farmhouses among them, and is currently working on four simultaneous projects. Her initial core staff of three handymen has also increased to eight people per project.

Garcia says she is happy that there are more enlightened clients now who go for the so-called “eco-friendly homes.” “Before, I only had one client who appreciate eco-friendly homes but now, in all my projects, I am thankful that I am always able to put into practice my recycling principles.” Garcia’s future plans include having her own line of eco-friendly materials in the next few years. For now, she advises young designers like her to never stop dreaming, and for them to “use their God-given talent in helping mother earth and educating people about sustainable living.”