I come from a part of the world where outfitting an apartment involves a trip or two to IKEA, some online shopping on Wayfair and Amazon, and maybe a couple of DIY projects from Home Depot.
In Asia, things are different. You buy a place, you hire an interior designer, and they subcontract the actual fit-out. With units being small, uniquely shaped, or both, many condo owners choose custom builds to make the most out of their living space, budget, and time. Some of the most beautiful Instagram-worthy spaces are curated this way: custom cabinets, bed frames, and storage solutions all matching and united as one.
Needless to say, I’m stuck to my old ways. There’s that saying about being able to take the Boy out of Brooklyn but not being able to take Brooklyn out of the Boy. It definitely applies here too. Personally, I’m not happy with cutting someone a potentially overpriced check to let them handle the entire fit-out and aesthetic design of the unit. I need to be able to canvas prices and quality. The traditional way things are done here in the Philippines doesn’t allow me to supervise build quality or control cost. Additionally, a fit-out with custom pieces may only be worth it to me. If I get tired of the design or change my mind, those bespoke pieces may go to waste, as it’s hard to find a buyer who could potentially remove it from the space and adapt it to their own.
I’m also on Instagram so much that I already had an aesthetic vision even before moving in, so why pay a designer to show me readily available renderings and samples? Anyways, enough rambling.
Each piece of this 37 square meter space was put together, assembled, and thought of myself. If someone came in to do an install, I still ended up having a hand in it. While home improvement is a never ending quest, I’m happy with the results so far.
Like the rest of the unit, all the built-in cabinetry and plumbing fixtures are as-is from the day I took delivery of the condo. While the cabinets and layout are not necessarily my preferred style, I did my best to make it flow with the rest of my additions.
For the Kitchen in particular, I did not do much, since the stainless stove, range hood, sink, and cabinetry were already pre-installed. I added a 4” warm white LED recessed light to replace the ugly plastic socket the builders originally installed.
The compact dish rack, plates, and utensils were all brought over from IKEA in the U.S., while the slim toaster oven was purchased at the local SM Appliance Store by my Mom. The last time she visited Manila, she came to my place and noticed she couldn’t toast her bread. $40 later, the toaster oven was in its new home and I like to think it fits in very well with the rest of the white-themed space.
The cabinets under the sink and stove mostly serve for storage: empty boxes for the items in the condo as well as tools and cleaning supplies. I added a pull-out waste bin under the stove which I snagged at the local surplus warehouse for $40. They are difficult to come by here in the Philippines, and when they are found, they cost upwards of $100. It’s a clearance item that never sold at a Target store in Australia, and I’m quite happy I found it after months of searching.
The kitchen is adjacent to the entryway, and I have a 2 foot wide space to work with in terms of building a shelf/shoe storage rack. This is one of the final pieces I’m still thinking about, since I’d like to have a multi-purpose piece of furniture that can store my shoes and also hold some things that I need to quickly grab before I head out the door like my phone, keys, and wallet. I’d also like the shelf to serve as a holder for important notes, such as electric bills and such.
On the far end of the kitchen area is the fridge, a simple Panasonic unit that I chose to match the branding of the air conditioners. It was also the most subtle design for refrigerators in that size. My only improvement here would be to put a shelf of some sorts above the fridge to add more storage, as the top of the fridge is currently where I place my trinkets and random things like my cup of change and pen jar.
The Dining Area
Opposite the fridge is a dual-purpose dining table. It’s an IKEA MELLTORP square table purchased from the local grey market importer. It can comfortably seat two but squeeze three people with the help of one of my IKEA KYRRE stools. However, I’m able to convert it into a work table at a moment’s notice.
I added a slim Xiaomi Power Strip to the underside of the table, which allows me to plug in the chargers for my laptop and phone. My MacBook is held up with a foldable aluminum stand from Lazada, while a similar stand holds up my Lenovo Thinkvision M14 portable monitor next to it. The setup is rounded out with some 20-pin quick release magnetic USB-C plugs, a KeyChron K1 V4 Mechanical Keyboard, and Lenovo Wireless Bluetooth Laser Mouse. All of this sets up and breaks down within 3 minutes and can be stored in my backpack when not in use.
A bluetooth-controlled LED light strip identical to those installed in the living room and bedroom adds some accent lighting at night but is invisible during the day.
The Living Room
When you first see this area, you’ll spot the Vitra inspired bench that I’ve designated as a coffee table. It’s a scaled down version of the original Vitra design which I had custom-built by a local builder by the name Industrial Manila. A marble slab from Gourdo’s gifted from my friends holds up my favorite literature, while some ceramic dishes from IKEA keep my candles and other trinkets in place.
The couch was purchased from Triboa Bay Living as it was the perfect size and color I was looking for. It’s from their Condo-focused collection and comfortably seats two. Pillows and pillowcases from IKEA in a simple striped pattern break up the fabric of the couch. Since I couldn’t find a place to store my luggage, I’ve chosen to place them in the corner of the living space next to the couch. Lucky for me, the silver aluminum design of the Rimowa luggage goes well with the rest of the space and is visually appealing, especially at night with the LED accent lighting.
Since I’m not a big TV guy, I’ve chosen to place a stereo setup where a TV console would normally reside. The KRK Rokit 5 monitors may seem like a questionable choice at first. Honestly, I would love a pair of Bowers & Wilkins bookshelf speakers with a McIntosh Amp, a miniature tribute to my Dad’s setup in New York, but these KRKs hold s special place in my heart. I bought them with my first paycheck from my first real job in Boston after college, and since then, they have moved with me to multiple apartments in Boston and NYC. They have bumped for many house parties, chill evenings, pillow talk sessions, and they’re now chugging along providing the jams here in Manila. If and when they bump out their last breath, I’ll upgrade to something else. For now, I really like how the black and yellow cones add a splash of color to the otherwise neutral-toned space.
The “stands” for the speakers are actually copies of IKEA FROSTA stools from a local furniture maker, as the real ones were discontinued years ago. The middle bench is an actual IKEA KYRRE stool I purchased back in New York. This was originally supposed to be a stopgap solution for a console table, but I have yet to settle on a design (and price) that I like. This will do for now. Foam Isolating pads and a bluetooth tube preamp from Shopee round out the setup, allowing for seamless bluetooth connection to my laptop.
LED strip lights from Lazada rest on the floor molding and are controlled via bluetooth from my phone. To keep the wiring simple and clean, I chose 5-Volt strips that can run off USB phone chargers, saving space and avoiding the bulky power supplies you usually get with this type of lighting.
A small plant with ceramic pot and stand that matches the couch and coffee table respectively round out the living room area. Up above, a matte black NUD Collection Pendant light matches the hardware of the window treatments. The curtain rod mounts were brought over from IKEA in the U.S., while the rods were purchased from the local surplus auction warehouse. Curtains with a texture similar to that of the couch allow for a bit of light to shine through when closed and were sourced locally from H&M Home and cut to size by the local tailor. The Panasonic air conditioner has custom frames which my Dad and I cut by hand during his last visit here. At the moment, I’m undecided as to if I will paint or stain them, but I am leaning towards staining them in a satin finish to match the coffee table.
The IKEA MALM bed frame in oak finish is the highlight of the bedroom, and was chosen since it offered a storage solution in the room with very little closet space. I also opted to purchase this IKEA piece from the local grey-market importer since arranging for a custom-built bed frame with storage would inevitably cost more time and money than this, which was readily available at the time I wanted to move in. The storage drawers underneath the bed are very useful. I keep jeans in one and shirts in the other. There are two additional storage bins on the far side of the bed, where I keep additional linens that I don’t need access to often.
The closet came pre-installed in the unit and gives me the opportunity to really choose what’s in my wardrobe as it’s a bit small. However, it comes with full-length mirror sliding doors and a large storage cabinet above it. Inside, I keep an airbed for when guests come over.
The curtain hardware in the bedroom matches that of the living room, with the curtains themselves being room-darkening gray pieces from IKEA. The LED strip lights on the floor molding and Panasonic A/C and trim frame match the living room as well.
In the future, I’d like to add a full-length mirror with wood trim leaning up against the closet, and perhaps a small shelf next to the closet window to hold up some of my trinkets. I think some wall out would liven up the otherwise plain space too.
Just like the rest of the place, no major modifications were made to the bathroom. I scrapped the ugly plastic bulb socket for a 6” recessed warm white LED unit that’s similar to the one in the kitchen. It brightened up the bathroom without the need to bring in an electrician or carpenter, and I was able to install it myself in less than an hour.
The bathroom came with a provision for a washing machine. I opted for an LG front load unit that was a combination washer/dryer to save space. After some careful measurements, I was able to fit a wire rack shelf with the bottom shelves removed in order to make for extra storage space above the washing machine.
Further down the road, I’d like to change out the shower hardware for a matte black system, and perhaps get true wall-mounted shelves above the washing machine for additional storage space. But for now, everything in the bathroom does what I need it to do. The under-sink cabinet is large enough to store extra toiletries and detergents, so I’ll be using that for a bit before upgrading.
Phase One: Complete
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I’m real happy with the results of the first phase of my condo build. In the immediate future, I’m planning to have some acoustic diffusers made that will double as wall art. I’d also like to get the entryway shoe rack fabricated as well. Eventually, I think a proper console/media table is in order, along with an upgraded stereo focusing on clarity so as not to annoy the neighbors when they finally move in (I currently have none). For now though, I’m thoroughly enjoying the space as it is. As minimalistic as everything may seem, the costs added up much higher than I originally expected, so I’ll have to let my wallet rest for a bit before moving on to phase two.
I also shot a quick video tour of the place and posted it on YouTube, check it out below!
Thanks so much for following along on my apartment journey! For more daily adventures, check out my Instagram @ohnoitsericgo 🙂