Welcome to Make Yourself at Home, a collection of home tours as told through the items within them. In this installment, Martine walks us through her home in the Philippines.
Martine Ho lives in a compound with her entire family in Manila. At least that’s how she describes it: “There are multiple buildings where my family lives. Within my building, I have cousins, aunts, uncles…,” she trails off on the phone. “Every time I go into the lobby, it’s like a family reunion. It’s so much fun. Everything I want is here. Everything’s walkable.”
She moved to the Philippines from LA six years ago, when her cousin suggested they go into business together. It turned out to be a good move—their first business, a sunglasses brand called Sunnies Studios, paved the way for a prescription eyeglass brand, Sunnies Specs, which led to a string of dreamy pastel Sunnies Cafes, and finally Sunnies Face, a beauty brand for which they’ve received global recognition. “We love the products that we make,” she says, “We use them ourselves. We’re so happy they’re resonating with people.”
A year ago, Martine bought her first apartment, a 750-square foot one-bedroom above, below, and beside her family. Last year she also got married, but her husband lives in Australia, and for now, they plan to continue being long-distance. They’ve been that way for six years, and see each other every three weeks. “People are like, ‘how do you do it?’ I’m like, I don’t know, how do you live with someone? I love having my own space,” she tells me. “I get that marriage is about compromise, but sometimes it’s really great to physically just be able to have a space that you feel is yours.” She and her husband both value their independence and the feeling that they’re together voluntarily, so they don’t mind their unconventional setup.
I caught up with Martine at an interesting time—she’s about to move into a larger space, and is in the process of saying goodbye to this one. She was happy to talk to me about some of the things that have made it feel special, and the more I learned about her decor strategy, the more I wondered if I’ve ever had a strategy at all. Read on to hear about five things in her home and how she came to find them, in her own words.
1. The painting by my aunt, hanging in my living room
My place is quite small–71 square meters. And I was like, how do I maximize the space? First I got rid of all my things from my old place and started fresh. The only piece here that stayed on—and has since my very first apartment—is one I grew up with in my childhood home. A painting my aunt did in the ’80s. If this house was burning it would probably be the only thing I would save. I don’t have much attachment to physical stuff.
I have a family full of painters. My grandmother was a painter, my aunts are painters… they’re mostly women, and they are very colorful people to say the least. Like many Filipino families, everyone is very opinionated, creative, very female-centered, and family-centered. My aunt, Isabel Diaz, is renowned here in the Philippines, and she did this painting years ago of another aunt of mine. My mom comes from a family of 12 sisters, and they are my aunt’s favorite subjects to paint. I grew up with this piece as a child, even back in Orange County, and I remember I just always loved looking at it. And when I was 18 I begged my mom to give it to me and she did, so it’s traveled with me to every home since.
This painting really kind of inspired the color palette of the whole apartment. I bought things to complement it, just because this space was small, so I was like, let me make this painting the anchor of my home.
2. My purple pilastro stool (which doubles as a side table)
My side table is by Kartell, it’s called the Pilastro Stool, and it was part of the Ettore Sottsass collection. I loved it the moment I saw it, so I tracked it down in Australia and hand carried it in my luggage back home, which is pretty much how I bought every piece I have. I was drawn to it because it had similar tones to the painting. This thing moves around everywhere, it’s amazing. It can be a stool, it can be a side table—it’s multifunctional. Every piece in my house I chose to be quite modular. So I can kind of pop it around anywhere. If I have guests over it becomes a stool at dinner. Sometimes it’s my side table by the bed, sometimes it goes back in the living room. If you come into my house at any week, things are re-arranged. So, how you see it now is just how it was this morning.
3. The lamp on the floor by the aforementioned stool
The lamp right beside it is really special to me. I love lamps—I have a massive lamp collection. Typically, I prefer vintage, I just find them special. But this is one of my only new lamps, and that’s because my husband got it for me for my birthday, which I thought was so sweet and thoughtful. He researched cool lamps, picked it himself, and proudly presented it to me. It’s from another Australian designer—his name’s Ross Gardam. I find the design scene in Australia very exciting, and I spend a lot of time there, so I get to make these personal relationships with a lot of furniture designers. This one is special to me because it was specially made for me and especially chosen by my husband.
4. My dining table, chairs, and dishes
This was six months in the making. The glass table was the first thing I got—it was really inexpensive and I found it in a random department store here in the Philippines. It’s such a tight space, this dining area, so I really wanted to keep it as minimal and clean as possible. And I personally have this preference towards rounded shapes—I find them really pleasant to the eyes—so I wanted something light, airy, kind of retro.
The next mission was to find the perfect chairs, but I went through a million iterations of possible one that could fit here, and nothing seemed right. The ones I ended up getting are from another Australian designer named Daniel Emma, and they had to be customized to match the height of the table. The colors are customized too. It was all a very thoughtful process; I had a long talk with the designer about them. Then I hand carried them back to Manila from Australia. I remember the moment when I came home with them—I brought them over two trips because they wouldn’t all fit in my checked luggage—and I pushed them into the table and they tucked in perfectly. It was honestly like this heavenly divine moment because it was half a year in the making.
The dishes you see are in my typical morning setup if people come over for brunch. I only host brunch here because I only know how to cook eggs and serve booze. The place mats are from LIND DNA. I got them when I was in Copenhagen with my business partners. Almost every piece here I’ve gotten while traveling. The bowls are from Bali, by a Japanese ceramicist that I found in Ubud. I went to her studio in the middle of the jungle. She was amazing. I got them right after my wedding, so those are really special to me. The acrylic coasters are vintage, the shot glasses are from Mexico City, and the bowl is from another Australian designer called Lightly Design. I’ve built a relationship with the designers behind many of these pieces, so everything’s really special to me.
Since I have a small space, I want to love every single thing here. I’ve kind of adapted this Marie Kondo-like sensibility of, if I don’t love this, I’m not keeping it. I don’t have that much stuff, which is why everything can be kind of—my sister tells me I’m not allowed to use this word—curated.
5. My shelving unit stocked with various trinkets
My shelving unit is from Tomado. I got it at a vintage store in Barcelona and, once again, hand carried it checked into my luggage. I don’t know how I did it, but it happened. Since my space is really small, I couldn’t have any kind of shelving unit that would be obstructive or bleed into that much of the space. I really wanted it to be minimal. I love this one because it’s like a blank canvas; everything can kind of be taken out, put in, and moved around. It gets merchandised differently every week depending on my mood and what I’m doing for work and what I’m feeling at the moment.
A lot of things in here are really special. The acrylic sunglass racks that you see—those are pieces from our very first store we opened six years ago. The vintage phone is also a fun piece. Originally there was a standard phone here and I was really unexcited by it, I wanted it out of my sight immediately. So I started looking at phones on the market but there just wasn’t anything interesting, so I was like, I need to find one of those phones I wanted as a little girl. At first I looked on eBay but they were kind of expensive, and then I went to the Rose Bowl flea market and found this for 20 bucks, and the girl told me, “I don’t know if it’s going to work, but you can just try it out.” So I brought it home with me to Manila, and the second that it rang, it was another deeply satisfying moment in my life. I was like, “The phone works!” It makes me so happy. Whenever it rings, which is not that often, it brings me a lot of joy.
Photos by Juan Carlo Jose.