Philippine Star
Saturday Lifestyle Section

Young and innovative architect Popi Laudico is one of a growing legion of single, upwardly mobile women who are opting to leave their parents' home and go out and find a place of their own.

It's about time.

Not too long ago, you mother thought your were too young to get married. Now, you're pushing 30, and your mother thinks you're too old to stay single-and perhaps too old to be staying with your parents.



"When you reach a certain age-and a certain financial status-you want to explore that side of yourself," Popi declares. "Of course, there's that comfort zone when you live at home with your mom and dad. That's easy, that's not bad, OK lang, but sometimes, you get to a point where you tell yourself, 'Let's see, what's it gonna be like if I actually go on my own.' Now that you're earning pretty good money-with a pretty good mind of your own-you can afford a certain lifestyle, you want to be on your own."

Art and home: Young architect Popi Laudico is surrounded by artworks in her nice and cozy new home.

Popi's on her own, finally, at 29. "But Americans leave home when they're 18," Popi notes. "So you can say that based on American standards, I'm too old to be living with my parents."

Popi's loving mom, Yola Perez-a stylist, culinary expert, furniture exporter, and artist, among other things-certainly misses having her little girl around her all the time. Fact is, mother and daughter share a passion for all things beautiful such as what you'll find in their SouMak Collections of native handicrafts and furniture. Their showroom in Makati is a showcase of this dream team's limitless creativity. For her part, Popi has lately been doing a lot of stores. "Recently, I did the Store Company, Inc. in Alabang which has an outlet in Glorietta, too," Popi updates s on her projects. "Owned by Carlo Tanseco, it's a lifestyle store selling furniture and personal items. It has a café and garden area."

Popi is the creative spirit behind the new Tokyo Tokyo restaurant which, indeed, provides a feast for the eyes and the belly. And the latest buzz is that Popi is giving Jollibee an altogether different look. "I'm doing Jollibee at Alabang Town Center," says Popi. "It's Aga Muhlach's baby, he's the franchisee. We're putting up a graphic mural of Aga and Jollibee."

Now, it's time for mother and daughter to live their separate lives. Yola knew it was time to let go of Popi.

"My mom was quite open to the idea," Popi smiles. "And it's not because she's tired of having me around."

In the same breath, she adds: "It's an idea whose time is long overdue. It's slowly become a trend for Filipino single girls to live on their own. Especially when you hit the 30s, and suddenly you feel you just can't live at home anymore."

Now that you've decided to go on your own, what's the next step?

"Don't procrastinate," Popi shares this first important tip. "Start house-hunting while you're still excited about it. Otherwise, you might lose interest."

But first things first. "Decide on a budget," Popi notes. "I decided I wanted to spend like P15,000 on rent, more or less. Even if I could afford more, this amount would already get me a nice studio which was what I was aiming for-something small, easy to clean, easy to maintain for somebody just starting out. Because I'm working and would be out most of the time, I just needed a place to come home to at the end of a hard day's work, yung uwian lang talaga."






Picture-perfect: There's no sofa in this living room. Instead, there's an abaca rug sprawled on the floor; there are wooden chairs from the Mountain Province and pictures of Popi's friends and family.






Now that you've decided on how much money you'd be willing to allocate for the monthly rent, what's next?

"Decide where you want to live," Popi points out. "When I was deciding, I told myself I wish I could find some place that was strategically located, that is, near my work. During the day, I have to go down to Alabang and up to Quezon City because of my work, my projects. I need a central location, a place close to my work. Choosing the location has a lot to do with your lifestyle and how you like to have fun. Or if you go out of town a lot or go to your parent's house during the weekend. Of course, you wouldn't want a place that's on the other side of town."



And the house hunting is on. Popi will tell you that looking for one's dream house is harder than looking for a dreamboat of a boyfriend, but it's certainly more fun. "I actually looked at maybe a dozen," Popi recalls. "But I couldn't find what I wanted so I felt kinda depressed. As you know, P15,000 will get you just a 20 x 25 sq.m. studio-it looks more like a hotel room. I realized when I was looking that very, very few studios were unfurnished. A lot of them are furnished simply because it's easier to rent them out."

And a lot of them look like they're designed for bachelors, not single women. "In the Philippines, we haven't quite gotten used to the idea of single women living by themselves. Ninety, if not 100 percent of the time, the place being rented out would be for single men, it's a bachelor's pad and the ambiance is different. So it's a little tricky for a girl to find a place of her own."


The long and winding stairs lead to Popi's bedroom-cum-bathroom.


And a lot of them look like they're designed for bachelors, not single women. "In the Philippines, we haven't quite gotten used to the idea of single women living by themselves. Ninety, if not 100 percent of the time, the place being rented out would be for single men, it's a bachelor's pad and the ambiance is different. So it's a little tricky for a girl to find a place of her own."

One day, just when Popi had given up, she stumbled on the Expat newsletter given away in the villages. "I saw this address in the Classified Ads section while I was fiddling the time away between two meetings. It was near the place of my meeting. So I said why don't I check it out? It was not easy finding the place, medyo nawala-wala pa nga ako. When I found it, I met up with the landlady, a very sweet German lady who was like a mommy I liked her instantly. She treats me like family-I think it's very important to find a place that gives you a semblance of your own home."

Popi stresses: "Safety and security are very important considerations. You have to be very careful when choosing a place. Especially for somebody like me-I'm a girl and it's my very first time to live on my own. This place I found has a guard you can trust, he knows everybody going in and out of the building; nothing escapes his eagle eyes. The atmosphere is that they care about you, not that you're just some tenant."






The living room is made cozy by curtains made of abaca and raffia, throw pillows and the warmth provided by scented candles.









The German landlady showed Popi all the units available-one bedroom, two bedrooms, small units because she was single and alone-from the ground floor up. "Until we reached this unit on the fourth floor-I fell in love with it at first sight," Popi gushes. "Omigosh, look at this wall, all this space for my paintings. Walls for hanging paintings are an important consideration for me because I have a lot of paintings. So when I saw this unit, I sort of blocked off the space for my paintings."

Popi is quick to add: "Truth is, when I decided to go on my own, I looked at the stuff that I actually own, that I bought, because they were all over my mom's house. And you know what? I have all these paintings and they're big. So when I was apartment hunting, I'd ask, 'Where will I put my Olazo, my Austria, my Chabet?' Because other than these, I just had a bed and an aparador."

Popi's biggest problem was space. Quite a big problem in this no-space age we live in. "Siguro, it's because I'm an architect and I'm having a hard time reconciling my heart to living in a shoebox. So I was talking to some friends and asking if they wanted to share a bigger place with me. This was another option."

The other option is to live with a friend or share a condo with her. "I have a girlfriend who lives in a condo," Popi relates. "She invited me to move into a vacant unit one floor below hers so that we can be neighbors. My friends were worried for me because it was my first time to go on my own. I was the youngest in the group and most of them were either married or engaged and getting married. My friend's condo was just walking distance to her place of work which is another factor you should take into account when house-hunting. But then, all the studios I looked at are too small."

This place she found says Popi was simply heaven-sent. "Parang hulog ng langit," she enthuses. "It was totally unfurnished and had all these white empty walls waiting to be filled."





A chair is not a chair when there's no one sitting there.Instead of a sofa, Popi has three wooden chairs which she got from a furniture-hunting trip to the North.







Thus ended Popi's long search. From the time she found her dream apartment, it took only a week for her to move out of her mother's house and into her own. But first, Popi had her mom and friends check out the place for themselves, if it was really safe. "I had them come over and I showed them just this unit. I just walked into it and fell in love with it. It's got natural light; it faces east so you get the morning sun. There are windows that provide natural air-you don't have to use air-con all the time; an electric fan will do. There are two balconies where you can put plants. Plus I can cook here!"

There's this other side to this multi-faceted artist you'll be delighted to discover. She can wield a slide rule with the same flair as she can a ladle. "My specialties are salads and pastas," she says. "But just tell me what you want and I'll cook it for you."

Moving-in day: The place was like an empty canvas waiting for Popi's creative hands to transform it into a work of art. "It had nothing but water heaters which was good because these are the hard things to connect," she describes. "I had the place repainted-it was white already to begin with, so I just retouched it. It took only one day-the building had it's own maintenance crew to do it."




It took only one day-actually, eight hours, three trucks, 15 boys and five drills-for Popi to turn an empty house into a home she can call her very own. "But I knew exactly what to do," she says. "I already had a mental layout. As soon as the furniture walked through the door, I knew where to put it. After all, being an architect, that's what I do."

Even her landlady was amazed at the transformation. "Kaya love na love nya ako," Popi says with a giggle. "The funny part was I only had one day to do the whole condo-it was the only time I had. It wasn't slow-it went from empty to this."








Bed and board: A mattress serves as Popi's bed.  It's headboard is an Olazo painting titled "Peonies".



Popi's friends who are getting married and looking for a place of their own have fallen so in love with this house they tell her, "Popi, thank you for furnishing our house, you can move out already."

So how was Popi's first night living alone?

"Funny but my first few nights were not as scary as I expected them to be," says Popi. "I felt secure. There are actually three police stations within five minutes of this place."





This well-appointed cabinet is where Popi keeps her books. Hanging on the wall is a series of pencil sketches by Roberto Chabet. At right is Popi's cross-stitch work.







When you enter Popi's apartment, guess what you'll see first. Why, it's the kitchen! "Kain na tayo kaagad," says Popi. "Your house reflects your personality; it's an extension of yourself. As for me, nobody would come to my house if you're not really a good friend. Plus, I needed more space to work in the kitchen which will be filled up when my cooking stuff arrives."

For now, the kitchen is sparsely equipped with a refrigerator, a microwave oven that doubles as a convection oven and a mineral water dispenser. "I consume one container a week," says Popi "My mom supplies me with the mineral water."







Guess who's coming to dinner?: An old sturdy wooden table serves two. The tea set on the table is by Jon Pettyjohn. The pig portrait titled "Popig" is by Popi's brother Rolando while the blowup at right is by Angel Cruz.













Popi's meager eating paraphernalia includes a Jon Pettyjohn 15-piece tea set carved in clay by the master craftsman himself; clay bowls that serve as plates; a set of spoons, forks, knives for six which Popi bought at Shoemart for only P800; and plastic plates costing P30 to P50 each. Then there are Popi's own miniature clay works, products of her pottery class with Jon Pettyjohn.

"I hardly eat here," says Popi. "Which brings us to another important tip: Don't buy food unless you really plan to eat at home. It's only when I have friends over that I cook. Para fresh palagi. Because I live near the groceries and supermarkets-another important consideration when looking for a place of your own-I can always whiz by a grocery and buy what I'm gonna cook. So there's nothing in my ref but ice."

On top of the ref sits a bear lamp from Tickles, a friend's gift to Popi. "There's no such rule that you can't mix antique stuff with stuff from Tickles," says Popi. "How you fix your own place depends on your lifestyle, your imagination."

For the dining table-for two for now-Popi has this beaten , bugbog, wooden dining table that used to be in their garden. The chairs may look new but they're really old chairs from a flea market in New York. "They were so black and grimy but I liked their shape," says Popi. "So we stripped them of their thick wax or lacquer and it turned out to be this wood. We just waxed them and reupholstered them."






Popi's meager kitchen utensils consist of clay bowls, a set of spoons, forks and knives for six and a 15-piece tea set.








Fact is, except for the new two-door ref, not much else is new around here. "I just made use of what I had in my old house," says the peso-smart Popi. "I did not have to buy anything for my new house."

The living room is set off by blinds made of fine abaca and raffia. "We carry a unique line of fabric that's woven especially for SouMak," says Popi with a glimmer of pride. "At night, this is really nice-we turn on the lamps and light the candles; and you can't see the kitchen anymore. Candles don't only light up the room-they also freshen up a room that smells stale because the air doesn't move."

At night, you light the scented candles and they send a refreshing whiff across the room to soothe frazzled nerves after a hard day's work. "The warmth makes the room really cozy," says Popi. "My friends tell me that the abaca blinds are making the living room look small. I tell them that's the whole point-para it's cozier, di ba? It's like kulambo. My friends feel so at home they fall asleep. They can sleep over, I like having my friends around."

Popi doesn't have a sofa in the living room where an abaca rug is sprawled on the floor. "What I like to do with my friends is we just lie down on the rug or get cozy on the floor. Kasi I don't entertain people I don't know. By the time you get here to my place, you're really my friend. And you're comfortable enough to just relax."

The new homeowner elaborates: "Of course, this rug is from Soumak, we got it form Mindanao. My mom has a patent for the weave. She's been exporting this rug for 10 years now. Every piece is a unique work of art. It's also a labor of love as only one person weaves the whole thing so the design is consistent all throughout. Every thing is done by hand. It's a family thing-the weavers do it at home while taking care of their kids. The small kids are the ones who brush the abaca while the mothers and grown-up kids are the ones who weave. It's soft, not itchy at all and you can vacuum it. I vacuum it myself. No need to worry about spilling something on the rug. You can always blot off the stain with tissue paper. I have friends who come here with kids who accidentally pee on the rug. OK lang, it doesn't even get stained; abaca is a very sturdy material."



Alone but not lonely, Popi relaxes on her abaca rug woven exclusively for Soumak.



On the floor are picture frames with pictures of Popi's friends and family. "That's my brother Rolando, he's a chef, a really good one," Popi points to a frame. "That's my sister Liza Vicencio who's a businesswoman. There's my mom; there's my step dad Patrick Johnson. And these are my friends from high school, we're like brothers and sisters."

There are lots of big throw pillows around. "That's because I don't have a sofa," says Popi. "So you just sit on the floor or grab a throw pillow. They're nice and comfy-the cases are made of silk and hand-woven ramie which were the retasos left over at Soumak."

Popi also doesn't have a table in the living room. "it will just get in the way," she explains. "Besides, I have these trays where I can serve food or drinks."


The furniture in the sala simply consists of three wooden chairs. "These three chairs came from my mom's house," says Popi. "I just made halungkat and I saw these and said, 'They're mine because they're small, they're just right for my size.' Like most of our furniture at Soumak, we got them from the Mountain Province where we find really special pieces. If my mom and I like the way it looks and feels, we buy it."

Popi has a really compact CD player consisting of three little boxes which she bought at Shoemart. Boxes made of nito serve as nifty CD containers. A baul made of nito hold more of Popi's precious personal stuff. Then there's an antique baul her mom gave her.





The sound of music in Popi's house comes from this very compact CD player. The nito boxes from Soumak serve as CD containers. The TV rests on an antique baul which Popi's mom Yola Perez gave her.






Popi has a small TV set in the living room. "I brought it down from my bedroom," she says.

There's an aparador made of antique wood where Popi puts all her books and important papers. "it serves as my compact library," says the space conscious Popi.

In the living room are a pencil sketch series and a watercolor series (titled "Windows") by Roberto Chabet. All over the house are more artworks-a blowup by Angel Cruz, a portrait of two street urchins by an unknown Mabini artist, a pen and ink portrait of a 12 year old Popi by her mom, Popi's "Popig" portrait by her brother Rolando, and Popi's own works which include a drawing from her schooldays of a couple kissing with their heads wrapped in bags, and angel cross stitch works.



As you climb the winding stairs, you find more artworks. There's a teeny-weeny sketch by Tam Austria of his bigger painting titled "Ilaw sa Gabing Madilim." Jonathan Olazo's oil titled "Peonies" serves as a colorful headboard for Popi's mattress (no wonder Popi dreams in Technicolor). "I don't have a bed," says Popi. "All I have is this mattress with a white bed sheet of fine quilt."











Windows to Popi's new world: Roberto Chabet's "Windows" hang in the living room. Scented candles light up and freshen the room.



Beside her bed is a life-sized mirror which Popi got from her glass supplier Metropole. Beside that is a cabinet made of teak which Popi bought from Komodo. Here's where Popi puts her hairbrush, face towels and medicines among other things. "I like the fact that my banyo and bedroom are just in one place," says Popi. "I don't close the bathroom door na."







"Your house reflects your personality," says Popi. "it's an extension of yourself."









Popi has a nice, clean bathroom with hot running water which was one of her strict requirements when she was apartment hunting.

Popi's practical working wardrobe fits just right into one big closet. "I'm not a clotheshorse," Popi asserts. "I dress very casually; I go for the basic stuff. I'm sure Sharon Cuneta won't be able to fit all her clothes into my little closet. But I've made closets bigger than this house for my clients."



Small is beautiful and easy to clean and maintain. "It takes me only 15 minutes to vacuum the whole place on a Monday which is my carless day," says Popi.










A collage series by Roberto Chabet hangs above Popi's work desk. "I have more paintings than clothes," says this art lover.




This brings us yet to another important tip. "Don't get stuff you don't like because you will only add to what you're gonna clean," Popi advises. "They have to be things you love. Never mind if you don't have a table yet-go through life without a table. One day, you'll find a table you really like. There shouldn't be any excess baggage-they should be things you want to have because you want to keep them."

Now that Popi is living alone, who's going to do the laundry, do the dishes or wash the car?



"Easy," Popi says with a beatific smile. "I bring the laundry to my mom's place. Of course, I can do it at the deck of my place but why bother? As for the dishes, I can always use paper plates so I don't have to wash. And as for the car, my mom tells me to bring it over to her place for cleaning. My mom's always looking for an excuse to see me."








A miniature sketch by Tam Austria of his bigger painting titled
"Ikaw sa Gabing Madilim" hangs at the top of this staircase.



Thank God, for mothers, living alone need not be a drudgery.

Popi is pretty content with what she has. "What I don't have is a boyfriend," she quips. "My ideal man is someone who'd make me laugh, make me think, yung ganon. I'm not even looking for someone who is financially secure. And I certainly hope he finds me."

A workaholic, Popi finds time to unwind. "I don't have to go out on dates or go to a bar," she says. "My work is not a nine-to-five thing. Sometimes, I work the whole day; sometimes, I can take the whole day off. You can't keep working. You have to say 'OK, to day, I'm not working. Let's have fun Let's eat out. I love to eat. Or I can just stay home and watch Ally McBeal. What matters is the company I'm with. We can always just stay home and eat some strange food. Or sometimes, I go to my sister's house and play with my niece and nephew."



Two months on her own, Popi has learned to be a budgetarian. "For the first month, my electric bill amounted to only P700, my water bill was P55, the phone bill was P200 and the cable P200, for a grand total of P1,155," she enumerates. "Including the association dues and parking, I pay P17,000 for rent which is pretty good because for a place of this size (93 sq.m) in Makati, I'd easily be spending P25,000 (P20,000 for rent, P3,000 for association dues and P2,000 for parking).






Popi's favorite piece of furniture in this house is this old wooden chair. "It feels so comfortable to sit on."



"Getting a place of your own is a sort of commitment," says Popi. "It's like getting married." For now, Popi is home alone, but she's certainly not lonely.