Metro Magazine
by Alya B. Honasan


You’re building a house, fixing up a posh condo unit or opening up a restaurant, and you’re set to meet for the first time with Popi Laudico, the in-demand young architect behind some of the hippest homes and establishments in the country; she has, in fact, just flown from Boracay, where she’s giving a face lift to one of the island’s pioneering high end resorts, and has built a most atypical branch for a leading fast-food chain up north.

If you were expecting a corporate raider, though, brace yourself. “My idea of working wear? Jeans and a T-shirt”, giggles the bubbly Popi, whose petite 4 foot 9 frame and little girl voice makes her appear even younger than her 33 years. “In fact, I’ve gone to business meetings in pigtails and my gym clothes, because I usually proceed to my pottery class after that!” If it isn’t pottery, it’s t’ai-chi, yoga or meditation. Despite a work schedule that can get insane and days that are never predictable, Popi is adamant about pursuing her other passions and keeping her life well rounded. “People complain that they never have time for things. I say, you have to make time for what you want.”

Home base for Popi is the office of Soumak Collections on Metropolitan Avenue in Makati, the home accessories store she co-owns with her sister and her mother, designer and artist Yolanda Johnson. (Her brother Rolando is a successful chef.) An offshoot of this haven of fabrics, lights and other accents, made mostly of Filipino materials from the designs of Yola and Popi, is Soumak Bed and Beddings in Greenbelt 3.

Although she doesn’t put a label on her style, Popi makes sure “I never repeat myself. I am not going for any one look that can be associated with me. I don’t see a project as a way to express myself; it’s all about giving you, the client, what you want, what you’re dreaming of.

The working relationship begins with Popi asking the client to fill out a long, detailed questionnaire, with questions covering such details as bathroom habits, to be able to capture one’s personality. “For me, the biggest compliment you can give my work is when people walk into a place and tell my client, ‘It’s so you!’”

Popi and her two siblings grew up surrounded by art, as their mother was an art scene fixture; a luminary like modernist Roberto Chabet, for instance, was simply “Tito Bobby” to the kids. “We were the children who were always running around the at gallery openings,” Popi recalls. Even as a child, however, she was curiously keen on drawing houses in cross-section, which prompted her to enroll in architecture at the University of the Philippines before she fully comprehended what the vocation was all about. Fortunately, she learned that she enjoyed it immensely. She graduated in 1992 and worked in Los Angeles for six months before coming home to be on her own. Soumak (whimsically named for “South of Makati,” a la SoHo) was opened four years ago.

As for the condominium unit she calls her own home, Popi’s design philosophy is “anything I like, as long as they go together. I have everything form vintage furniture to plastic dolls, but they somehow work. I like walking into people’s houses and finding them oozing with the owner’s personality, even if it’s not picture perfect.” Her house does include a lot of art – “my weakness!” – and often big works, like murals by Chabet and Jonathan Olazo, or photographs by Angelo Cruz, and pottery by the Pettyjohns.

Popi is usually out of bed by 7, as she likes to meditate, water her plants and take her time preparing for her day. “My secretary owns my time from 9 to 5, and that means a maximum of four to five meetings a day.”

Other than the regular yoga and t’ai-chi, the aversion to smoking, and the constant effort to eat healthy, Popi admits to being a low-maintenance girl, whose beauty routine is confined to lipstick, regular haircuts with Teng Roma and daily slatherings of virgin coconut oil, which she swears by.

Is it a disadvantage in her profession to look so much younger than her age? “Are you kidding? It’s the best advantage in the world!” Popi laugh heartily. “Nobody can ever say no to a little girl! In a male –dominated field, it’s great – I can get anything I want. The bottom line though is that I am the architect so they have to do what I want. People have told me that if I had been a guy, they would have dropped a hollow block on my head already! I don’t lose my temper, but I do get mad. I’m very professional; work is work.”

Popi travels regularly for both work and pleasure, including one major scuba-diving trip a year; she toured Spain with friends last year, and dreams of trekking to Nepal and Egypt. She’d love to have a family one day, but surprisingly, the very single Popi doesn’t date actively. Is life too full for love? “Actually, I’m scared,” she laughs. “Well put it this way: I am not going to look for him, he is going to have to find me – and he might have a hard time!”