I’ve mentioned how Filipino homes are small, how they clean their homes, and how they use tsinelas.
All these topics revolve around Filipino homes, and I just realized I haven’t talked about the actual houses yet.

I will fix that today.

The most iconic architectural style for homes in the Philippines is the bahay kubo. It’s a home made of natural materials like coconut lumber, plywood, bamboo, nipa (mangrove palm), and coconut leaves. It’s often built on stilts for ventilation and prevent animals from going in the house. This style is usually found in rural and coastal areas. It’s easy and cheap to build and move.

When I say move, I mean you can literally have people carry your house to move it to another location. If you need to move to be closer to other family members, avoid bad weather, or be closer to a water source and you’re only moving a couple of blocks, it’s sometimes easier to just move your entire house than build it from scratch. To move their homes, they’d ask their neighbors for help. It’s a lot like asking your friends to help you move, but in this case, you’re asking them to move your whole house.

Another common style in the Philippines is the bahay na bato (stone house). This style became popular during the Spanish colonial era, so you’ll see them in many heritage sites in the Philippines like Vigan, Intramuros, or Dapitan.

It’s usually 2 stories high, the first floor built mainly from stone, and the 2nd floor could be built from hardwood. The second floor would often have wide windows that wrap around the whole house to allow as much light and ventilation as possible. To show off your wealth, the home can feature expensive and intricate details like ornate carvings on the banisters and capiz (a light, iridescent shell) on the windows.

These homes were built mainly for the Spaniards and wealthier Filipinos. They often surround the town plaza where the church, schools, government offices, and businesses are often located.

Both the “coconut house” and the “stone house” are suited to the tropical climate. They both have a lot of ventilation. The stone house can withstand typhoons, while the coconut house is easy to rebuild when it does get damaged. That’s why these styles still exist today. But the problem with both these house styles (which the Americans found out the hard way when they came to the Philippines) is the lack of indoor kitchens and plumbing.

So when the Americans started building bases here, they introduced the tsalet (chalet) home.

It’s still built with ventilation in mind, but they also introduced concrete as a building material. Unlike the coconut and stone houses, the tsalet has indoor kitchens, plumbing, and parking. They started out as template houses for US soldiers and officers in US bases like Baguio and Pampanga. Below is a popular example, the Bell House in Baguio.

It looks like a typical American house, right? But what differentiates the tsalet is it was specifically designed for mountainous tropical terrain. It’s cooler in the mountains, but it can still get really hot and humid, especially during the summer. So the tsalet has a lot of windows for ventilation. Since they’re in the mountains, they’re also well insulated to keep the heat in. Some even have fireplaces! The Filipino builders and carpenters they hired to make these homes shared the knowledge, and tsalet became the standard after World War 2.

Those are the older homes in the Philippines. The newer houses are more generic. Most city houses now are ramblers, townhouses, and condos made of concrete, steel, and glass. Cookie cutter homes or ultramodern styles that look like every other housing development. Similar to what you see in suburban USA…typically just smaller.

Often they find ways to still integrate the old styles into modern homes. Like, if you have a yard, you can buy a miniature kubo where you can hang out or eat outdoors.


PS. Would you prefer this newsletter in a podcast?  I record these as podcast episodes, often with more detail. https://johnjonas.com/podcast/