‘Budol’ and the enduring influence of Home Buddies

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Born in the pandemic, the Home Buddies Facebook group made aspirational home living more accessible as a home idea-sharing resource. In photo: Home Buddies member Bheng Tabuzo's kitchen and dining area. Photo by ROB FROGOSO

Two major factions govern Home Buddies. For #TeamKahoy, the holy grail is wood. The aesthetic is more MUJI than bahay kubo: minimalist, with fine straight lines of wood or wooden accents. Modern and clean, it sometimes intersects with its rival #TeamPuti, where painstakingly immaculate design is queen: gleaming white countertops and cream-colored walls that hark to Scandinavia. Rica Peralejo-Bonifacio coined the term “Team Puti Puti” in the earlier days of the Facebook group. She unknowingly created a movement.

Then there’s the rest of the 3.2 million members across various scales of kitsch, garishness and taste.

Born in the pandemic, the female-dominated Home Buddies made aspirational home living more accessible to its largely middle-class audience as a home idea-sharing resource. Its rise is intertwined with the boom of e-commerce platforms, which allowed members living in far-flung areas to discover and access decorating bits and pieces — “budol” in Home Buddies parlance — previously distributed only in the country’s metropolitan cities.

As the members share these finds, along with photos of their pandemic projects, they chronicle the evolving consumerist tastes and sensibilities of this niche of upwardly mobile middle-class Filipinos.

A love affair with ‘budol’

Visual artist Ginoe, also known as @hubineer, observed this trend and tweeted about it with a suggestion for someone to take portraits of these home improvement projects. In a private message to CNN Philippines Life, he said: “The lockdowns we’ve experienced, in my opinion, distilled sensibilities in a lot of us — we were stuck in our internal spaces pondering things… reprioritizing and asking ourselves questions.”

“Home Buddies, and the subsequent DIY home renovations that it inspired, is a manifestation of this human impulse of homemaking,” he says. To him, the prevalent Scandinavian minimalism reflects members' “vernacular or curator sensibility” and adds to the myriad approaches to designing and decorating. “Some would describe this as ‘horror vacui’ but I would argue that this is just the Filipinos’ inclination to lushness.”

Horror vacui, or the aversion to empty spaces, appears in the 2015 study of architect Clarissa Lorenzo entitled Filipinos filling up space in a gated community." Horror vacui in the Philippines is based on the economic outlook wherein Filipinos feel that having more is definitely better,” she wrote. “History has it ingrained in their minds that too much empty space represents deprivation or poverty while lavish or lush decoration would indicate wealth or luxury.”

While the aesthetic on Home Buddies is predominantly minimalist, it would be a stretch to conclude that its members have embraced the minimalist philosophy. The group has a love affair with budol, and has historically created shortages (remember the Asahi aesthetic fan and Irish Spring trends?) and inspired new product lines.

In fact, budol is the pulse of Home Buddies.

After all, its founder Frances Lim Cabatuando created the group as a catalog of her own product recos.

Frances Lim Cabatuando, founder of the Home Buddies Facebook group. Photo by ROB FROGOSO

Before the massive success of Home Buddies, Cabatuando was an ordinary employee who moved into her own condo unit with only a mattress.

She slowly accumulated furniture from secondhand shops, Japan Surplus outlets, and the row of furniture stores under the Jose Abad Santos Avenue train station near Tondo. “My dad is laking Tondo,” she said. “Every time sinasamahan niya ko mag-shopping, sinasabi niya ang ‘mahal-mahal naman ng binibili mo sa mall.’ True enough, when we went to Abad Santos, I was able to buy a Scandinavian buffet table.”

She documented the journey of filling up her own space on Instagram, and in June 2020, people began finding her account. Because of the onslaught of questions as well as recommendations, she invited her followers to her newly created Facebook group.

A view of Frances Lim Cabatuando's condo, dubbed "Nobi Home." Photo by ROB FROGOSO

Today, Nobi Home is the quintessential Home Buddies space. Minimalist wooden shelves, bed frames and tables reminiscent of Chabudai stand out against the milky walls. Plants, neatly arranged in equally aesthetic white pots, breathe life into the unit. It would be hard to miss her matching white kitchen appliances — designer coffee machines, milk frothers and bread toasters — all carefully selected.

In the same vein, her online realm Home Buddies is heavily filtered. She and her team of moderators — called tanods — read and weed out spam, hate content and advertisements from thousands of new posts per day.

For Cabatuando, it’s a full-time job. She left her corporate career to manage Home Buddies, which received a grant from the 2021 Facebook Community Accelerator Program. Her tanods are also compensated. Leading a legion of three million keyboard-equipped citizens can be overwhelming, and a continuing challenge as the group nears its second anniversary is increasing appreciation for homes whose aesthetics do not fall within the #TeamKahoy and #TeamPuti range.

“In Home Buddies, we encourage them to post. There are just really people who would bash them,” she said. “But those are the people whom I try to suspend or reprimand.” The job is taxing, but “it’s part of the education that taste is about self-preference.”

Dream, aspire, acquire

Before Home Buddies, and even before Pinterest, people browsed the glossies for home inspiration. Carol Smith, publisher and chief revenue officer at Harper’s Bazaar, once wrote: “We read to dream and aspire, but also to acquire.”

The Home Buddies phenomenon has reached third-class cities. Jamii Lasam, who has a YouTube channel on low-budget home makeovers, designs tiny houses in Tuguegarao. “Through the help of e-commerce apps, people from outside the metropolitan cities got the chance to boost their self-confidence,” she said. “Home Buddies is not only for owners of luxury houses. It is actually open for all — open for those who have dreams and those who have made their dreams come true.”

Born and raised in the landlocked province of Nueva Ecija, property agent Edwin Suba began selling upscale condominium units in Metro Manila in 2015 for one of the top luxury developers in the country.

“Kung saan-saan kami nakikitira ng kapatid ko. Tumira pa nga kami sa napaka-liit na dorm,” he recounted. “Pangarap ko rin talaga magkaroon para sa sarili ko. Kasi minsan bilang agent, kami yung nagbebenta pero kami yung wala.”

When the property market experienced a dip at the start of the pandemic, his employer announced a promo. After five years of selling condo units, Suba could finally afford one.

Edwin Suba. Photo by ROB FROGOSO

He wasted no time decorating his first property. Even before the turnover, Suba had already bought a love seat, bed frame and dining set from the SM Department Store. The smaller details, he ordered on Shopee: nautical wind chimes, sheer curtains, coastal wall art, a clock shaped like an anchor, and rolls of ocean blue wallpaper. He posted the result of his DIY interior decorating project on Home Buddies, which earned tens of thousands of likes.

Beach-inspired design may not be unique to Suba, but it evokes something deeply personal: it reminded him of family vacations during his childhood in Hundred Islands, Pangasinan, which were rare and priceless moments for their family of six.

“Yung ganung experience gusto kong ikahon sa unit ko,” he said. “Home for me, in one word, is relaxation. Pag nasa bahay ka, komportable ka. At peace ka.”

Gallery of excesses

As opposed to this tranquil setting, housewife and property lessor Shine Uy’s maximalist corner home office is organized chaos.

“I want to be surrounded by things I love — Van Gogh, plants, pictures of my family,” she said. Even religious artifacts have found their way to that corner of the family’s ancestral home in Biñan, Laguna. Books and documents compose an organized clutter, with lamps and plants adding bursts of color to this gallery of excesses.

Shine Uy. Photo by ROB FROGOSO

The corner office was born out of need. Located adjacent to her dining table, the office is strategically positioned near the entrance to keep guests and suppliers at a safe distance from the inner parts of the home where more vulnerable members of the household cooped up to protect themselves from COVID-19.

The office also doubles as a study desk, where one of her two kids could retreat away from the other so they could avoid screaming over each other during online classes.

Uy’s post about this side of her home has earned only a little more than 100 likes on the group — paling in comparison to her other posts which have the #TeamKahoy aesthetic and thousands of likes each.

But she doesn’t mind. For this one corner of her home, she embraced her inner artist: “May character.” This place is like her: “lively, colorful, and out-of-the-box.” The divergence didn’t stop her from sharing: “I also want to share my passion na medyo different from theirs.”

Home sweet violet home

As it evolves, the Home Buddies community is becoming more open to people with non-traditional tastes.

If the predominant teams are #TeamKahoy and #TeamPuti, there are also emerging trends like #TeamUbe, which Bheng Tabuzo is proud to be a part of.

Her penchant for purple, which began at age 11, “started with a pair of lavender pants, shoes, and a bag,” and has since expanded into an entire house.

Bheng Tabuzo. Photo by ROB FROGOSO

All her furniture is custom-made: dining chairs with a purple leatherette cushions, velvet purple sofa sets, as well as tables finished with a purple laminate. Two commissioned purple paintings hang on the wall. Her accessories are also in theme, including purple-colored memorabilia from countries she’s visited. Her commitment extends to the least glamorous home items: kitchen tools, pans, water bottles, storage containers, garbage cans. Even the humble dish rag is purple.

Home Buddies inspired her to add another aspect to her violaceous home: plants. But first, she scoured her usual haunts — Dapitan Arcade, Cubao’s flower market, and Quezon City Circle — to find matching purple pots.

Tabuzo, who is in the business of selling protein shakes and nutritional supplements, acquired her abundance of purple through over three decades of hard work. Living independently — and self-sufficiently — she doesn’t need anybody’s approval to live out her “purple passion and violet obsession.”

“As you work and start earning, you can buy anything you like. So I started buying purple,” she said. “Now it has transcended into a sort of persona.”

Her eclectic home is hyper-customized to her taste, but her story doesn’t veer far from those of the other members. Members of Home Buddies acquire one budol after another, and decorate their home to live out their aspirations, making it a physical representation of their success.

But because Filipinos are modest, their posts come with a caveat: “Not to brag but to inspire.”