Miko & Nicole
QUARANTINE LOVE STORIES
Words by Katrina Swee | Photography by Gio Panlilio
Spotted from afar, I see three figures clad in white slowly stepping onto the front garden. Still unfamiliar with the act of using her two little feet, Yanni wobbles down the steps with her bunny in one hand and Nicole’s in the other, smiling.
The house stands out—alone amongst the wild grass plots. It’s easy on the eyes and manifests a welcoming charm. Like the surroundings, the family is one and the same.
After a short hello and goodbye, Yanni is brought upstairs for her midday nap and Miko takes the lead on giving us a tour of their lovely home. It’s spotless despite having a child running around, and the airy space is illuminated by the skylight. Mismatched furnishings fill the rooms, some pre-owned by Miko’s family while others found by browsing through antique stores. Natural elements are embraced within the space with a combination of different wood and trailing foliage.
“I don’t know if we adjusted to the house or the house adjusted to us but we always talk about how we’re so insync when we’re here.”
As we reach nearer to the skylight, I get to know Nicole and Miko a little more. From the small shrine in the corner and the baby blue shade of the walls leading into the master bedroom to the orchidarium hidden in their bathroom—I see a glimpse of how this home is not only their sanctuary but an extension of themselves, detailed with the things they love.
From moving thrice last year to settling down in their Laguna home, the family recollects their past, shares their experiences in the present and their hopes for this year.
You both said you moved here in October during the pandemic. Where were you living prior to that?
M: We were staying in Alabang at my dad’s house with Yanni. Then there were talks about lockdown and we didn’t know how strict it would be so we started talking about moving. We thought about the weekends spent at our house in Tagaytay or Sta. Elena to visit Yanni’s grandparents and decided at the last minute to move to Sta. Elena and spend two to three weeks there at most.
N: Yeah, we really thought it would be short.
M: We ended up staying in Sta. Elena for eight months.
And how was it living in Sta Elena?
M: We enjoyed it a lot. Since there was a lockdown, we were able to walk around and not see anyone since it’s a small community. Yanni was really happy.
N: Yeah, I don’t think she knew anything was happening.
I’ve seen an article on Villa Marina in Sta. Elena and was wondering whether that space influenced your current home in any way.
M: That’s a very good question. Design-wise, not really. However, living there changed our lifestyle. There was a time where there were no cooks so I did the cooking and Nicole’s lola is...
N: Very crafty and saves everything.
M: She’s a master housekeeper so if we took anything from our time there, it was definitely the standard of how to do, keep, and manage things.
Could you expound more on what you both learned?
M: It’s not so much the influence of the house but the home. Lola Nena really made it a home. We tried to do the same here with small, personal touches that made it uniquely ours. Even though Manny Miñana designed that house, it was Nicole’s lola that changed it into something that was hers with her touches of decor and how she arranged things. We wanted that same sort of identity by bringing together things that we liked around the house. That’s why we, for instance, always have plants.
Has that always been something you both wanted or did it come out of living in Sta. Elena?
M: I think it came out of living there. We always wanted the reminder that plants are full of life and to see that all the time.
N: She’s inspired by a lot of natural elements. She likes natural textures and she also works with flowers like Miko. She brings in a lot of those decorative floral elements into her home.
And since you’ve been living here, how has it been?
M: It wasn’t a big adjustment because Sta. Elena is also in Laguna. It wasn’t a big jump like Alabang and it’s pretty much complete here in terms of what you need.
Was this the house you both planned to raise your child in?
N: Definitely. Definitely most of the reason we moved here was for Yanni.
M: Although the house was planned before Yanni. I mean, we intended on building the house with a potential kid’s room and then Yanni came and it became more specialized for her.
I also want to know more about your dynamic since the pandemic gave you more time to be here.
M: I think we’re constantly still recalibrating everything we learned from Sta. Elena. This is our first time managing a household ourselves so there’s a learning curve to it. We still have our assignments and I go to the office sometimes but Nicole spends most of her time here. She helps take care of the baby, menu-plan, and we’re trying to train our staff to manage as much as they can.
And how has it been staying at home, Nicole?
N: We have a small baby so it’s been great staying at home and watching her grow up. I feel like I can really see the world from how she sees it. It’s so natural here and there are things I wouldn’t interact with like the soil. She likes to pick it up and even tries to eat it. She’s teaching me from her perspective of how to live in the joyful mess of a baby’s world. Those are things, apart from slow living, that I would miss by being in the office all the time.
Other than spending time with your daughter, what are the other things you’ve come to enjoy by living here?
M: We have a sort of routine. I think the design of the house and how it materialized is really complementary to us. I don’t know if we adjusted to the house or the house adjusted to us but we always talk about how we’re so in-sync when we’re here and when we spend an excessive amount outside, we find ourselves less productive. For example, we have a routine in the morning where the first thing we do is exercise and then I get ready for work while Nicole does work or takes care of Yanni. We have this cyclic thing we do here. When we’re somewhere else, we’re thrown off. We oversleep, aren’t rested, or don’t exercise.
N: It’s nice to be able to live exactly on our terms and discover or define what that is. Because it’s only been a few months, we’re still figuring it out.
We talked briefly before this about the design of the house and how you’ve integrated repurposed/recycled elements. I’m just wondering if the sustainable aspect goes further than the house itself.
M: To some extent, yes. We are very particular about sorting our trash. We compost, recycle, and resell when it comes to things like metal. I wouldn’t say we’re zero-waste but we definitely make an effort.
N: We’re trying. The pandemic taught us to learn to live with what we already have. We have more of an appreciation for those things and I think as we live here, we’ll definitely figure out ways to become more sustainable.
Was that a goal you both had together or individually beforehand?
M: I guess it’s a value we both saw importance in.
Is that also why you both decided to create a small vegetable garden in the back of the house?
M: No, I just love plants haha. Everybody’s crazy about plants now, right? I’d like to say that I think I really liked plants before the pandemic.
N: When we were still going out, he would ask me questions like, “Do you know the name of this flower?” or “Do you know the name of this tree?”
So cute! And during the pandemic, were there any obstacles you had to face as a family or individually?
M: Well, we were building this for one so suddenly, things changed. I was thinking, now what’s going to happen? I only had a handful of workers to build the house so it took a while. I had six guys who would come here every now and then. That was one obstacle because we didn’t want construction to stop. We also ended up getting corona.
That’s really unfortunate. A lot of us have also been suffering mentally during this time. Have there been any problems in that area?
M: Mentally, we stayed healthy because we were also immersed in a lot of prayer during that time. Like Nicole said earlier, we learned to appreciate what we had around us and the biggest thing that helped us was how much time we were able to spend with Yanni. We weren’t expecting that.
N: It was really scary at first. We didn’t know what was going to happen to our businesses or the country. Then I realized as I worried so much, how much luckier we were than others, and all the things that we initially worried about, when it really boils down to what matters, became smaller. The pandemic makes you simplify and enjoy spending time with family. At first, it was hard but the longer the pandemic stayed, there was a shift in the way I felt about things. For me, internally, it was about shutting out all that noise.
I guess this was the perfect place to do that.
M: Yes. When we transferred here, we were so excited. I forgot to mention before, I would always tell Nicole that the goal of this house was to be a place where we wouldn’t want to be away from because we love traveling. When Yanni came, it became complicated and she became our priority. During the pandemic, we were supposed to travel abroad twice for my sister’s wedding and my cousin’s wedding. Those were canceled, of course. We felt bad at first.
N: We could have seen family.
M: But this house is supposed to be inspired by our travels because we’ve stayed in places we really loved like Sri Lanka and Myanmar. We liked the boutique accommodations we stayed in so we wanted to create a home that was experiential. It doesn’t feel like a room is just a room or a bathroom is just a bathroom. That’s what you enjoy when you travel right? Your senses are engaged in a different way. We wanted to make sure that that was still heightened here. So far, it’s been going well. We haven’t been wanting to leave haha.
Is that how you’ve replaced your sense of wanting to travel?
M: In a way. It suppresses the desire.
What about the space has inspired the both of you personally and mentally during the pandemic?
“We always want to make sure that Yanni’s development is the best that it could possibly be. We want to give her that room to grow.”- Miko
M: In general, it’s seeing Yanni grow up. Like I mentioned before this, Yanni took her first official steps when we already moved in. Seeing her in this space and not just the confines of the house but when we walk out to the empty lots and she picks the weeds—it’s really that for me.
N: I think the way Miko designed the house is really us. There’s a space for every aspect of my personality. I have this library since I love to read and write. We have the gym so we stay healthy and then there’s the garden and outdoor area where we connect with nature. I feel like ever since we started living here, there’s been a lot of learning about myself. I think the space has allowed that.
So in a way, living here has also changed you?
N: Yeah, even though it was tailored to fit us, I feel like it’s also the best place for us to grow.
And how have you grown through this experience, Miko?
M: I guess it’s still happening. Work-wise, I’m trying to align myself with more projects within this area. It’s happened organically. It’s amazing how with all the new projects I’ve booked, I’ve got nothing north of Alabang.
We want to adjust our lives towards this portion. We love the fresh air and I’m trying to influence others to consider living here too.
You were talking about how you’ve been inviting people to your home and you’re now designing two houses similar to this one.
M: So the first clients saw the plan of this house and saw my inspirations to build this house and thought it was in line with what they liked. That’s why they hired me. I drew a mini-version of our home which will be built in another village here. My cousin also saw this house and he and his wife realized it was exactly what they wanted so I’m doing that for them as well.
Would you be doing the interiors? Was that intriguing to them?
M: Probably. The interiors here weren’t planned. It all happened organically so I think the design was a result of us working on a budget. We couldn’t afford for everything to go together like in magazines where there’s the matching couch with the matching side table. I deviated towards a style of putting things together and making it work.
Well, it definitely worked out well! Were you part of the process of setting up the home in any way, Nicole?
N: This was really Miko’s passion. I wanted to give him freedom. Of course, he would ask me what I needed or my opinions on certain things but I trusted him. Even when there were things I wasn’t sure of or fully understood, I really wanted to see Miko realize his vision. Did I help you with anything?
M: With the walk-in closet, there was the color and the design and then I asked about the bathroom and the vanities.
You unintentionally took part in the process! It’s now 2021 and we’re still stuck in this limbo. What are your goals for this year as a family, in this home, and for Yanni?
N: I think it’s difficult to say because we don’t know what’s going to happen especially now but I think some of our goals are...
M: I understand what she’s saying. It’s hard to have concrete goals outside of ideals because I can’t say we want to achieve this when so many things are currently out of our control. Goal-wise of what we can control, we always want to make sure that Yanni’s development is the best that it could possibly be. We want to give her that room to grow. It’s so centered around her. For us, there’s the financial goal to still be able to maintain ourselves comfortably here despite the pandemic slowing down businesses. We’re trying to work as hard as we can within limitations. For this whole year, because we rely on our staff so much, we’d like to make sure that they are also happy here and feel like it’s their home.
N: We’d like to spend as much time as we possibly can with Yanni and enjoy being at home with her.