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Homes Home Tour: Stylist Michelle Hui Lao Goes Maximalist With Minimal Space

Home Tour: Stylist Michelle Hui Lao Goes Maximalist With Minimal Space

Home Tour: Stylist Michelle Hui Lao Goes Maximalist With Minimal Space
Pieces by Gabby Prado, Mik Navaro, Ryan Jara and Bjorn Calleja call out to her at galleries and weekend art parks. Then Lao does her research to know their stories
By Anna Canlas
December 18, 2020
Wainscoting, hat collections and paintings of subjects both human and abstract seem like a handful—and yet Michelle Hui Lao’s 100-square-metre apartment does not feel like a mess.

How she managed to do it can be narrowed down to two things. First: Preparing a clean and light-filled canvas in consult with interior designer Tito Villanueva; he suggested knocking down a wall to open up the kitchen, and bleaching the standard narra parquet floors, which she found too red anyway. Second: Shopping for only what she loves. “I know some people may think some things may not work in my space”, she concedes, “but I’m a fan of beautiful things as long as they appeal to me, as long as I love them.”

Don’t be afraid to mix patterns but put thought into it
Don’t be afraid to mix patterns but put thought into it

Lao bought most of the pieces in her home over the course of a year in places like Bangkal Street in Evangelista and Cat Street in Hong Kong. Accompanying her was her friend, Ram Lopez-Vito Bucoy, an interior stylist who then helped her stage the items within her limited space. “It’s all about balance, playing with scale and layering,” Bucoy says, pointing to the rugs in the living room. “Like this abaca rug, no one would think to layer it with this zebra-painted cowhide.”

Lao never used to like hats as she felt like it makes her look strange. But over time, she tried it again and started a collection
Lao never used to like hats as she felt like it makes her look strange. But over time, she tried it again and started a collection
The owner, Michelle Hui Lao
The owner, Michelle Hui Lao
Levity is created by opening up the kitchen (the result of knocking down a wall)
Levity is created by opening up the kitchen (the result of knocking down a wall)
In this tablescape, the owner combines an ikat print with floral plates
Like most apartments in turnover, Lao’s floor had narra parquet that she wanted to remove because it was too red. But her interior architect told her it was very costly and that narra wood is rare, so in the end, she decided to just bleach it
 

“I’m the queen of layering,” Lao concurs. “As human beings, we don’t exist two-dimensionally.”

The fashion stylist from the northern region of Nueva Vizcaya is drawn to faces of old people, like her framed prints of Jake Verzosa’s Last Tattooed Women of Kalinga in the entryway, and bululs or wooden rice deities. “My heart belongs to the North,” she says. “My eyes were trained there.”

To prevent an all-out eclectic clash from happening, Bucoy resorted to harmonising the colour story. Lao, for her part, reveals her natural tendency to take hues she sees in one medium—whether it’s a coffee table book, YouTube or an outfit—and splashing it onto a surface in her home. “Like this yellow, I’m really liking,” she points out. Nowhere is this more evident than in her tablescapes, which has its own cult following on Instagram. She recalls snapping a photo of a wall at Cubao Expo trade fair, then going home to make dinner for her family, selecting table linens in the same hue that enchanted her on the wall.

See also: This Modern Apartment In London Showcases The Homeowners' Impeccable Eye For Art And Design

Every space in the apartment is stylishly maximised
Every space in the apartment is stylishly maximised

Confident in what she likes, Lao telegraphs character, not clutter. Sitting on her couch at the end of every day, she looks at her things one by one and draws out experiences and feelings all the way back to the day she bought them. “How do I feel about it now? What changed? What remained?” she asks. “Every object in this room is a memory.”

  • Photography Kitty Bunag
  • Producer Stephanie Zubiri

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Homes Home Tour Michelle Hui Lao Tatler Homes

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