Home Tour: An Intimate Peek Into Filipino Chef Aaron Isip's Wabi-Sabi Haven
"For me, wabi-sabi means respecting nature and decay, seeing the beauty in decay,” says Aaron Isip. “It’s about celebrating the beauty of imperfection.” The Gault-Millau-awarded chef draws inspiration from the natural world in all aspects of his life, whether that’s prioritising seasonal, local produce in his dishes or in how he decorates his own personal space. “It’s all about lending integrity to the raw materials and letting them be as they are.”
Rooted in Japanese culture, the principles of wabi-sabi are based on the acceptance of transience, the impermanent and imperfect beauty of nature. Falling leaves during autumn, gnarled wizened trees, cracked dried earth. “Although the philosophy began in Japan, it can be applied to any aesthetic, even French design,” explains Isip. “Think of un-restored antique French furniture, wrought iron or oxidised copper, things with age and patina.”
Filipinos are such good craftsmen, and it makes sense to me to highlight this
The 70 sqm two-bedroom flat is thoughtfully styled like a bohemian dream. Layered with texture—macramé, natural wood finishes, rattan, linens, jute, clay—rather than seeming cluttered, the small space feels harmonious and cosy as it is all anchored in neutral colours. The main living area is an open-plan design with a seamless flow between dining and living, and the kitchen just off to the side.
“I absolutely needed a hammock,” the chef says. “It’s one of the first items I purchased and installed. It’s the most relaxing spot in my home. I love to lie there and read a book especially when it rains. I don’t have a balcony, so I tried to recreate this ‘outdoor’ vibe indoors.”
Isip was gearing to move to El Nido before the pandemic, but his plans were postponed. “I still wanted to have that beachy, nature-inspired atmosphere, even in the city. To bring a little of the El Nido state of mind to my home.”
The principles of wabi-sabi are based on the acceptance of transience, the impermanent and imperfect beauty of nature
Isip personally sourced and put together all the pieces. “I would describe my style as rustic, primitive and Filipino. While I do have some items from Tulum, like my beloved hammock, and other items from past travels, almost everything I own is locally made,” declares Isip.
“I love collecting primitive Filipino art, such as my bululs, antique pottery and wood carvings, which I mixed with this modern piece by Olivia d’Aboville. It’s minimalist but it’s all about the texture of the textile. It’s the same thing that drew me to these lamps by Hacienda Crafts. I think the way the light creates shadows and lines on the ceilings and walls is just beautiful.”
The dining table is a large natural slab of wood, unusual for such a small space but it was important for the chef to be able to accommodate friends comfortably for his regular dinners. “This table can fit 10 people if necessary. I love to cook for my friends and perhaps, in the future, host tasting dinners. These chairs are made by Silya Tropika but I designed them myself.”
The same company also made the rattan dividers that cleverly camouflage the fully equipped industrial kitchen that spills over to the living space. “I needed to have a full working kitchen. It’s where I experiment and make all my artisanal sauces for my Gastronomade line.”
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One of the two bedrooms has been converted into a lounge area that he calls The Tea Room. “I wanted the main living space to be void of a television so that it could focus on the good, immersive conversation. I made this room into a sort of den, inspired by caravans and the Berber culture with low seating. It’s where I keep my tea, wine chiller and bar. I like that sort of nomadic style."
His favourite piece is the centre table which is a repurposed plough from Ilocos sourced by the vintage and antique purveyor, Tanya Franck. “My bedroom is the only place that has some colour. It’s where I’ve put some of the pieces that I’ve brought home from my Paris days. All the things that have travelled with me from apartment to apartment. They’re all very personal pieces.”
I made this room into a sort of den, inspired by caravans and the Berber culture... I like that sort of nomadic style
The wabi-sabi lifestyle permeates all aspects of his aesthetic, down to the smallest detail such as his tableware and knife collection: a mix of handmade stoneware from Japan and the Philippines, cutlery from a master forger in Ukraine and knives by a local blacksmith, Nacionale Bladeworks. “It wasn’t easy to source everything. There isn’t one store that carries that aesthetic. Maybe I’ll do it myself one day and focus on mostly local goods,” says Isip. “While I appreciate pieces from abroad, Filipinos are such good craftsmen, and it makes sense to me to highlight this. Filipinos have a great eye for detail and I’m proud that it’s part of my heritage.”
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