Cult classic film The Endless Summer gave Buji Libarnes a glimpse of the laid-back surfing culture and the carefree mid-century lifestyle that spawned it. He was so captivated by surfing that he would often travel north toward Ilocos to ride La Union’s waves as he prepared for his architecture board exams. His friends worried for him, but Libarnes pulled a remarkable feat: “I was lucky enough to place 10th in the 2005 board exams,” he says, beaming with pride.
During those early surfing trips, he would sleep on the beach or at a friend’s beachside gazebo. Later on, he shared an apartment with a dozen other surfer friends before deciding to build a permanent abode. His design would reference the Case Study Houses of Los Angeles, as he wanted to recreate a ’60s-era experience, and traditional Japanese architecture, which he admired for its inward focus.
A 20-foot container van was the starting point for the floor plan, which he first partitioned into a bed loft area and adjoining dining and living areas. Then he added a kitchen, bathroom, guest bedroom, and an open shower for washing off sand after a day on the beach. The space’s disciplined geometry reveals the architect’s obsession over exterior lines and minute details, and softened by aged wood paneling and glass jalousies that bring in light and whiffs of the salt-tinged breeze.
Glass partitions define various areas within the compact 70 sqm house while maintaining a sense of lightness, and all spaces wrap around the indoor garage so that everyone can see it through the partitioning. “I like old cars,” Libarnes says, “and that’s part of the visual experience when staying in my house.” An old Volkswagen Kombi retrofitted with a queen-sized bed once took pride of place, but has since been replaced with a diminutive Mini Cooper because “it was more suited to the space,” the homeowner explains. Meanwhile, vintage articles—a black rotary phone, a favorite blue Hitachi fan (its labored growl lulls Libarnes to sleep), various knickknacks, and velvet vinyl sounds from a record player—give the house its ’60s soul. Though he shuttles between the province and the city, his heart seems firmly rooted in his La Union home.
Libarnes is usually up by 6 am to do a morning wave check. After a breakfast of milk and cookies and going through e-mail, he slides into his boardshorts and picks the surf board for the day before walking a few steps to the beach. He’s back by noon for lunch, after which he says “it’s time to enjoy some siesta while my sunblock sets, before paddling out at 3 or 4 in the afternoon.” All those hours under the sun have earned him his Instagram handle, @bujibrownlegs, given to him by one of his surfing buddies. Dinner is usually at one of La Union’s restaurants, with drinks to cap the night if the sea is expected to be flat the following day.
It was also on La Union’s beach that he proposed to his girlfriend, Nikki Arce dela Paz, and the two are married. They’re building a hostel made of containers in Libarnes’s property, and there’s another interesting hotel project underway.
Everything turned out fine, it seems. While his schoolmates wondered where he was when he should have been studying, Libarnes may have just been out at sea, humming a line from the Beach Boys’ wave riders’ anthem: tell the teacher we’re surfin’.