In a gated subdivision in Cavite, atop a hill with serene mountain views, lies a modern split-level house on a 440-square-meter lot. One would think that only the moneyed could own property in this exclusive community, but Donna Cuna Pita, a freelance fashion stylist, lets us in on how she and her husband Patrick were able to build and decorate their dream home, one which they lovingly call #thehousethatfaithandgracebuilt.
#1 Live below your means Donna narrates, “If you think about it, the odds were against us. We got married relatively early; we were 25. We were both earning P20,000. Gross yon ah, my god!”
Over the years, the couple started earning more, but they never changed their lifestyle, always spending less than they made and funneled the extra money towards savings. They also implemented simple cost-cutting methods, which their two children imbibed. “We use the air-con on weekends, and only one room, sama-sama kami. 'Pag summer naman, mas nag-i-indulge kami, pero always one room lang,” says Donna.
“And my kids, siguro by example na rin they saw we’re not into material things so much. They can go into a toy shop and come out with nothing tapos hindi masama loob nila. Kasi na-brief mo na eh, before going out, you tell them, ‘O, we’ll just go pasyal, kain lang tayo, walang bibilhin.’ Ako rin walang binibili, daddy nila walang binibili. Walang mindset na if you go out, you have to buy.”
#2 Use extra money wisely “Whenever we had extra money, we didn’t think of how to spend it. We used it to pay off debt, like yung house namin before,” says Donna. “We took out a loan for 15 years, but we were able to pay it in seven.”
Some people see extra money as an opportunity to reward themselves. Donna didn't see it that way. “Not having debt is the reward, hindi yung having more things. Kung pwede nga, kung kaya mo mag-ipon, eh di [purchase the house with] cash.”
#3 Keep an eye out for opportunities Donna and Patrick were initially eyeing a different subdivision, thinking this one was well beyond their budget. When their agent suggested it, Donna was hesitant, fearing that she would fall in love with the subdivision only to find out that they couldn’t afford the lot. But the agent persisted, saying a lot was being sold by someone who had immigrated.
“So okay, pasok na kami [sa subdivision]. When we entered, nakarinig kami ng angels,” she jests. “Oh no, na-in love na ako. Sabi ko, ‘Patay, hindi ko pa nakita yung lot, in love na ako.’”
The lot was being sold below market value, but still over the Pitas’ budget. The agent, however, encouraged them to make an offer at a price they could afford, about a third below the asking price. Much to their surprise, the owners accepted the offer! “Nagulat kami, napasubo na kami,” says Donna.
#4 Take the plunge The Pita family was living in Pasig at that time, and Donna was happy with her status quo, not wishing to rock the boat. “Yung husband ko yung matapang. ‘Magpatayo na tayo.’ I’m grateful that he’s like that kasi he balances me off. Kasi, I’m conservative when it comes to risk taking.”
#5 Choose your contractor wisely (and make sure timelines are clear) “I prayed, kasi ang daming horror stories about contractors, di ba? They left midway or nag-away sila with the owner. I’m not naman a religious person pero pinagdasal ko, sana walang problema,” says Donna.
The timeline was particularly crucial because they had to move in before the school-year started -- her kids were already enrolled at a school in the south.
“Super no problem kami ng contractor ko, sobrang wala. Part of our contract was eight months it has to be built; if they go beyond that, may penalty. They built [the house] exactly before mag-eight-month mark.”
Donna also chalks it up to divine intervention. “Kasi it wasn’t all us naman eh, madami kaming pina-bid na contractor, sa kanya napunta, tapos maayos siyang kausap. Even our architect, we understood each other’s vision for the house. It was an easy process.”
#6 Have a clear vision Changes a homeowner wants to make to the original plan often cause the delays and additional expenses. Donna says, “You have to know what you want kasi mahirap din sa contractor yung papalit-palit ka ng isip…You have to be sure of what you want. Stick to that para walang away at delay.”
It also helps to stay on top of the building process, so check in on the progress regularly. Donna says they were at the site every weekend. “Sabi rin ng contractor namin, good thing daw yon kasi some owners, sobrang tagal bago bumisita, tapos ipapapalit, ipapabakbak, so sayang.”
And if you have comments or want changes to be made? “Try to be objective, huwag masyadong emotional,” advises Donna. “Make friends don’t make enemies along the way in life!” she adds with a laugh.
Having a clear vision also applies to furniture and décor. In Pinterest-speak, the Pita home has a contemporary look with modern elements and a distinctly Filipino flavor.
“I had an album on my phone. Whenever I saw something I liked, sini-save ko para I have a definite vision, kasi ang problem siyempre when you’re bargain shopping ang dami mong makikita. You’ll be tempted to buy things kasi mura siya, not necessarily you can use it naman. So just to limit my selection [I had an album]. I knew what I needed and wanted,” says Donna.
#7 Look for bargains Donna jokingly calls the style of her home “Hand-Me-Down Chic,” as she estimates that 70 percent of the pieces were bought from Facebook sites selling secondhand furniture and décor or were given by family and friends.
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Facebook finds include the chair that she repainted and table in the foyer for just P3,900, and the large center table in the living room (below) for P5,000.
The sofa is Patrick’s childhood couch from the ’60s (“I just had it reupholstered”). The armchairs in the living room, also reupholstered, are from Donna’s aunt.
The dining table was free! “My friend posted, ‘I’m redecorating, I need to get rid of my dining table, who wants it take it? If you take it tomorrow, free siya.’ So I said I’ll take it tomorrow!”
Donna also scoured stores like HMR and Daiso and got other items -- like the patterned tiles at the entrance -- at bargain-bin prices.
For the rattan set on the deck, Donna went straight to the manufacturer. She also gave old items new life by spray-painting them, like the bar stools on the deck and the drop lights in the foyer.
#8 Splurge when you have to “You should also know when and where to invest money or [what to] splurge on,” insists Donna. For her, it was the kitchen and the bathroom fixtures. “I invested in marble, quartz, the fixtures in my bathroom…sabi ng mom ko talaga you have to invest in fixtures, dapat mabigat.”
Another splurge was the clawfoot tub in the master bath. “I was resistant. Sabi ng husband ko kung nagtitipid ako, paulit-ulit gagamitin tapos [iisipin ko] sana binili ko tapos bibili rin eventually, eh di dumoble gastos pa ako. Sabi niya, ‘Kunin mo na yan.’”
The Pitas also decided to make theirs a solar-powered home. “Think long term,” says Donna. “Don’t go for instant gratification. We invest in items we think that will pay off in the long run, like solar energy.”
Want to see the rest of the house? Check out the feature from Real Living here.