Books have always been an important part of my life. When I was growing up in the Philippines, my mum had a small room filled with books and magazines; it was dark and cool, which is a treat in a tropical climate, and I’d get lost in there. During boarding school in Washington, DC, the highlight of my weekends was going to a bookshop in Georgetown. By the time I graduated, I’d filled three Billy Baldwin-style étagères. Years later, I’d buy books at the old Rizzoli on Fifth Avenue in New York and at Heywood Hill in London: ones on art and architecture, gardening and food, some fiction and some nonfiction, all linked by my interest in how people live their lives — in every sense. For me, as something of an outsider, books are windows into the worlds that I’m curious about. I’ve never thrown one out.
Today, I think I have over 10,000 books, but I keep very few, maybe only 20 or 30, at my home on Ibiza, Spain. They’re mostly novels and biographies — stories to enjoy on holiday. When I’m here, I tend to read lying down in the courtyard, on the roof terrace or in the former garage that I turned into a guest room and library. And I’m never looking at just one thing. Sometimes, when I read about a dish in a novel — in his 1986 book “Answered Prayers”, for instance, Truman Capote writes about something called soufflé Furstenberg — I’ll track down the recipe. Or maybe a novel describes an atmosphere in a room that makes me think about a home I’m working on or a trip I want to take. I like to daydream without a goal or destination. If I’m starting a new project, I don’t necessarily say, “OK, I’m going to research midcentury Danish design today.” Instead, I just absorb various images, ideas and feelings and let them marinate. Then, when I have meetings with clients — even though I come prepared with samples and references — ideas will suddenly pop up, and we can design in real time together.
But to be able to collaborate like that, I need to make sure my tank is full, and I need downtime to recharge. During the week, I’m too busy, but on the weekends, if I’m on Ibiza, I go hiking in the morning to burn off some energy and then have the whole afternoon for myself. I love to be bursting with excitement and ideas, but reading is also a way to slow myself down. Often, it’s the act itself versus what I’m reading that’s most helpful. Occasionally, though, if I’m still feeling hyperactive or distracted on those afternoons, I start thinking about a room I wish I could create and end up moving my furniture around and experimenting. Friends have teased that even when I’m supposed to be on vacation, I’m always working. And that’s true of when I’m meant to be reading, too.