For Kitty Bunag, creativity is both a solution and a refuge

If you’re looking to Instagram for a dose of good vibes and inspiration, Kitty Bunag’s account has them in a steady stash. Her feed is a good pick-me-up, for example if you’ve had a bad day and need something pretty to look at. If you need ideas for redecorating your own home or whatever creative project you’re doing, @kwittyb is the place to be. That is probably why she has over 40,000 followers on the platform.

Posting beautiful images online is something Kitty loves to do. During the first year of the pandemic, when she was mostly at home, it was on Instagram that she could use her creative energy. Even design insiders follow her and admire her ability to create stunning environments and transform drab spaces into eye-catching.

Kitty Bunag is the lady behind the lavish vignettes of SM Kultura.

One of her clients is SM’s Kultura, for which she serves as a visual merchandising consultant — meaning she’s responsible for the store’s lavish, proud Filipino vignettes. She has brought a fresh new personality to Chef JP Anglo’s Rada Street restaurant Sarsa, which now has a funky, tropical vibe. She is also responsible for the well-received model units of Cebu’s BLOQ Residences, the playful backdrops of Michelle Lao’s Solano Lamps, and she is the creative mind and eye behind the dreamy, moody images of WiNKS Furniture Store on Instagram.

“It’s all about experience these days,” emphasizes Kitty. “People want to touch, see, feel, smell. And that’s actually my job as a visual merchandiser, [make that happen] with the primary intention of boosting sales and marketing, as well as touching people’s hearts.”

Kitty Bunag
“It was through art that I faced huge losses,” Kitty says.

A place for everything

Life can be a mess at times, but Kitty knows how to put things in order in the most interesting ways. Where does she get inspiration for all her projects?

It depends a lot on the environment she works in, she says. “When I see a wall, a color that I like around me. It could be the sunset, it could be a rock, it could be a branch,” she says. “Inspiration is everywhere. You just have to be open to it. He is inexhaustible.”

Chef JP Anglo’s Rada Street restaurant Sarsa now has a funky, tropical vibe.

She is a big BTS fan, so she also takes inspiration from the outfits of the Korean pop singers, the colors they wear, the set design in their music videos.

There are many ideas on the internet, but as a stylist and photographer, one of her duties is to ensure that the look of the brands she works with is distinct and unique from the rest. “Do not want brands much alike. So when people tell me, “Your work seems to come straight from Pinterest,” I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not. I say ‘thank you’ of course, but let’s go‘ she says with a laugh.

La Kantina by Kermit
Kermit’s La Kantina has textured kitkat bricks all over the bar and wall.

Kitty believes in the importance of a mentor and considers it her Tito Ernie. “He’s the ultimate artist in the family,” she says. “If ugly, he will really say. And I can handle it; I have to. I can’t be angry. I need real people to tell me if something worked or not.”

Also in La Union, Kitty has styled the 50-meter-long Italian restaurant La Kantina by Kermit, which is run by surfer Luke Landringan. Now one of the coolest spots in surftown, it has textured kitkat bricks all over the bar and wall, and a ‘modern Bali, modern bohemian surf vibe’.

La Kantina by Kermit
La Kantina by Kermit has a ‘modern Bali, modern bohemian surf vibe’.

The move to Elyu

In early 2021, due to the pandemic, Kitty thought it would be a good decision to rent a place close to the sea. She takes care of her uncle Ernie Panis, a cancer patient. He is like a father to her and has had a big influence on her development as an interior stylist. “[The move] was primarily for him so he can breathe better,” Kitty says. “The sea has something to offer that the hospital cannot.”

The other reason for the move was one of her closest friends, Seek the Uniq founder Mikka Padua, who was also battling cancer at the time. “Initial, we like this A lot being together-bed and breakfast,” Kitty recalls. But when they visited their future space in La Union owned by a distant relative, they thought it was “too sacred” to just turn it into a business. “We’ve decided it’s not for work. That it would really just be an escape. It’s a place to heal. It’s a second home. So we took the step,” she says.

Together with other friends, Kitty and Mikka have transformed the place into Casa Nakama. “Nakama is Japanese for friends and family,” Kitty offers. But when Mikka passed away in June 2021, the other Nakama friends decided to move back to Manila. Kitty, on the other hand, decided to stay with family. Kitty and her husband have two daughters, ages 10 and 15. Her Tito Ernie lives with them.

Kitty is the creative mind and eye behind the dreamy, moody images of WiNKS Furniture Store on Instagram.

The bungalow-like house, owned by the Ortegas, was built with old materials from Ilocos. “The architecture was so beautiful, hindi kailangan ng great styling. It has capiz and old wood,” Kitty tells us. It has three huge rooms and is open plan. “It has a large front. The sun sets in front of you. When I first saw the place, I cried because of its beauty.”

Staying in La Union was a good decision, she realized. “It is motorable, the route is scenic. i said yesTPLEX just got rid of it tension that is,‘ she says with a smile. “It’s the energy, I think, when you’re closer to nature. Even pressure, even work remotely, but productive l. When I drown out the sound, everything just falls into place. I can put things in perspective better. I get things done easily when I’m here.”

The La Union house is a blank canvas for Kitty to work on. Because it is quite dark, she uses a lot of colors and textures. “I can’t say one-time transformation she is. I’m there every week and I have to do something new’ she says. “I create when my mood changes, I guess. The transformation is a kinetic process. It’s always going on. It is always a work in progress.”

Outside the Nakama building she set up a hut with a thatched roof, “because I love you cabins,” she says. “[It’s] where we could watch the sunset, sunrise, or we could hang out every day. I printed out some photos and hung them on the wall. Some are not even framed. That’s how it goes in La Union e,” she says. She doesn’t like to fill a house with a lot of store items. For Kitty, a place connects with people when there are old, used objects – things that have already had a bit of a life.

As it turns out, Kitty has attracted projects because of the way she styled Nakama – which can be seen on her Instagram feed. “If you put yourself out, that’s what happens biggest aha moments. I think we got lucky with this house,” she says.

Casa Nakama
For Kitty, a place connects with people when there are old, used objects – things that have already had a bit of a life.

Turn of fate

While Kitty always knows how to create the perfect space, life for this creative has not always been perfect for IG.

Kitty believes in fate and she thinks it has guided her through life. She started with Interior Design at the Philippine School of Interior Design (PSID), but didn’t practice it right away. After graduating, she entered the business world and it was around this time in 2001 when her 43-year-old mother, Ruby, passed away. Distraught by the loss, she was unable to review for her board exam.

However, she continued to work, but design became her coping tool. She styled the homes of relatives and friends. She organized children’s parties. She made jewelry. “If something bad or negative happens in my life, I want to change things’ she says. She knew she had the power to change her environment and vision.

When her father died in 2008 at the age of 49, Kitty was almost at a breaking point. And then she turned to photography. “It was through art that I faced huge losses,” she says.

Raw Honey Lab
Kitty’s new photo studio in Sta. Ana, Manila called Raw Honey Lab has customizable living spaces.

At the time, creative work wasn’t exactly considered a steady job, so she just did it alongside her business work. But in 2011, she miscarried and that made her decide to quit her job and become a full-time entrepreneur. Together with her business partner, graphic designer Mia de Lara, she founded Craftsmith Living – a concept store of curated home accessories, furniture and craft items.

“Sad story aside, my parents were my biggest inspirations,” Kitty says, trying to brighten the mood. “To get past a breaking point, I found the courage and patience to do business and persevere,” she says. She knew that passion would not be enough, and that she must have “the openness to make mistakes and the willingness to learn along the way”. It’s been ten years since that last heartbreak but Kitty has continued to forge her life, she knows all too well that when life throws her curveballs she could handle them and maybe even turn them into something beautiful .

All photos courtesy of Kitty Bunag

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