September 11, 2023
MANILA – As the afternoon sun streams in, metal slats in the glass awning cast streaks of light onto Carol Karthe’s lanai. She walks onto the woven carpet. The designer wears a gold Gucci Lion Head ring on one hand. On the other, she wears a silver filigreed ring from a flea market in Florence. She leans back on her Timothy Oulton Saddle Armchair with quilted, distressed leather that emulates an actual saddle. The chair is a perfect match for the sitter, who rides on the regular. A polo player herself, Carol Karthe’s design choice shows the freedom and power of the sport, which reflects back to her own energy.
In 2022, Karthe won a major architectural design award in front of a panel of judges that were based in Hong Kong. Their impartial view showed a preference for Karthe’s refreshing design sensibilities. Since then, she has steadily carved her niche in the interior design landscape in the Philippines. While new to the community, her success has been grounded in her persona — an achiever with a spectrum of interests that add to her unique design sensibilities.
From Polo Fields to Open Waters and Further Education
Apart from braving the field playing Polo in camps in Argentina, both she and her husband are professional sailors, with her husband having sailed around the world. She is also part of Litas, an all-female motorcycle collective that revs their bikes around the globe. Her adventurous spirit extends to her career, which started as a professional swimming instructor in the Philippines.
From teaching swimming to children and triathletes, Karthe’s journey led her to Singapore, then Australia, where she studied infant swimming under renowned coach Laurie Laurence, while also attending swimming conferences in Sweden and Canada. She honed her expertise in teaching infants to navigate the water, a delicate task rooted in trust. Her swimming school in Singapore garnered tremendous success with a perpetual waiting list. However, changes in work licensing prompted her to return to her home country.
Much like her active lifestyle, Karthe’s thirst for knowledge is just as strong. While in Singapore, she did voluntary work as a Docent at the Friends of the Museums Singapore, a rigorous organization that required study for one year involving various tours abroad. Despite the competition, Karthe eventually became a leader in touring the artifacts at the Peranakan Museum.
Early on, Karthe went to law school. While she never finished, she did finish an MBA, and to top, a Master’s Degree in Documentary Photography from the University of the Philippines. Just recently, at the age of nearly fifty, she decided to expand her horizons further by enrolling at the Philippine School of Interior Design (PSID) in Manila, cementing her foundation in space planning, her individual aesthetic, and the grunt work of project management.
Where Nature is Luxury and a Home is a Story
If Carol Karthe is not burning the midnight oil studying or playing sports, she can be found running the streets of Sta. Elena accompanied by her elegant dogs, two Weimaraners, and a Rhodesian Ridgeback. Her Laguna home is nestled on a corner lot and there is a sense of layering in the house. Its most striking feature is the open floor plan and multi-level garden that blend seamlessly with the overlooking golf course.
Despite losing many treasured pieces of furniture during her move from Ayala Alabang, the transition enabled her to build a new vision for her home. Sustainability has been a consistent trait of all her residences, with each house running on solar power with monitoring apps to track electricity consumption. A good eighty percent of the materials in her latest home also use repurposed wood.
“We’re going back to nature – back to a place where it’s not as chaotic as the city. And for me, that’s luxury.”
On the first floor, a hidden door leads into Karthe’s bedroom. The walls are painted olive green with wooden accents. There is no veranda, but the sliding windows open up to a spectacular tree so close you can almost touch it. “I’m not mahilig sa (fond of) curtains because I’m a nudist,” Carol jokes. She says, “I don’t want to go too far away from nature.”
She gets giddy and shows us her Fatboy — a small rechargeable lamp that can be used both indoors and outdoors. It emits a pleasant light, and she tells us how even when she travels, she brings candles or her own Fatboy lamp in case she doesn’t like the lights in the hotel. Out in the garden and above the sauna, another Fatboy RockCoco is out in the open — the world’s first outdoor chandelier.
There are little details in every room that make a house a home. Or in this case, that makes it beautiful. In each room, the air conditioning unit is stealthily hidden. While even the guestrooms tell stories about the homeowner. Karthe shares,
“A house is ongoing, and that’s what makes it more interesting — because of the layering, where did you go, what did you do… There are so many stories and to you it’s important, it’s personal… That’s what you’re communicating and that’s what people see… You can totally be selfish and just think about yourself, and it’s going to be more authentic.”
How Karthe’s Building Process is Like a Coach’s
If there is an edge that sets Carol Karthe apart from other young designers, it is that she built her own home. She is well aware of the budget pains and familiar with the process of learning from her mistakes. With so many easily accessible and affordable fixtures, Karthe stresses how it’s always more sustainable to have one high-quality faucet, for example, that lasts for several years, compared to a cheaper fixture that will have to be replaced in a few months.
“Building a house is super expensive. It takes so long, all your energy, all your savings… As a designer helping people build their homes, you have to coach your clients — like what are the items you’re not supposed to skimp on?”
Karthe continues to travel, attending workshops, and searching for materials that are cheaper but more environmentally friendly. She emphasizes the importance of educating oneself about materials and their ecological footprint. For Karthe, design should also address practicality—how sunlight and air circulate, how spaces adapt over time, and how a home can enhance one’s quality of life.
“Let’s not think about materials or designs that are very trendy. You have to create spaces that are more versatile. Especially when you have children, their needs will change. Look at what happened during the pandemic, our homes are not designed to stay in for two years straight.”
“Elevating the quality of life by the design of your house doesn’t mean spending more, it’s just designing it differently.
Futures as a Diversified Designer
As we wrap up, Karthe is about to rush off to interview staff for her design consultancy Ladrilyo, a start-up by Karthe and her business partner Fuchsia Quinn. Karthe says the business name, which translates to “brick” in Spanish, emulates the quality of the building material— earthy, warm, with a lot of character that can switch between being funky or elegant. She credits her husband as her mentor, Claus Karthe, who is the CEO of German Entrepreneurship Asia, a business that accelerates cross-border start-ups.
In a few weeks, Karthe is leaving for America for a month to do a sailing trip from New York all the way to Maine. Then at the end of October, she is leaving for another month to play polo in Argentina. With a real renaissance spirit, I ask her if she has any other plans, to which she expresses she has dreams of studying lighting in London or carpentry in Germany. She also reveals a building project with her husband to create a boutique hotel in Europe. I’m staggered.
An achiever on a broad spectrum, Karthe is just beginning to get her feet wet in expanding her design projects. And while exciting to see where she will go, everything harks back to her home: