Books have always been an important part of my life. When I was growing up in the Philippines, my mother had a small room full of books and magazines; it was dark and cool, which is a treat in a tropical climate, and I would get lost in it. During my boarding school in Washington, DC, the highlight of my weekends was visiting a bookstore in Georgetown. By the time I graduated, I had filled three Billy Baldwin-style cake stands. Years later I would buy books at the old Rizzoli on Fifth Avenue in New York and Heywood Hill in London: books on art and architecture, gardening and food, some fiction and some non-fiction, all bound together by my interest in how people live their lives – in every sense. For me as an outsider, books are windows into worlds I’m curious about. I’ve never thrown one away.
Today I think I have over 10,000 books but I keep very few, maybe only 20 or 30, in my home in Ibiza, Spain. They are mainly novels and biographies – stories to enjoy on holiday. When I’m here, I usually read lying down in the inner courtyard, on the roof terrace or in the former garage, which I’ve converted into a guest room and library. And I never just look at one thing. Sometimes, when I’m reading about a dish in a novel—in his 1986 book Answered Prayers, for example, Truman Capote writes about something called Soufflé Furstenberg—I seek out the recipe. Or maybe a novel describes an atmosphere in a room that makes me think of a home I’m working on or a journey I’d like to take. I like to daydream with no aim or goal. When I start a new project, I don’t necessarily say, “Okay, I’m going to talk about mid-century Danish design today.” Instead, I just take different images, ideas and feelings and let them marinate. Then, when I have meetings with clients – even though I’m prepared with samples and references – ideas suddenly pop up and we can design together in real time.
But to be able to work together like this, I have to make sure my tank is full and I need some downtime to recharge. During the week I’m too busy, but at the weekend when I’m in Ibiza I go hiking in the morning to burn myself out and then have the whole afternoon to myself. I love bursting with excitement and ideas, but reading is also a way to slow down. It’s often the plot itself compared to what I’m reading that is most helpful. Occasionally, if I’m still feeling hyperactive or distracted on those afternoons, I’ll start thinking of a space I’d like to create and end up moving my furniture around and experimenting. Friends teased that I always work even when I’m on vacation. And the same goes for when I’m supposed to read.
This interview has been edited and abridged.