From an Instagram page chronicling her own home improvement journey, Frances Lim Cabatuando is now inspiring over a million Filipinos with Home Buddies -- a Facebook community dedicated to refining living spaces.
Born in September 2020 as the country was settling into COVID quarantines, Home Buddies is a treasure trove of home improvement ideas. From design inspirations to do-it-yourself projects, it is a thriving community of Filipinos who want to make staying at home a worthwhile experience.
Why is Home Buddies a hit? Cabatuando said it's probably because the pandemic made people realize the need to turn their homes into more than just their sleeping quarters.
"I guess it's because of the pandemic that people are the same as me -- trying to improve their lives at home," she told reportr in an interview.
"Parang naging wake-up call kasi yung pandemic na 'I'm gonna be at home for a long time' so you have to turn it into a comfortable place where you can work, where your kids can study and all the other things you need to do," she said.
A community with a mayora and kapitbahay
Like any other real-life community or barangay, Home Buddies is led by a chief -- Cabatuando, who is fondly referred to by members as the mayora.
Moderators of the group are called tanods (watchers) and members address each other as mga kapitbahay or neighbors.
"It came from the community! it's funny because when the group was growing, I always had reminders because I guess I'm a warm person so the first post was like 'welcome home' so parang sila yung nagbigay ng term sa akin na mayora," she said.
"I always imagined it as something that people will turn into their online home," she added.
Home Buddies follows a schedule for its activities. The #MondayMarket, for example, is the dedicated day of the week where members can buy and sell home items. Every 18th of the month, kapitbahays are encouraged to join the Friendsgiving Day -- where members can share home items they no longer use to other members who might need them.
There is also a Budolletin Board where promos and discounts are made exclusively available to Home Buddies members.
"The far-off vision is to bring Home Buddies on the ground, like, I really want people to be magka-kapitbahay. it feels like a real community so sana magkaroon ng events like mga home fair or a fiesta," Cabatuando said.
For Labor Day, Cabatuando said the group is eyeing to launch a LABORangay directory that could help skilled workers who lost their jobs due to the pandemic find clients.
"We are fostering a community na tayo-tayo yung magtutulungan because tayo-tayo yung may kailangan. That's the culture that we want to have in the group," she said.
A quick scroll on the Home Buddies Facebook group will remind one of the mood board app Pinterest turned local and interactive.
"The nice thing that people are saying is para siyang local Pinterest. It's an inspiration feed but at the same time you know that it's achievable kasi nabibili yan sa Pilipinas, bahay yan ng Pilipino," Cabatuando said.
Members share their own home journey improvements in the group and also ask for help from others. Recently, discussions have evolved from home aesthetics to helping each other out on choosing energy-efficient appliances and even applying for housing loans.
Home Buddies also has its own share of known personalities such as Miss World 2013 Megan Young, and actress Rica Paralejo. Vlogger and engineer Slater Young is also a member as well as YouTube content creator and architect Llyan Austria.
Cabatuando recalled that Paralejo was among those who started the trend of having teams within the group.
The actress posted a house inspiration for those who are fond of the color white and Cabatuando said she later used the term #TeamPutiPuti which later became #TeamPuti to inspire those who favor IKEA-style minimalism.
Soon, other subgroups emerged within the community. Among these are #TeamDENR for plantitos and plantitas, #TeamKahoy for fans of wooden interiors, and #TeamNative for those who love to incorporate rattan and other native materials in their homes.
"I guess parang naging sub-categories na siya na even if we are one community, may subgroups talaga based on interests," Cabatuando said.
As Home Buddies continues to grow, Cabatuando said she hopes to inspire Filipinos to give their homes a long overdue glow-up.
"I feel hopeful na sana lahat ng Pilipino maging proud sa bahay nila, na they see their homes as hindi lang basta tulugan. Sana, one day, they also become proud that they can share pictures of their homes na kasi pinaghirapan nila yan, yung sweldo nila napunta diyan or DIY namin yan ng asawa ko," she said.
She hopes the group helps Filipinos realize that a comfortable home is achievable and that one can be thrifty while still improving their living space.
"Kailangan ba madumi o cluttered yung bahay natin? Achievable naman yung maayos na pamumuhay. Minsan lang masyadong closed yung alam natin na parang ito na kasi yung kinalakihan natin.But now that people are exposed to styles and inspirations, they can achieve," Cabatuando said.
"I want people to feel some kind of prestige in the home they live in--whether it's tipid kasi it's your home eh. You spend so much time in that place so bakit ka mahihiya?" she said.