Our Philippine House Project – Kitchen Cabinets and Closets

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Our Philippine house building project, kitchen cabinets.  We decided to follow the usual provincial Philippine method of building our kitchen cabinets.  This Philippine system for kitchen cabinets is radically different from that we’re familiar with in the U.S.  Generally, U.S. kitchens use a wood base, prefabricated cabinets which are of wood or particle board clad with a laminate or other protective finish and topped with various counter materials.  These cabinet systems are available in the bigger Philippine cities, but are expensive.  We wonder about their durability, especially that of base cabinets, in the hot, wet, bug/fungus-infested Philippine conditions.
Kitchen Counter Bases

Reinforced Concrete Kitchen Counter Bases

The Philippine system is a concrete skeleton; base, end panels and under counter.  In basic homes, the countertop may be tiled and the bare concrete painted.  The part of the concrete base inside the cabinets is usually tiled.  We’re using the same concrete core, but with applied wood cabinets faces and end panels, factory-made doors and drawer fronts, granite countertops and, inside, some of the stainless steel kitchenware shelving systems available here — slide-out baskets and so forth.  The wood framework may be of mahogany which is beautiful and cheap, about P25 per board foot.  We can go to the local sawmills and pick though the stock to find the best lumber.

The first cabinet bases we built were not built to correct dimensions and had to be demolished.  I should have kept a closer eye on the work.  We wanted a finished countertop 85cm high (33 1/2″).  The first counter was too high.  The workers tried to used scrap Hardiflex cement board for the forms.  It bulged and deformed.  The gravel used was too coarse so the concrete was a bit crude.  We demolished it all and rebuilt using 1/2″ marine plywood forms and the fine pea gravel left over from screening sand for finishing.  The new counter bases are so much better!
Sink Base

Sink Base – wood forms not yet removed

Carol wants granite countertops.  I prefer marble but Carol is the boss of the kitchen and granite it will be. We’ll also have a small granite counter in our bathroom.  We have a concrete cabinet core there too.  Our bathroom sink will be an HCG porcelain under-counter model which we had to special order from Manila.  The concrete counter had to be constructed to accommodate and support the sink.  The workers did a good job of this.  Final sink setting and adjustment will be made when the granite countertop is installed. The sturdy Singapore-made Hwaco stainless steel kitchen sink is a pretty conventional model with the rim on top of the counter.
In the corner of this photo you can see a bit of the bathroom window.  In one of our apartments, there was NO bathroom window.  The supposed bathroom ventilation was by means of a small louver in the plastic bathroom door.  It was so hot and humid in the bathroom!  We put a large 100x90cm windows in both of our bathrooms.  As you can see, they are set high for privacy.  With good ventilation our bathrooms are so much more pleasant.
Cabinet base for under counter sink

Cabinet base for under counter sink

The above photo also shows the tiled bathroom. In retrospect we made mistakes with the bathroom sink and cabinet.  Unlike in the kitchen, we did not install tiled concrete cabinet bases.  The problem is that when the bathroom floor is washed (or flooded) water can seep into the cabinet and anything stored on the floor will be soaked.  The reason for not building the bases was that we did not want to pour concrete for the bases over the newly tiled bathroom floor.  That was a mistake!  The second problem is that the sink was installed too far back in the counter.  It would have been easier to use if it was further forward.

Skip ahead several weeks.  We were uncertain about what we should do about kitchen cabinets.  The prefabricated cabinets which were available in Iloilo City were mostly flimsy and overpriced.  We knew that others had obtained nicer cabinets in Cebu City.  In the end, for reasons of speed (we wanted to move in) and cost we decided to let our carpenter try his hand at the cabinets.  If we were unhappy with the result we could hire a cabinet maker to redo the work.  We bought planed lumber (mahogany and acacia) from a local sawmill and doors, hinges and other hardware from Citi Hardware.

Tiled cabinet bases

Tiled cabinet bases

Cabinet bases, as is typical in the Philippines, are tiled with the same tile as the floor.  This makes the bases impervious to bugs, rodents and rot — a real plus.  They are easy to keep clean. The plastic racks inside the cabinet are temporary.  They will be replaced by slide-out shelves.

Cabinet door hinges

Cabinet door hinges

Having suffered with lousy hinges on cabinets in our rentals, we bought the best ones we could find.  These Home Aid hinges were about P110.  They work well.  Cheaper hinges are about P30.

The cabinet carcass is of 2″ x 2″ mahogany.  The facing is 1″ mahogany.  Wood is attached to the concrete cabinet sides, top, and bottom with nylon “tox” expansion anchors and screws.

Cabinet drawer

Cabinet drawer

We used three-section ball bearing drawer slides, again because we had struggled with cheap drawer slides elsewhere.  Cheap hardware is one of the banes of Philippine houses.  These slides allow the drawers to be fully extended.  The drawers are made of acacia lumber, which reminds me of the butternut found in the US — a pretty, fairly soft wood.

At the upper right of this photo you can see screw heads where the cabinet face is attached to the concrete cabinet frame.  Of course, these will be filled.


We bought very nice stainless steel handles for the drawers and cabinet doors.  These were P209 each at Citi Hardware.  We thought they were a much better deal than the handles offered at Ace Hardware.

Cabinet door handles

Cabinet door handles

Kitchen cabinets - finally painted in 2015!

Kitchen cabinets – finally painted in 2015!

Hwaco Kitchen Sink

Hwaco Kitchen Sink

We bought and installed the best kitchen sink we could find.  We chose a Hwaco (made in Singapore) which cost more than P 8,000.  It was a pretty and the gauge of the stainless steel seemed sturdy.
Now, after three years, the “stainless steel” sink is pitted with rust.  Since we bought the sink and many other supplies from Iloilo building product supplier “Moostbrand” we told them of the rusting sink.  Their salesperson implied that the rust was our fault but promised to have a manager call us.  It never happened.  We have had better luck with Citi Hardware and Handyman.
We decided to cover the installation of the granite on a separate page: /our-philippine-house-project-granite-countertops/
Instead of building in closets, we decided on buying free-standing wardrobes. Why? Continued below.
Wardrobes instead of closets

Wardrobes instead of closets

Originally we were going to install built-in closets but we ended up buying free-standing wardrobes.  We delayed the construction of closets because they were not absolutely necessary to moving into the house. Once we had moved in we wanted to avoid the mess of further construction.  We looked at wardrobes, but most of them were so poorly constructed we could not bring ourselves to buy them, even though we lived out of boxes and suitcases for two years.  Finally we saw some big wardrobes at an Iloilo City store which sells surplus furniture imported from Korea.  They were constructed of entirely of pine and we found them to be attractive.  We bought all three for P35,000.  Two are shown above. It was a delight to move our clothes from the boxes to our new closets!

Comments (33)

  1. Hello, love your site. My wife and I own a condo unit in Makati, it’s a small studio unit she bought before we got married, we also just bought a new condo in Makati set for turnover in 2016, 2 bedroom/2bath unit.

    Unfortunately after just about 2 years we need to replace our kitchen cabinet and counter top in our studio unit. The sink was top mount and the seal dissipated and let water leak down under the sink damaging the cabinet base. The weaken base has given way to the weight of the “grease trap”‘ the likes of which I have never seen in the US. The water from the grease trap has sped up the deterioration of the cabinet. The counter top is pressboard laminated with vinyl/plastic. This is an Ayla Alveo,property not sure of you know of them, but supposedly one of the better developers in the Metro area. Had the building engineer and Ayala head engineer come out to inspect the cabinet, only to have them tell me tough luck, you cannot place frozen items or hot items on the counter top, that’s what caused your counter top to expand and contract and broke the seal around the sink. Never ever heard anything like this ever happening in the US.

    We want to replace with natural stone (granite) for the counter top, and solid wood for the cabinet. Having a very hard time finding solid wood cabinets here, just pressboard that’s laminated. Any idea meow/where to find solid wood kitchen cabinets? We surely do,not want to have to replace the cabinet every 2 years, especially as we will rent this unit out when we move to our new unit.

    • Hi Craig,

      Sorry for the late reply. Here in the provinces it’s typical to make the cabinets out of concrete with wood for doors, frames and shelving. I imagine that concrete is used precisely because it does resist rot in a wet kitchen in a humid climate. The cheap pressboard is the worst thing imaginable for Philippine conditions, but it’s cheap and looks good at first. I have seen some all solid plastic cabinets. Perhaps you could use those with a granite top. At first I was not sold on granite, but now I am, especially for Philippine conditions. It seem impervious to everything. I am sure you could have all wood cabinets made. There are lots of good woodworkers, but I’d look around the home depot type places for all plastic cabinet bases. Good luck.

      Bob and Carol

  2. I have observed your kitchen and would love to build mine the same way. I am a do-it-your-selfer and have experience working with concrete through projects i ether screwed up or wowed my wife and family.

    my question before i undertake this task relates to the steel structure I need in place for this project. What size of steel would you recommend using and how far apart should I space them?

    I would like to go as thin as possible so how thin can i go and be generally safe?

    • Ken,

      We used 10mm rebar just because that’s what we had. I feel that more, smaller rebar would be better and easier to work with. 8mm should be fine, maybe even smaller if available.


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  4. Hi Bob , are the wood cabinets doors treated somehow ??
    As you already know filipinos love to fry .. i was wondering if the cabinet some kind of smelly .. any problem cleaning it ??

    are the roaches attracted ??

    • Oops, we have not yet gotten around to painting the kitchen cabinets. It’s one of those problems that come with moving in before EVERYTHING is done. It not really been a problem. We do major frying outside.

  5. Hi im in the process of building a sink , im thinking of putting tile flooring however if we do wood cabinets and drawers the tile will be useless right? how did u do yours pls? also should i just leave the under sink space open and smooth to install a better wood works? can i just put tile as boarrders instead of wood ? thanks

  6. Hi Bob.

    Question for you, our kitchen was built in a same manner as yours, my biggest bugbear has been that the mahogany used was not cured/aged enough so our doors have warped a bit, did you have any issues with local wooden furniture?

    • Ed,

      The doors on our kitchen cabinets are the standard factory-made doors all the outlets sell. I think we bought ours at City Hardware. We have had no problems with them warping. On the other hand, our drawer front were made of local acacia wood and they have warped somewhat. We did use a lot of local mahogany, including for your door casings. We are quite happy with it. perhaps that’s because we bought it from a sawmill in between Oton and Tigbauan which, at that time, maintained a pretty big stockpile of wood. So, perhaps it was a bit better seasoned than some other. We did buy commercial mahogany doors. There has been minor warping with a couple of the doors, but nothing major. They are much nicer doors than we could have afforded in the U.S.

      We did have some beds made of mahogany and acacia. They were pretty strongly built, so no warping. The rest of our furniture is from Mandaue Foam.


  7. Hi. Your site is very informative. We’re about to build our house in Baybay, Leyte and had meetings with our architect. I showed him a picture of a house that I saw in Chainat, Thailand. I like the Ikea cabinet systems but shipping them from Ikea Bangna (Bangkok) will be a nightmare so I got some insights from your blog. I’ll read on. Thanks.

    • I sympathize. The selection of kitchen cabinets in the Philippine provinces is very narrow. Here’s a suggestion. The range of building materials is much better in Manila. I’d spend some time in Manila buying my materials (not only cabinets but doors, windows, plumbing, electrical, lighting fixtures) filling up a container with what I bought and having it shipped to your provincial location. There are many shipping companies which can handle the logistics.

  8. i just moved here and can’t find any waste disposer (motorized and not local dog).
    any reason why they don’t use one here or if they even have any.
    i’ve tried to explain this to the local people but no one is familiar with it at all.
    btw, excellent and very informative site.
    thank you for sharing your experiences. i have learned a lot from it.

    • JA,

      I have not seen one here. Perhaps, in addition to the canine models that just about everyone has, most Filipinos depend on septic systems for waste disposal. The solids produced by in sink disposers could clog these already stressed septic systems.

      Sorry we can’t help.

      Bob and Carol

      • CW Home Depot Westgate Alabang in Filinvest Corporate City in Muntinlupa City has a selection of Insinkerator Household Disposers. If you buy one, make sure your under-sink’s electrical system is already pre-wired with a switch located near the sink or the “installer” will jimmy-up an electrical tap from a nearby convenience outlet and leave you a push-button switch inside the cabinet door like they (not CW Home Depot, our “other” seller from elsewhere) did in our (er, my parents’) house. Now, after being in the States for 13 years, I’m back here and have to de-stupid that installation. The guy even put the disposer under the “wrong” drain (not the drain directly beneath the faucet’s stream) since the guy just “followed” what was in the brochure picture (had it on the left, the pic had a disposal sink in the left, ours is on the right with the rinsing sink on the left).

  9. Hi do you have any updates on your kitchen now that it is painted? Would love to see the finish of it so I can show to my mom back home and give her idea of what to do in the kitchen thanks


    • Pj,

      Sad to say the cabinets are not yet painted. The explanation is that we plan to add more cabinets and we want to paint them all the the same time but in actuality, the kitchen cabinet painting is one of several items on our house to-do list and not at the top.

      Bob and Carol

  10. Looks like a job well done! We’ll also be renovating our kitchen this summer and I need a lot of great ideas.Since we don’t have a “dirty kitchen”, our kitchen not only needs to be functional and low maintenance but beautiful as well. Currently the cement foundation of our cabinets are falling apart, though our countertops are marble, we really don’t know if we should change everything or just the cement base.Water is also accumulating underneath the sink and countertops.Any suggestions from readers?
    Anotherproblem small space.


  11. We’re making concrete frames for most cabinets where water is nearby. My builder said the vertical can be 2 inch, horizontal 3 inch. This sounds like overkill since there are guys in the US making 1.5inch or 2 inch tops. If the rebar is strong and properly placed, and the concrete is stiff that should work for reasonable spans (I also have to fight for a dryer mix, because the workers love wet mix — so easy to pour, but very weak). When I am not around, I am sure they add too much water. Ignorance is hard to cure.

    Anyway, looks like yours are 3 inch all around? What are people doing?

  12. Cool project. We are building a house in Angeles and will be using concrete for the kitchen cabinets. I was unsure of how to finish the rest of the door/drawer system, but this gives me some ideas now.

    I initially frowned at concrete, but having seen some our builder has put up in another house I am surprised and impressed with the neatness. Ours will be 33″ high as my wife is just 5′ tall. She wants tiles on the top, not granite, but that may change yet…

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  14. Bill B.

    Yes the kitchen is big, 4.3m wide (14′). Many efficient kitchen layouts are for the convenience of one “chef”. Since Carol and I both like to cook and our niece Lyka also joins in, the big kitchen is really a pleasure. We don’t get in each other’s way.


  15. Bob & Carol,
    Your guys kitchen looks great. I love the size and layout because it makes it easy to work in, more so seeing that here in the RP the kitchen can have three to five cooks working at the same time. The wood look is what I like and I don’t think I would paint, but I know that you need to protect the cabinets. What about using a clear enamel, not sure is the kitchen boss likes the wood look or not.

    I think the only thing that I would have done different is to move the lone cabinet on the wall and made it an island that you could use tall chairs with. Any hoo it looks great and I bet you guys are very happy with what you have.

    Happy Holidays to you both.

    Bill B

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  18. Hi Carol, yes you could do that and provided it is the same height as the working surface a “chopping board” would slide over the hole and the bits slid inside……my thoughts are for an access outside, then the cleanup is even neater?

  19. I just think out loud maybe the waste bin can be done separately from kitchen counter. Like a roll around working table that you can move around and push on the side of the kitchen when done?

  20. Hi Bob. I’ve been a quiet follower of your project since the beginner. Very interesting reading. Joy and I were in Oton the first two weeks August. Unfortunately, we were dealing with a death in the Family and I did not make time for a visit – I would have really enjoyed visiting with you and see your project first hand.
    Question: I know it’s not the United States, but from the pictures, it doesn’t look like the Philippines has or enforces any type of OSHA standards. Did you or your workers have any safety problems?

    Thanks for sharing with all of us.
    R / Ray & Joy

    PS: Joy has been having her Mamang’s place (Oton) worked on (off & on) for the past couple years (money permitting). We have outside and inside work still to be completed. Your recent article on the finishing will come in handy.

  21. Looking great, Bob and Carol!!! a waste bin! how clever! i’m learning a lot here–my home in Iloilo is done, but the kitchen will be completed upon retirement.

  22. I have the same problem being short and could not stir when using my tall pots. I have requested my builder to lower my counter stove by 6 inches and the contractor was saying they have to comply to code in Florida. I will definitely lower the height for my stove. Peter, thanks for that wonderful idea about the waste bin. I will incorporate it too.

  23. Hi Bob,
    We have a small room that we call the “dirty kitchen” and we planned to fit a gas ring to hold a large wok to do the messy frying. The available cast iron rings for the job were made for floor use and I couldn’t think of a way to mount one inside the granite. Chose a single gas burner but Mila needs to be on tip toes to stir a wok!! Not good enough. The next place will have a concrete top and I’ll design a whole for the large burner to sit under. the height will be much less so that the cook can use a wok comfortably.
    Another good idea is to have a waste bin fitted under the worktop so that all the waste from preparing food is simply moved over the bin. I’ve seen this on a tv programme fitted to an upmarket designer kitchen and it would not be beyond the DIY guy to achieve the same, albeit with dustbin and plastic lid from the local hardware.

  24. I think it is wise to use the concrete cores for the counters. Like you said with all the moisture that we have here in the RP. I also think that having the Merit Marble install your granite is a great idea. Not saying that your crew could not have done it. Anyone can install granite, but only someone right the right trainning can install it right and have it look great.

    Can’t wait to see the granite counter tops and the cabinets installed.

  25. I agree Bob that concrete is so much more durable and long lasting. Its looking good and I am so much looking forward to the final blog post showing a completed house. Ron

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