"What if I live here instead?" The question pops into the mind of fashion designer and avant-garde artist Jun Jun Ablaza when he looks out the window of his eclectically-designed hideaway in Tagaytay. For out there, beckoning him, is Taal Lake in all its magnificence.
The notion of building a vacation home far from the maddening hustle and bustle of the metropolis is not a new one. Neither is the idea of building it in scenic Tagaytay, which has long offered a taste of laid-back provincial living just a little over an hour’s drive from Manila.
Ablaza is convinced, citing both the town’s stunning views and its cool, bracing air. “Tagaytay houses convenient amenities and establishments that everyone needs to live daily,” he says. “Effortlessly relaxed and consistently progressive, it has not just become a tourist spot for people who want to relax during the weekend but a place of permanent residence.”
While Ablaza and his family do not come to Tagaytay often, it does have a place in their hearts. They usually spend New Year’s Eve, combining a family holiday with a muchneeded respite from work.
The two-storey Tagaytay house, with each of the four bedrooms overlooking the misty lake and the surrounding mountains, is definitely a departure from the ordinary for all of them, in more ways than one.
Step inside, and it’s like all the treasures of an African chieftain’s kraal are cached here. African and Southeast Asian artefacts are all over the main living space: chaotic at first sight, but everything meshes together into an exciting whole.
How did he amass this incr edible trove of rarities?
“It takes an inventive adventurer, someone with personal style and assurance to… reflect their present and private sense of beauty through the intelligent use of flea market finds, antiques, and the vast resources of their own imaginations,” Ablaza says musingly.
On this visit of Philippine Tatler Homes, the family vacation home is glammed up with an elaborate table setting and foxtails dangling from the chair-backs; a plush pelt rug lies on the floor beside it. The couches also deliver on the safari vibe, upholstered as they are in leopard print with fluffy cushions and animal-skin throws.
Leaning Towards the Exotic
Ablaza, whose grandiose pieces of wearable art astounded those who saw the collection at his AblazAblaze exhibition at the National Museum, has transformed this home into a truly memorable piece of liveable art without sacrificing comfort. For instance, alcoves are scattered throughout the house for tête-a-tête.
The wildly imaginative, safari-like interiors on the ground floor are surrounded by walls festooned with objets d’art that would not be out of place in a Masai warrior’s home: a unique selection of taxidermy treasures collected over the span of decades; intricately carved wooden cabinets and unique pieces of pottery; traditional shamanic and ritual masks peek at visitors over magnificent collars of exotic shells; feathered headdresses mark the corners of the space. Adding visual interest is a set of Indonesian gamelan gongs, though not from the same culture it fits right in.
The African safari lodge/tribal thematic extends to the dining room. Ablaza’s dining table comfortably seats 10 and is perfect for entertaining.
Upstairs, each bedroom features a different cultural motif: incredibly colourful Indian in one; golden Thai in another. The third room is grandiosely filled with chinoiserie and the fourth is wondrously strewn with Indonesian artefacts.
Ablaza explains it is their way of bringing home the best parts of their trips abroad. “We love to travel,” he shares, “and our homes mirror our journeys. One might have a room filled with religious and spiritual folk art paintings picked up on a trek to Peru. Another might have a Chinese Coromandel screen and built-in decorative panels inlaid with semi-precious stones. We bring home a little of wherever we go—from Turkish silver bowls and dishes, cutwork Spanish lace tablecloths and napkins, Italian crystal and cutglass chandelier to one-of-a-kind bibelots from distant lands.”
Homage to Originality
According to Ablaza, their home in Tagaytay “is an appreciation as well as homage to originality. It reflects the art of living well, of living with soul and spirit.”
He goes on to say that travel and experience have a great deal of influence with regard to one’s sense of aesthetics and design. “I suggest you cleanse your mind of clichés and speak out loud to yourself about the travels you’ve loved, the homes that have entranced you, and the objects, rich in detail and character, that express your most essential self,” he expounds. His advice: “Go to museums, go to the movies, go to designer showcases; avail yourself of visual and sensual impressions—then, pull it all together in your own special way.”
Photography by Pia Puno | Production by Mia Borromeo