It is a family retreat far away from the stress and pollution of the big city.
“We used to live in East Greenhills,” the homeowner explains. “But the noise and the pollution surrounding us grew to be too much. Why, whenever I swiped a finger on the furniture in the garden, it would be grimy with soot!”
Nearly seven years ago, the single mother of two decided to build a family home in Manila’s southern suburbs: a place where she and her children could enjoy peace and quiet in a much cleaner, healthier environment. Calling for the assistance of architect Manny Miñana, she spent over two years building the house into one that harmoniously juxtaposes Western and Eastern inspirations into a comfortable whole.
Located on a 2,000-square metre lot in Ayala Alabang flanked by an easement of the same size, the house’s exterior is reminiscent of the Spanish Mission architecture that was the vogue in California during the 18th and 19th centuries.
When asked about the inspiration behind her home, the homeowner admits, “I was torn between a ranch-style Santa Barbara Mission-inspired house and a more traditional Spanish one.” At the time, she had many ideas which were inspired by her experiences travelling abroad. This prompted a need to work with an architect who would stay true to the idea she had envisioned. “I chose Manny because I could talk to him, and I could squeeze in all my visions and ideas.”
“She has a really good sense of taste and design,” Miñana adds in agreement. “She knew what she wanted from the very start, and I worked closely with her to achieve the expected results.”
It took nearly two years, and the end result was a uniquely aspected house. On the outside, it calls to mind the Spanish Missions with its clean, whitewashed walls, arching entryways, slightly recessed windows, and graceful red-tiled roofs. The inside is more eclectic, evoking a Basque or Provençal vibe with plain white walls and high ceilings with exposed hardwood beams made from upcycled wood from Ilocos. A more conventional aesthetic would have seen the beams varnished, but the architect and the homeowner were in accord to leave the beams as is, allowing the rough-hewn beauty of the materials to shine.
The interiors feature an interesting mix of mid-late 20th century furniture, flea market finds from across the globe, and amazing pieces of art that are bound to pique the interest of aficionados.
The structure is divided into three sections connected by short corridors on the ground floor. The main entrance, a massive wooden door with a distinctly mediaeval feel, opens onto a circular room with a beautiful view of the backyard. This area also features antique Chinese porcelain figurines in lacquered wooden armoires, a massive Oriental vase atop a marble table in the centre of the room, and a pair of chairs flanking a picture window that looks out onto the garden.
Turning right from the main entrance, there is a short corridor that leads to the main family residence; to the left, one finds the staff quarters. This layout is unusual in the sense that the bedrooms are built on the ground level and the kitchen and dining area are placed on the second floor.
“[The client] wanted her family to feel safe and cocooned in,” Miñana explains. “Hence the bedrooms are built closer to the ground.”
The family area was built more for living than for show. Plush couches with an array of throw pillows face a well-stocked bookcase and a widescreen television; a nearby basket holds flannel blankets for chilly evenings and a well-stocked home bar is built into a corner. Other homey touches include family photographs arranged on an antique sideboard near a staircase and motivational statements scattered throughout the house.
Each of the three bedrooms in this part of the house is, in and of itself, a haven for its respective occupant. The master bedroom with its cool, neutral colour scheme and muted lighting is a restful place where the homeowner can relax or catch up on work in the small office built nearby. Two particular pieces stand out: an old-fashioned armchair and ottoman inherited from her father and a small 1927 Fernando Amorsolo depiction of a city plaza at night—items that speak of the homeowner’s strong connections to her past.
“My father was an art collector during his lifetime and this particular painting hung near the door of my bedroom while I was growing up,” says the homeowner.
The other two bedrooms belong to the homeowner’s daughter and son. Both rooms open out onto individual patios and side entrances, effectively becoming individual apartments. When asked about this, the homeowner says, “My kids may eventually choose to leave later on. But, if they choose to live here with families of their own, this arrangement provides them enough privacy as well as access to the main house.”
The second floor of the family wing features a magnificent kitchen inspired in part by the one in the film It’s Complicated as well as the main dining area and several nooks where people can sit back and relax. The homeowner admits that she doesn’t really cook, but the spacious, farmhouse-style kitchen is a convivial space where friends and family can congregate over a good meal.
On the other side of the house, guests can climb up to a tavern built to provide a fun and safe place where family and friends can hang out. Designed like the inside of a brick-walled urban loft, the tavern features a bar, a convivial verandah with its own traditional wood oven, and even a small bedroom where guests can spend the night after a party.
Outside, a small tropical paradise awaits with several varieties of palm as well as bougainvillea vines and a native frangipane [kalachuchi] tree in full bloom flank a green lawn and a 25-metre lap pool. On one side, a shaded cabana offers ample seating and space for a crowd along with space enough for a grill and an al fresco meal by the pool.
It is, as its owner declares with pride, a welcoming retreat far removed from the urban sprawl. But, despite the fact that it’s been lived in for nearly fi ve years, it continues to be a work in progress refl ecting the hip dynamism that characterises the woman who envisioned it.